Kansas City’s theater scene should be a safe and comfortable space, said Kevin King, detailing his effort to specifically provide a place where queer voices can not only feel heard, but celebrated.
“Since 2019, we’ve been basically gay all the time,” said King, producing artistic director at Whim Productions, an LGBTQ+ theater company with a performance space on Prospect Avenue.
Whim’s script for its productions includes exclusively presenting works from queer playwrights with narratives that center around the queer experience.
“A big part of what we are focused on is how we can make theater better for all the people that are involved,” said King, who noted Whim Productions’ artistic committee helps determine programming and ensures that the plays chosen align with its mission.
October’s production, “Boxed”, told the story of a date gone wrong, causing significant fallout that will change the lives and relationships of the two male leads.
“The first half has some really great laughs, but it is also dealing with a lot of heavier things, like issues about about consent, racism, sexual aggression, and sexual assault,” said King.
“Boxed” was directed by Darrington Clark and starred actors Luke Knopke Jacque Davidson, During rehearsal for the show, the production team set aside a discussion day where Clark led conversation about how Blackness intersects with being queer and queer identities.
“It was so great to just be in the room for that conversation, and it was also really very cool that my play was able to create a space for that conversation,” said King, the playwright who crafted “Boxed.”
‘I can do that’
When Whim Productions was founded in 2011, it featured plays that were not necessarily queer-focused, but were all written by King.
“It started literally on a whim,” he said. “I went to the Kansas City Fringe Festival, and I realized that several of the productions there had been written by just regular people. That was when I thought, ‘I think I can do that.’
Whim Productions’ first play — “Film Classics Presents: Heaven So Far” — marked the beginning of a winding journey. This spoof of 1950s housewife dramas quickly garnered attention and acclaim. It not only became the seventh-most-attended production in the 2011 KC Fringe Festival but also achieved the distinction of being the best-selling show in its venue, the Unicorn Theater.
Remarkably, even in this early production, queer themes found their place in the spotlight, King noted. He described the play as a “campy, kind of ridiculous show” that playfully engaged with issues close to the LGBTQ+ community, providing a glimpse of the unique and entertaining approach that Whim Productions would continue to bring to the stage in the years to come.
Whim’s flagship program, “Alphabet Soup: Stories from Queer Voices”, is a short play showcase featuring the work of other LGBTQ+ playwrights in the Kansas City region. The first production was part of the 2015 KC Fringe Festival.
“All the shows for the Fringe Festival have to be just an hour, and I realized that it could end up being a bigger thing,” said King.
Based on the success of the production, Whim Productions made the showcase a yearly standalone production. King is intentional about only using Kansas City playwrights for Alphabet Soup, he said.
“That continues the mission here of only doing works by people with ties to the Kansas City community. We’re focused on bringing up the people here in Kansas City,” he said.
Under King’s guidance, Alphabet Soup’s chosen playwrights engage in exclusive workshops, allowing for their plays to develop and cultivating a community among the writers.
“The workshop lowers the bar to actually have your voice heard,” said King.
“Every year for the past several years, someone who has never written a play before takes a chance and writes up a play and submits it to us,” he continued. “By the end of the process, when they all get up on stage, the audience would not be able to tell the difference.”
Performances with impact
King is motivated by the direct impact of his work on the LGBTQ+ community, he said.
One memorable moment came during the 2019 Alphabet Soup production, when a scene unfolded within a live performance wherein a trans woman, portrayed by a trans actress, came out to her friends, leaving a profound impact on the audience and the actress herself.
“It was just a very powerful moment within the play, but it also ended up creating this really wonderful powerful moment for the trans woman as well,” said King. “For her to just announce that basically every single night during the performance was so fantastic. Every night the audience just exploded. It’s things like that that are really rewarding.”
Whim Productions’ “Playing on the Periphery” portrays the lives of four young queer and questioning children in third grade, portrayed by adult actors. During the play’s showing, King was moved by a moment involving a young audience member who, despite appearing no older than 15, purchased tickets for both themselves and their mother.
“I could tell that this was a moment that they had talked about and that it was important to the youth to be paying for that,” said King. “They stayed after, talked to the actors and got to meet everybody. They actually took some pictures up on the stage.”
“Then, the next night they came back again. I found out that they had walked several miles to see it again,” he shared. “It’s very humbling to know the impact that that we’re having.”
Whim Productions is currently accepting submissions for ‘Alphabet Soup’ 2024, targeting individuals within a 50-mile radius of Kansas City who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. The submission deadline is Nov. 19, with the production scheduled for April.
“We are just continuing to grow the audience,” said King, noting longer-term plans include launching an incubator series — similar to Alphabet Soup — to develop full-length plays from playwrights worldwide.
He wants to work closely with the playwrights, aiming to produce select plays in an upcoming season each year.
“I think that way, we can end up being a pipeline for kind of the next wave, the next generation of LGBTQ playwrights,” King said.
Whim Space will be hosting The Black Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Chicken & Biscuits,’ a hilarious family comedy by Douglas Lyons from November 24 through December 3.
Visit whimproductions.org for information about submissions for Alphabet Soup 2024 or tickets for their next production.