Posted by Gregory Cantrell
INTERNATIONAL EYES ON KANSAS CITY IN
French Comic Playwright’s 400th Birthday Inspires Metro-wide Celebration
Kansas City’s national reputation as a major theatre city is poised for international recognition with anticipated French media coverage of the biggest birthday celebration outside of France for 17th century comic dramatist Molière. A free-to-the-public party with 400-candle cake will happen on January 15, 2022. It’s one event in a nine-month season of festivities.
The party will be the centerpiece of multiple events coordinated and supported by KC MOlière: 400 in 2022, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, spearheaded by the late actor Kip Niven and Felicia Hardison Londré, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita of Theatre at UMKC.
Arts and education events are already in the works beginning in September 2021 and continuing throughout the 2021-22 arts season. Theatres committed to including a Molière play or adaptation or work inspired by his comic spirit include Kansas City Actors Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre, Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, and The Coterie. UMKC Theatre plans a Mobile Molière touring unit to perform a Molière one-act in middle schools. Kansas City Baroque Consortium and Owen Cox Dance Group are among the music and dance groups that will participate.
“There are so many cultural tie-ins with the Metro area,” said Londré, president of KC MOlière: 400 in 2022, Inc. “We have Kansas City’s French founders settling here in 1822, exactly midway between Molière’s birthdate of January 15, 1622, and our 2021-22 festivities.”
Cyprienne Simchowitz, Chair of the International Committee and Honorary Consul of the
French Republic for Kansas and Western Missouri, attended the Volunteer Kickoff for
KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 Cyprienne Simchowitz stated that her French contacts will assist in obtaining French cooperation and coverage for the KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 events. The Volunteer Kickoff was August 6, 2019, at the Diastole Scholars’ Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Simchowitz reiterated one of KC MOlière: 400 in 2022’s stated goals: to turn a national and international spotlight on Kansas City’s thriving arts community and arts audiences.
Molière has been translated into every major language and remains one of the most-produced playwrights in the world. His comedies form the core repertoire of the famed Comédie Française in Paris. The social foibles and pretensions he plays upon with warm humor and sharp wit are timeless.
“Tartuffe” especially has had some politically-charged interpretations over the years. Having twice played that title character, John Rensenhouse, managing director of KC Actors Theatre, knows firsthand the range of comic possibilities. He used a choice tidbit from “Tartuffe” to introduce his Theatrical Production Committee at the recent Volunteer Kickoff party. His committee, co-chaired by Heart of America Shakespeare Festival director Sidonie Garrett, is charged with overseeing participation by Kansas City’s professional theatre companies.
About 60 people attended the Volunteer Kickoff where chairs of seven committees described their missions. Entertainment included Broadway dancer Tracy Terstriep’s demonstration of Baroque court ballet postures and steps. Guitarist Ryan Head played selections by Molière’s contemporary Robert de Visée. Claire Davis performed a Molière monologue in French.
“I was surprised to learn that well over half of Molière’s work was music-based,“ said Londré. “His court ballets were created in collaboration with composers like Lully and Charpentier. Their work along with Baroque painting and garden landscaping and other arts made the Sun King’s reign one of the most vibrant in western history.”
An educational goal of KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 is to reach students of all ages from kindergarten to higher education and instill enjoyment of the classics as a foundation for appreciation of contemporary arts. Martin English, Executive Director of Kansas City Young Audiences, and Dani Trebus, Director of Theatre at Staley High School, co-chair the K-12 Committee, on which the Académie Lafayette is a key player. Twenty-seven area colleges and universities have representatives on the Higher Education Committee headed by Jennifer Martin, UMKC Hall Family Foundation Professor Emerita, and Mechele Leon, University of Kansas Associate Professor of Theatre.
KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 is a festival that will run from September 2021 through 2022 in the greater Kansas City Metro area, featuring theatre, film, dance, music, visual arts, puppetry, book clubs, food, and wine. Venues, times, and dates TBA.
KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 is a community organization that seeks to celebrate Molière, his work, and his theatrical and musical heritage while showcasing Kansas City’s special relationship with France, thereby enhancing Kansas City’s national and international visibility as a cosmopolitan city where the arts flourish. It is a 501(c)(3) organization.