Kansas City theater has an important question to ask itself: Is diversity actually important, or is diversity being implemented solely as a means for earning grant money? This is the question that Linda Williams of KC Melting Pot Theatre wants the Kansas City art scene to reckon with.
Williams is the general manager at KC Melting Pot, a professional theater company based in Kansas City that is about to stage its second theater season directed entirely by Black women.
Melting Pot’s upcoming season begins this September and features four plays focusing on Black family life spanning from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present.
“Black people are not excited about plays that depict them as servants or tell the stories of slavery,” Williams says. “We want to see our real lives depicted on stage just like everyone else does.”
Founded nearly a decade ago, Melting Pot got its name from its desire to represent all artists. After employing local folks for all positions within the theater, it began to turn its focus to Black theater and Black stories because, according to Williams, there was a void locally. “Theater in KC is kinda stuck in the same old shows,” Williams says. “That’s what we’re trying to break.”
Every performance hopes to move audience members and open dialogue within the Kansas City community. Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley, the artistic director of the Melting Pot, says, “We aim to bring you the best theater that we possibly can, telling stories from a Black perspective that invites everybody into the conversation.”
The season starts with Mother/son, set in the midst of the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a dark comedy-drama about a mixed-race man and his white mother in denial about her own racism and addiction. Mother/son is written by KC native Lewis Morrow and will be directed by Nicole Hodges Persley.
The second and third shows are Pulitzer winners: The Piano Lesson by August Wilson and Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury. The Piano Lesson is part of Wilson’s century cycle set in the thirties while Fairview is a 2018 comedy. Both are must-see shows that address historic and modern tensions surrounding race relations in America.
“[Fairview] takes an interesting look at various views of race and ethnicity and the misconceptions that are accepted purely based on stereotypes,” says director Lynn King.
The final show of the season is 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist Zora Howard’s Stew, set in a kitchen as four generations of women come together to prepare a special meal for an annual celebration. As with all other shows, it will feature talkbacks and themed community events that celebrate the long history of family and reunion in Black culture.“The kitchen is the heart of the home,” Stew director Ile Haggins says. “That’s where everything happens, that’s where conversations occur, where connections are made. [Stew] unpacks their dreams, their struggles, some turmoil that they’re faced with and the violence that’s in their community that creeps into their home.”