Stage Savvy: Goodbye, Kansas City

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{Header photo by Rich Sutton.}

Note: this article was previously published in the June 2013 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

My very first Stage Savvy column was published in June 2003 – ten years ago this month. How appropriate, then, that this will be my last Stage Savvy column. You see, I’m leaving Kansas City (and therefore stopping my volunteering with KC Stage). I’ve been accepted to the University of Southern California – Annenberg for their Masters of Arts in Specialized Journalism – The Arts, a nine month program that I got a taste of when I was awarded a fellowship from them back in 2010. I have no idea what will happen when May 2014 rolls around, but am doubtful I will be coming back to Kansas City.

That first column (originally titled “Stage Savvy 101”) started with a short introduction of who I was, and the purpose of the column. “This is the first article in an ongoing series to try to bring what we do behind the stage and on to the audience – a sort of Theatre for Dummies without the copyright infringement. These articles are to be a primer, a way to get those unfamiliar with certain aspects of theatre a working knowledge of what goes on.” I end my introduction with the note, “I hope to bring to the topic a little levity, to try and take the drama out of drama.”

Over the years, as my writing got better and my involvement in the arts grew, the column shifted: while it still was used for that introductory concept, geared toward the audience, I started using it to also include editorials (including one against what I’ve titled the long-ass curtain call, still an issue) as well as topics for people like myself, non-professionals in the world of the performing arts. It became more of a guide to the various aspects of the performing arts, be it marketing, the business side of things, or new and upcoming trends (like my ‘intro to podcasts’ article). When I came back from that fellowship in 2010, I created my blog and named it after this column, and started posting my articles there as well as my reviews.

USC campus. Photo by Rich Sutton.

Going to USC Annenberg and LA is a thrilling, but scary, change for me. I have lived in the Midwest all my life: my first 18 years in a small town that’s about an hour southwest of St. Louis, and then moving to Kansas City to go to school at Park College (now Park University) – and then sticking around after. Part of the reason I picked Park for my college was because I knew, introvert that I am at heart, that I could not handle a big school or big classrooms at that time. I’m now getting ready to go to a school that’s so large, they have 19 libraries on campus, in one of the biggest cities in the world. I graduated with a major in journalism and a minor in theatre, but was having problems getting a job that was in my career choice, using my writing. So, I started volunteering with KC Stage way back in 1998 (and joined the staff in 2004) as a way to get past that catch-22 of needing experience to get experience. Although it never got me that career, it did lead me to that fellowship above and now this change in my life.

Since that time, I’ve done quite a lot both on and off stage, but I also haven’t actually done that much. I learned to direct, although I only directed four and a half full lengths and a handful of one acts (and all but one of them was a joy). I acted, although my biggest role was “Mr. Rogers” (no, that’s not a typo) in Ten Little Indians. I’ve stage managed seven and a half times (with the most memorable being The Barn Players’ The Full Monty, as it gave me my immortal line “I think I’m tired of seeing penis”). And aside from KC Stage, I’ve been on the board of four different arts organizations (including three years as president of the Platte County Arts Council) and was able to sit on the theatre panel for the Missouri Arts Council. I taught myself a little bit of marketing, a little bit of management, and would like to think I was constantly working on my writing and editing. I’ve worked with organizations just beginning, and ones that were folding; with organizations north of the river and in Independence and in Overland Park.

As I prepare to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues in the Kansas City area, I find myself at a loss for words. I’d like to think I made a positive impact on the arts community in the area, but I also know that my brusque way of doing my job and in speaking, combined with the fact that I’ve never been very good at interacting with people, has made me more than a few people dislike me. I’ve even had a stalker who sent me what was effectively a death threat (which ended in a trip to the police).

The Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton

I am always surprised at how some people seem to think KC Stage is much bigger than it actually is. More times than I care to admit, I’ve had people who obviously change how they interact with me once they realized I was that Angie Fiedler Sutton. I’ve tried to not abuse my connection to it, but have on occasion grabbed some amazing opportunities that were on my proverbial bucket list: to see A Prairie Home Companion live at Starlight, to meet Christopher Durang at the Inge Festival, and to garner myself free tickets to Planet Comicon and (hopefully soon) a Skype interview with Wil Wheaton. In the end, I do what needs to be done to get the job done, and try not to let it worry me as to what people think of me. I’m not always successful.

I’ve been a fan of the theatre for as long as I can remember. I remember, too, the performance that made me sit up and take notice – to say to myself, ‘I need to be a part of this, in any way possible’. I had a bit of a crush on my high school English teacher (who also taught theatre), and he was in a local community college production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (as George, if it matters). At the time, I didn’t know the story, and wondered when my mother asked why I would want to see such a depressing play. I remember the end scene: George making Lenny kneel down and look out, while he points a gun at the back of Lenny’s head. George acquiesces to Lenny’s request to tell him about the rabbits, and you can see the tears in George’s eyes as he knows this is the only way out of this situation, and as he cocks the gun … the stage lights go OUT. And a gunshot echoes in the darkness. And I, totally unaware that this was how this story ended, sat there in shock. I couldn’t applaud, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t BREATHE.

It was marvelous.

Photo by Rich Sutton.

It frustrates me that there are people out there who wouldn’t think twice of spending a couple of hundred bucks on tickets to a football game or a rock concert (not that I have anything against either), but think that tickets to the local professional production of The Mousetrap are too pricey. It also frustrates me that there is so much ‘drama in drama’ – that there is this sense from a lot of people that the arts are good for you, and therefore must be swallowed like a bitter pill and taken because you have to. Wrapped in that is my frustration of the idea of the pretension of the arts that many people place on it: that it is Art, something that should be (appropriately enough) placed on a pedestal and admired with awe and not love.

I love theatre (and by extension, the arts overall). I love it with such a passion that I want everyone in the world to know how great it can be to sit in a darkened theatre and be transformed by what you see on the stage like I was. Every time I go see a show, I hope it will make me lose myself in it the way that Of Mice and Men did so many years ago.

But I also love theatre like a spouse or family member – love it in spite of (and sometimes because of) all the faults. I know that not every show will be perfect, and I know that sometimes it’s more about the act of doing this crazy thing called art than whether it’s actually any good or not. I know from my own experience how much work goes into the process, and in the end, I always try to respect that. (This is why you will never hear me give my full opinion on a show at the theatre – even if I liked it.)

Finally, I love theatre (and participate in it) for the same reason a lot of people join the military: to be a part of something bigger than myself. There is nothing so heady to me as being part of a production when everything goes right, where you hear that response from the audience and feel that energy that means that you and they are telling a story – together.

I used to end each Stage Savvy with a quote that summed up what that column was covering, figuring someone else always has a better way to say what I’m trying to articulate. So, in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” And in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

  • What an enormous contribution you’ve made to Kansas City’s theater scene, Angie. Whenever *I’ve* been stymied in trying to support the creative work of our city’s dynamic performing-arts and indie-media scene, you’ve been the most reliable, helpful and responsive person on my list. You will be greatly missed: my best wishes in your transition to the Big City and the new world you’ll help create. May Kansas City be an important part of that!

  • Thank you, Don. It’s always nice to hear those things. And this blog will hopefully survive the transition, although I don’t want to guarantee I’ll have the time or energy to keep it up when I’m knee-deep in my classes.