This article was previously published in the July 2010 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).
“What makes it my show is a sense of a wide perspective and variety: that you don’t always know what you’re going to get, other than quality.” So says Lori Lee Triplett, executive director of IMAGO DEI about her directing style.
Triplett has been involved with theatre all her life: when she was four years old, she told her mother she wanted to be an actress and that was what she was going to do in her life. Not so much prophetic as a call to arms, Triplett started dance classes when she was 4, piano lessons in the first grade, had her professional acting debut at 16, her directorial debut was at 19, and wrote her first play at 19.
Originally from Topeka, she has moved 21 times in her life. She received a BA in drama from the University of Arkansas, her MA in theatre from UMKC, and even spent some time in LA and North Hollywood.
“I really found that Hollywood was not where I wanted to be, so I came back here,” Triplett says. “I wanted it to be in the Midwest because I loved the seasons, and from my previous experience I really felt like Kansas City had a great theatre community.”
Back in 1994, she started incorporating her faith into her love of drama through the Knox Drama Team at Knox Presbyterian Church. “Before, I’ve always kept my faith separate from theatre in a sense — although you never truly remove your faith, art doesn’t always reflect faith. So, my pastor came to me and asked if I would help him start a new contemporary service.” While at first she was hesitant, she agreed to give it a try and the rest, as they say, is history. The theatre program at Knox grew (they do five productions a year currently) and was the inspiration for creating what is now IMAGO DEI and the Salt and Light Drama Troupe, a core group of 10 to 20 actors that are the resident ensemble for IMAGO DEI which does 11 productions a year.
The history of the church and arts is, as Triplett says, a checkered past. Originally sponsors of theatre, there was a period when churches were banning theatre, and are just now starting to return to arts.
“It engages all the senses,” Triplett explains. “It’s allowing them to use the many different tools available for their different ideas, whether it be for spiritual growth or evangelism, outreach or social service, or even just fellowship.
“And if you look at the other side of it, for the artist who has faith, who has that within them, that is a part of them that should be expressed in whatever form that artist chooses.”
IMAGO DEI isn’t just a theatre, however. Triplett is pleased that she is able to offer an interdisciplinary organization at their current location at the Granada Theatre in Kansas City, Kan. Originally, they were in an arts center up the street from the Granada, but it didn’t have a theatre space. So, IMAGO started looking for a place — most likely a warehouse they could use for a black box. But the mayor’s office suggested contacting Butch Rigby, who was currently using the Granada as one of the Screenland Theatres in the area. IMAGO has a dance company, a visual arts gallery, and the literary arts (with a magazine) as well.
One of the reasons they were able to get the Granada is that IMAGO DEI has a national connection (and even international). They have participants in 30 states and 10 foreign countries. In fact, in February of next year, one of the plays Triplett has written is scheduled for a multi-city/state tour.
“I always kept saying that arts are regional, they’re community-based,” she says with a wry grin. “But in many cases, I’m actually better known outside of Kansas City. A college in Georgia contacted me after seeing a workshop that I taught at a national conference and asked if I would consider bringing my troupe to perform at their college.” She was glad to do it, but couldn’t see doing just the one college, and so started the process of booking other organizations around the college. The college itself helped with some of the bookings as well as her national board of directors.
Her workshops, which as the multi-city tour started because people were asking her to do them when she was an adjunct instructor at Baker University, has given her another opportunity: writing a series of nine films on the Beatitudes that KCPT has agreed to advise, with the eventual goal of broadcasting on PBS.
“I am a huge fan of Decalogue, by Krzysztof Kieślowski. But it was done in the ’80s, and you can tell it was done in the ’80s. And it was done in Poland, and you can tell that it was done in Poland,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want to recreate anything that he’s done, but I want to build on it, like an artist will reply to another artist.” Decalogue is a 10-film series on the Ten Commandments, one film per commandment. “One of the brilliant things that he did was that he didn’t preach: he told a story that related a conflict or a situation in which the commandment would be reflected. I wanted to look at the Beatitudes — and look at that as a response as a sense.”
Triplett has published over 100 scripts, with 23 of them having received full-scale productions. This includes the current production she’s directing, Good Kids (July 8 – 10), which was an expansion of a short musical written by Phil Ashley and David Doherty. The story is about two groups in a classroom, the brains and the jocks, who have to take a math test as a group — and will be graded as a group.
“It’s about a simple idea of when there is a test, no matter what the test is, do people work together? And what are some of the decisions they have to make as they go through that process?”
In directing her shows, she says, “I really prefer people who have the highest skill set and who have a willing heart. So, I want someone who wants to learn and create together. I think it’s important that there be an overall concept that your production team understands, so that every part of the show can fall into the concept, and I think that’s really important that there be an overall vision to the piece.”
The biggest challenge of running IMAGO DEI is in getting the word out, especially in this economy. Triplett is excited that they now have a home — but she has to constantly remind herself that it’s a process. “The best thing you can do is work on your skills every single day, create every single day, and to never stop creating.”