Spotlight on Ron Megee

interview

Note: this article will be published in the October 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

“Actor, playwright, producer, and dandy.” So says Ron Megee’s resume, and the various credits show this wide variety (and inherent humor). Everything from the various parodies/homages during the run of Late Night Theatre to being in The Laramie Project in 2001 to doing props for the Coterie’s production of The Wiz to having what amounted to a cameo appearance in the Lyric Opera’s Daughter of the Regiment, Megee has done it all: and he couldn’t be happier about it.

“I have to do all of them,” he says when asked what his favorite aspect of the performing arts is, “because as I get burned or get tired of one thing, then I can I still keep my toe in the pool, as I like to call it, and still feed my artistic side. I love the creative process – I like working as a team. There’s something magical about a bunch of people coming together to make a vision. It’s a drug – it feeds my soul, and I’m not sure how else to describe it. [There’s] something about it, you can have an audience of two or eight thousand and there’s something about that rush of being on stage.”

Megee was born in Olathe, Kan., but had moved to Anaheim, Cal., where he lived until the age of 15. His freshman year was in a small logging town in Washington state, but then his family moved to Blue Springs, where he went to high school and got involved in theatre through City Theatre of Independence.

“I think the people that do not take the chance to do community theatre are fools,” he says with a laugh. “You learn so much in it. First off, you have to do everything, and that’s really what real theatre is like. People that go to school and think that that’s how theatre is going to be once you get out in the real world have a lot to learn. And community theatre, certainly, gives you the, well I’d say give you the balls to do it, might as well just say it.

KC Stage October 2011 cover. Photo by Bob Compton.

“It’s the best place to start. The moment you’re helping get your own costumes and you’re building the set and painting it and you have to perform that night, that gives you the ‘oomph’ – it helped me to do my own theatre.”

You can also see a lot of inspiration in his creation of Late Night in his working with Gorilla Theatre and the Human Observation Lab in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And then in 1997, with A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Late Night Theatre was launched and lasted for ten years.

“I did a couple of shows beforehand,” Megee says, mentioning Valley of the Dolls specifically. “When I started getting the itch that maybe I could do this on my own and this style of theatre – well, not really on my own, it took a giant family – we jumped off the cliff together and did The Birds at Westport Coffee House.”

As to why Late Night ended up closing house, Megee admits a good chunk of it was financials. “We were paying everybody, but the rent kept going up because the Sprint Center was being built,” he says. But he also states that the finances were only part of it. “We started taking ourselves too seriously,” he says. “It was losing its fun factor. If it’s not feeding your soul or if it’s draining you, you’ve got to step away.” He also wanted to have Late Night go out on a high note.

But the Late Night style has far from died. Whether it’s the Unicorn’s A Very Joan Crawford Christmas last December or the various Coterie at Night productions he’s been involved in, Megee still is doing shows in that vein – including the current show at the Coterie, Children of the Damned Corn, which Megee wrote and directed.

Production image from “A Very Joan Crawford Christmas”. Photo courtesy the Unicorn Theatre.

“This one is children that take over a town and kill with sickles,” he says with a seriousness that belies the phrase. “Notice *I* don’t have any children,” he says with a smile. “I’m fearful. Nor do I live by a cornfield. Now, you might.” When I mention that I did grow up in a farming community, he’s quick to ask me, “Did you wear little blond wigs?”

In all seriousness, Megee loves working with the teens as part of the Coterie’s program, where he teaches a class, and in fact started getting them involved in more cutting edge pieces, including a full teen cast for the most recent production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall at The Living Room.

“I love kids – I think they’re great,” he says. “If my life was different, I would’ve had kids, but I’m too centered on myself and enjoy life, so and me and my husband have a schnoodle. So, that’s how I get my fill of kids is to get to work with teens.

“Teens are so much fun because it’s when your personality’s really kicking in. And you can see the kids are going to have the passion for theatre, and the ones that are not that are just there to maybe break out of their shy mold. And you mesh them all together, and you get to see this bonding that many of us have lost over the years – which is that weird like in two weeks time, you could become best friends. And that’s what theatre really is about. I think that’s why community theatre is called community theatre – it’s the community coming together to put together art. There’s something beautiful about that. I think we forget about it in today’s world, you know?”

Children of the Damned Corn is the latest in what is fast becoming a tradition of a Halloween-themed spoof at the Coterie. “It’s truly a Halloween horrorfest,” Megee says. “What I like about it is that it brings together teens that usually might not do something with their parents, and there’s a common bond. One of my favorite things was – we had a teen boy and his mom did zombies one year together, and they actually re-bonded, she said. It was really interesting to watch. They went and got costumes together, worked on it together, because there’s classes in it on how to walk and stuff. It was really interesting to watch them re-bond, and she thanked us at the end. She was like, ‘Thank you. I get to rediscover my son and what he’s like. And I get to watch him.’ It broke down some walls, and I think that’s one of the best things about that kind of experience.”

Production photo from “Children of the Damned Corn”. Courtesy the Coterie Theatre.

This again goes back to Megee’s philosophy of feeding the soul. “Many years ago, I decided I would never do anything for money. I decided that I would do it only to make myself happy or that I was giving something to the world or to myself,” he says. “I find that I’m a lot more relaxed now because of that. The moment I took out the money factor, I found money. I mean, I didn’t find it on the street, but I found ways to make money and do things. I mean, there are times where Jon {Fulton Adams} and I will eat Top Ramen for a couple of weeks as long as we have dog food for our baby and you’re doing your art, I think that’s what matters. It’s interesting.”

His biggest draw to being involved in the performing arts is the inherent teamwork behind the act. In fact, when asked how he goes about directing a play he is also in, it’s all about the people he is working with. “One of the main things I always did,” Megee says, “is I surrounded myself with people I trust beyond belief, and I would always surround myself with people that I really believed in their opinions and their thoughts, and then we worked it as a team.” He continues, “I have a great group of friends that include Jeff Church, Missy Koonce, Corrie Van Ausdal: I would call in the big guns to sit out there and give notes to see the big picture.”

He also is very aware of the audience and their reactions. “I believe in the audience,” he says. “If a bit is working or something has happened and the audience loves it, you’ll try it one more time, and if they love it again, then by the third time, it’s in. And I’ll subtract things that are not working. I’ve always been that way.”

He also is a big proponent of working with a lot of different theatres. “I wish that while I was doing community theatre that I had volunteered more at other theatres,” he says, “because it’s easy to get into a bubble anywhere. I was in a bubble at Late Night. You can get into a bubble easily, and you forget that there are other things working around your bubble. So, that’s one of the reasons I’m working at many different places now: it just opens you up, and you get to see theatre in different light.”

Megee believes it’s vital to the arts community for organizations to work together, and he also thinks that’s the biggest hurdle Kansas City is facing. “I’m not even talking about the bigger theatre groups, I’m talking about the ones that start up,” he says. “It’s wonderful, and I’ve been there where you feel you can do it on your own, but the moment groups rally together and build the community, the better off they are. When that happens, then you’re a group – it’s easier to achieve your goals.”

The Coterie at Night production Children of the Damned Corn, written and directed by Ron Megee, will be at the Just Off Broadway space from Oct 13-30. For more information, go to www.coterietheatre.org.