As of the 2019-20-school term, Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré is now Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita, and as she says in her bio, “has scaled back from full-time teaching.” This issue of Theatre Training News is dedicated to Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré’s excellence, enthusiasm and extreme joy she has poured into not only the UMKC Theatre Division, but also the entire Kansas City theatrical community for over forty years. The 2018 UMKC Today article devoted to Dr. Londré named her “the jewel of UMKC Theatre” and no other title could be as apt.
Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré is beloved.
Dr. Londré was hired by Dr. Patricia McIlrath in the late 1970’s and not only taught classes, but also served as the resident dramaturg and literary manager for the Missouri Repertory Theatre for 22 years. Her scholarly prowess includes publishing over 60 scholarly articles, 25 journalistic publications, 100 book and theatre reviews, and 14 books. Her book, The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930, which won the George Freedley Memorial Book Award presented by the Theatre Library Association in 2008 is a love letter to theatre in Kansas City. And all theatre artisans know that Dr. Londré can be found at almost every opening night, showing her unwavering support for all those making a life in the Kansas City theatrical community.
Announcements of Dr. Londré’s lectures become the hottest ticket in town, whether be it her annual lecture on the Shakespeare authorship question, her Founder’s Day lecture about Dr. Patrica McIlrath forming the Missouri Repertory Theatre and UMKC theatre department (always accompied by Dr. Mac’s beloved Russell Stover’s chocolate), or nightly lectures in Southmoreland Park during The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival that she helped found in 1991.
Never one to rest in one place for very long, Dr. Londré is Co-convener with Kip Niven, organizing KC MOlière (400 in 2022), a city-wide celebration of Molière’s 400th birthday in 2022, bringing together professional and academic participation by all art forms.
In her introduction of Dr. Londré, Kansas City actress Dodie Brown said, “I have seen her in dialogue with her students and she INFUSES them with her energy and support for their achievements. What fortunate students.” Yes Dr. Londré: students, faculty, and theatre patrons have all been fortunate to be graced by your unwavering support and wisdom.
For decades the UMKC Department of Theatre, and the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance have existed as two separate units. The Theatre Department operated as part of the College of Arts & Sciences; and the Conservatory of Music and Dance functioned as its own entity. That separation ended this year, when all of the performing arts disciplines – dance, music, acting, theatre design & technology, opera, musicology, stage management, jazz studies, and all the rest – were brought together, newly named, as the UMKC Conservatory.
Excitement surrounding the merge begin in March of 2019, when Chancellor Mauli Agrawal announced that “natural partners are aligning,” and officially set the plan in motion. Echoing Agrawal’s sentiments, Ken Martin, the newly appointed Patricia McIlrath Endowed Professor and Chair of the Theatre Division of the UMKC Conservatory, sees the reasons for bringing the programs together as self-evident. “The two divisions were a great match”, he says; “What we do and what they do are simpatico”.
“We couldn’t be happier to be paired with the Conservatory,” Martin says, pointing out that when you look at the big picture you immediately see the two departments’ similarities. “The Theatre Department’s graduate and undergraduate programs were already using a Conservatory model. And, parts of the two programs have been working hand in hand for years.” Theatre’s lighting and stage management departments have worked closely with the Conservatory’s opera and dance programs for a quarter of a century, and in recent years there has been a growing trend toward more collaboration among various disciplines in the performing arts programs.
Martin touches on the common needs that all of the performing arts have where facilities are concerned. With the merger, he sees great new possibilities for making the most of the way we use the spaces we share. By discovering new ways to use the spaces we have, we’re laying the groundwork for future possibilities as the UMKC Conservatory grows.
New collaborations began in the spring of 2019 with the Theatre department’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Students from the Conservatory Dance program were cast in the show, and professor David Justin from Dance worked with the show’s director, professor Scott Stackhouse from Theatre, to choreograph their movement and blend it with the work that the acting company was doing. The addition of the dancers added an unexpected dimension to the play and helped make it one of the most exciting events of the year. It was a fantastic collaborative achievement, and as we move forward, we know it was just the first of many more to come.
Theatre is often designated as the most collaborative of all the arts. The MFA in Acting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City acknowledges this and asks students to dive head first into Auto-Cours work. Based on the pedagogy of Jaques Lecoq, Auto-Cours forces artists to work together to create devised theatre. Devised theatre asks the collaborators to bring their own experiences together in order to create a script and, in turn, a show. The 2019 graduating class of MFA actors were able to create a devised piece called The Storytelling Project.
The Storytelling Project was a collaboration between the entire MFA acting class of 2019, director Karen Lisondra, and composer Amado Espinoza. The Storytelling Project explored intimate and imaginative relationships through the Andean Cosmovision’s concept of Pachakutec, or time/space reversal. The devised part of this collaboration began with “soul-texts,” out of which characterization and a script were born. Each of the characters was created from these “soul-texts”. The entire acting ensemble was involved: Marianne McKenzie, Chelsea Kinser, Khalif Gillett, Jason Francescon, Freddy Acevedo, Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, and Emilie Karas, each bringing their own “soul-texts” to the piece.
The group worked together for nine months before the project got on its feet for audiences the first time in Kansas City in 2018. They collaborated with artists across all departments of UMKC’s theatre program. UMKC designers were able to bring lighting, set, and sound to the overall piece in 2018. Marianne McKenzie says, “Without UMKC, we never would have been connected with Karen and Amado, nor had the cool design elements from the students there.”
The journey did not stop there for this successful devised piece. Marianne, Chelsea, Freddy, Yetunde, and Emilie took the show on the road. This fall the group took a revised version of The Storytelling Project, now entirely in Spanish, to Bolivia. The group performed in a number of Bolivian cities, including Cochabamba, La Paz, Tarabuco, and Sucre. McKenzie says that Bolivia served as original inspiration for the piece as both Amado Espinoza and Karen Lisondra have ties to the South American country. “Performing the Pachakutec in Bolivia was like a homecoming,'' says Yetunde Felix-Ukwe. “There was an overwhelming amount of resonance when we did the story in front of people honoring their culture, their history, their mythology and their language.”
The entire project is a testament to the lasting impact that courses such as these can have. Undoubtedly this project has truly changed the performers involved as they grew together in their journey making theatre from nothing. They came into the process bringing only their independent experiences and left having created a cohesive piece of theatre. This piece of theatre they created was entirely new and unique to The Storytelling Project. Karen Lisondra believes “That’s devised theatre. Find boundaries, limitations to work with, and at the same time believe that everything is possible.“ Lisondra is right; Lecoq’s Auto-Cours is designed to force individuals into creative collisions and for them to figure out amongst themselves how to create theatre. These collisions allow actors to question the ways in which actors perceive themselves inside the confines of an ensemble. For McKenzie, “This project completely changed my perception of myself as an actor. I was very cerebral before, but now I consider myself very physical because of what was demanded of me and because of what I proved to myself during the runs. Also, I unleashed my inner dark clown during the process. I learned I can achieve whatever I want if I just put my mind to it. (...) This project truly changed my life.”