In the heart of the United States there is a unique organization that offers teenagers of all abilities an opportunity to learn about the world of theater with seasoned professionals.
The Spinning Tree Theatre of Kansas City originally started as a professional actors’ equity theater company in 2010, putting on musicals and plays. A chance decision in 2019 to stage Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express in conjunction with Variety, the Children’s Charity of Kansas City, became a pivotal time for the organization as they worked with youths of differing abilities and disabilities. A decision was made following the success of this production to focus on the youth.
Andrew and Michael Grayman-Parkhurst founded the Spinning Tree Theatre after spending many years in the New York theater world. Today they run the organization employing professional musicians, stage designers and directors, lighting and music directors and many others, to help produce high-quality, professional shows, providing the youth members, who are mainly in the 13-18 year ago group, with an environment where they can learn all the different aspects that go into creating and staging theater entertainment.
One of their key programs is specifically for young playwrights, where they are each paired with a professional and coached through the creative process to write a play that is new and original. They work together for a few days with the mentor helping to shape the piece. Midweek a professional director comes in with a young director and young actors to help continue to develop the play. After several months of supported development, plays are chosen to be produced in April for the public.
This year, three plays were selected and staged. The first play, titled Rachel/Leah, written by Riley Martin, mentored by Victor Wishna and directed by Julie Shaw, is a contemporary take on the Jewish story of the sisters from the Torah. The next play, titled The ADHD Show, written by Nicholas May, mentored by Frank Higgins and directed by Michael Grayman-Parkhurst is an insightful and humorous exploration of the life of a person with ADHD, with and without medication. The final play, titled Murder on the Transcontinental Express, written by MJ Bradshaw, mentored and directed by Cynthia Hardeman, is a comedy based on a My Little Pony episode with a murder thrown in! They were all well-reviewed and provided a diverse and thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment.
The organization works to achieve an authentically inclusive and safe environment for everyone. The aim is to create conditions that are beneficial to not only teach the rudiments of the theater world, but also allow the participants an opportunity to grow as individuals and as part of a community.
Andrew stresses that it is important to acknowledge and discuss disabilities, race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but the priority is to acknowledge and appreciate the individual, allowing them to create and collaborate with like-minded individuals.
As the world returns to live entertainment post pandemic, it is inspiring to know that Spinning Tree Theatre will be at the forefront, nurturing tomorrow’s theater leaders. G&S