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Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe — these and a host of other Hollywood divas are high on every actor’s must-perform list. At one point or another, the combination of outsized egos, glitzy wardrobes and juicy biographies that these legends of the silver screen afford prove to be irresistible fodder for lampooning.
At several points during their careers, Kansas City performer Ron Megee and Coterie Theatre producing artistic director Jeff Church have considered tackling the life and times of Joan Crawford, perhaps the biggest of the Hollywood divas and the product of a Kansas City upbringing. Now, in collaboration with the Unicorn Theatre’s Cynthia Levin and a raft of theater professionals, Megee and Church will present A Very Joan Crawford Christmas, a two-act comedy that promises some sort of camp heaven for local theater-goers.
“We were looking for a piece for the holidays,” Megee explained in a dressing-room interview. The performer was decked out as Joan in a sparkling gown and long satin gloves, with wig piled high and face caked by the bright, clown-like makeup that she favored.
After considering another Crawford holiday piece from the ’90s, Megee said, “we were like, ‘Well, you know what? What if we dabbled and played with our own version?’ And so Jeff Church and I wrote it.”
Church, in a phone interview, recounted how the play was inspired, in part, by Crawford’s unintentionally hilarious autobiography cum domestic handbook My Way of Life. “It berated on exactly how to have a dinner party and how to dress — always wear gowns that have slits — and how to take care of your man and how to brush your eyebrows. It was just hilarious.
“The Unicorn was looking for a vehicle for Ron at Christmastime. I said that I think Ron and I should write a Joan Crawford piece together, and they were game and Ron was game. And we started by just reading that book and a number of other books and making notecards and sitting out by my swimming pool this summer. It sounds luxurious, but it was a lot of hard work.”
Certainly, fitting all that Crawford’s life and career has come to symbolize into the running time of a play would necessitate a pointed writing strategy. Born in Texas and raised in Kansas City for much of her childhood (see sidebar article), Crawford has a story that is long and complicated. From dance hall chorus girl (and sometimes prostitute) in 1920s flapper-era New York and Chicago to young Hollywood starlet and later box-office superstar of the ’30s, then on to Oscar winner of the ’40s and B-movie queen of the ’60s, Crawford’s life and times are truly the stuff of legend. So which Joan will we see onstage at the Unicorn?
“We knew a couple things,” Church responds when asked this. “We knew that we wanted to delve into My Way of Life with its extreme directions in how to live and exercise. But also, we wanted to spoof older Joan, which is to say she’s already a movie legend. And that Joan was kind of also called “B-movie Joan” because Joan did movies like Berserk! and Strait-Jacket and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? So B-movie Joan is a lot of fun.”
This seems a good strategy — from this later-years vantage point, any and all aspects of Crawford’s biography are ripe for exploration. Megee talked about the specifics of A Very Joan Crawford Christmas, which is set in Crawford’s last Manhattan apartment: “In our version, Joan is getting ready for her big holiday party with Mamacita, her German housekeeper, and Carl, her valet, and she makes them act out scenes from her shows.
“Then, in Act 2, it goes crazy. By the end of Act 1 the show is starting to turn, and by Act 2, you’re in for a wild roller coaster. I guess I can say that Bette Davis arrives in Act 2 and all hell breaks loose … It spirals out of control.”
Church added, “There’s a lot of camp and even physical humor, but we actually did try to put a plot in the play. And I can’t give it away, but there’s a significance that Ron Megee is in Kansas City playing Joan Crawford and that fits into the significance of what the overall plot of this entire thing is.”
So the show promises a thorough comedic appraisal of Joan and her life, but why, I wondered, is the Crawford mystique such catnip for gay audiences in the first place?
“She truly is one of the first camp characters, before we knew what camp was,” Megee answered. “The thing is, she played over-the-top characters balls to the wall and gave it her all. And a gay man could hide behind these characters of hers. They were always tragic, they always had drama, there was always the man that was going to get away or was murdered.
“…We [gay men> love hard women. Look at all our icons through the years. We love if they took pills, if they drank, which Joan did. … We love ones who have had tragedy, went through pain, because we ourselves, before we come out of the closet — we can relate to the pain, or we can live through it.”
Two of Crawford’s most famous roles—the Oscar-winning title character in Mildred Pierce and the world-weary Helen Wright in Humoresque — illustrate this hard, exaggeratedly tragic style. Watching Wright saunter melodramatically toward the surf to the strains of Wagner’s epic “Liebestod”, or Pierce fight vainly to hide her hurt as her spoiled daughter Veda berates her middle-class status is sheer movie poetry. And though affected and campy to the extreme, Crawford’s acting choices, in retrospect, seem all too perfect.
The life lessons Crawford acquired from a Kansas City rearing are quite visible in the show, making it all the more poignant.
“She gained formidable strengths from here. … She really looked at it like it was what gave her her ramrod-steel back,” Church says, with a certain understanding. "
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.