News Column

Actors Theatre steps toward future with new management position

September 26, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 26--John Rensenhouse, a well-known actor and director who has worked frequently in Kansas City and elsewhere, has been named managing director of Kansas City Actors Theatre.

Rensenhouse directed KCAT's excellent production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" earlier this month and has often appeared at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and Kansas City Repertory Theatre, among other local companies.

A former KCAT board president, Rensenhouse said the title sounds more impressive than it is. He will now be paid for financial and administrative work he has already been doing.

"I haven't taken over the theater," he said. "I'm just moving deeper into the paperwork."

KCAT was founded in 2004 by a group of local theater professionals, including actors, stage managers and designers. The company declared itself to be "artist-led and artist-driven" and eschewed any traditional management structure. Rensenhouse is the company's first managing director.

But Rensenhouse said he in no way will function as an artistic director. The artistic direction will still be set by a consensus of the core company members and the artistic committee.

"It's not like we're changing our philosophy," Rensenhouse said. "We're still a collective run by artists. I'm going to be managing day-to-day stuff of the theater."

Rensenhouse said the position was created after Audrey Porsche, the company's marketing director and only paid employee, announced she would be leaving.

"We were looking at what to do going forward," he said. "It has always been the hope and intent of Actors Theatre to somehow create full-time jobs for our artists. Since I have an interest in the nuts and bolts of management of the theater -- the contracts, the budget, that sort of stuff -- we just decided to break her job into two pieces, one of which I would fill. So actually it's a neat thing that it's our first step towards realizing our goal of making paid positions for our artists."

Rensenhouse described the job as "not quite full time and not quite part time," adding that he accepted it with the understanding that he would no longer be available for extended out-of-town work as an actor. He said the search was on for a new marketing director.

Up next from the company is a unique "environmental" production of Jeffrey Hatcher's "Three Viewings," which will be performed at Muehlebach Funeral Home, 6800 Troost Ave. The show runs Oct. 22 through Nov. 10. The cast includes David Fritts, Katie Gilchrist and Jeanne Averill. Melinda McCrary directs.

In February the company returns to the National World War I Museum for a production of R.C. Sheriff's "Journey's End," a 1928 play based on the playwright's experience as a British soldier. Mark Robbins will direct.

For more information, go to KCActors.org.

Shakespeare in the park

The Shakespeare Festival's artistic director, Sidonie Garrett has chosen the organization's 2014 production: "A Winter's Tale," which the festival has never staged.

The play, published in 1623, is a mix of drama and comedy and is often categorized as one of the Bard's "late romances."

"I like the play, and I've never done it," Garrett said. "It's a true tragic-comedy. I think there's some great stuff to be had with it. And it's a great ensemble piece.

The show will run June 17-July 6.

'Gruesome Playground Injuries'

"Gruesome Playground Injuries" by Rajiv Joseph opens Saturday at the Fishtank Performance Studio, 1715 Wyandotte St. This is the first local production of a play by Joseph, whose "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" ran on Broadway in 2010.

"Injuries" traces the relationship between a man and woman from childhood to their late 30s. Heidi Van and Chris Roady star in the two-character piece, directed by Sidonie Garrett.

Garrett, the Shakespeare Festival's artistic director, said she enjoyed the challenge of shifting gears from the panoramic scope of directing in Southmoreland Park to the intimacy of the Fishtank, which seats 50 at the most. But she also likes the play.

"The psychology of the relationship is interesting as you travel with this couple over a 30-year period," she said. "They have external injuries and internal injuries. I think the internal ones are much more gruesome than the external ones, actually."

Garrett said she's always intrigued by two-character plays. And she has worked with Van and Roady before.

"It's funny and it's tragic," she said.

The show opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 13. For more information, call 816-809-7110 or go to BrownPaperTickets.com.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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(c)2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

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