When Stuart Carden moved to Kansas City at the beginning of September, he got to work. He didn’t have a permanent place to live, and his family hadn’t followed him from Chicago yet, but he wanted to introduce himself to the city as the new artistic director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre — so he started shaking hands at intermissions and giving curtain speeches.
“I wanted to be in a community, at a theater where you could really, personally, understand the impact the work is having and genuinely have a conversation with the community that you’re serving,” Carden says. “It just felt like honestly the perfect fit.”
Carden had been based in Chicago since 2001. Recently, he’s done freelance work with groups like The Second City and Lyric Opera of Chicago; before that, he was the associate artistic director of Chicago’s Writers Theatre. The Writers Theatre focuses on producing new works, as did City Theatre in Pittsburgh, where he also spent a stint outside Chicago as associate artistic director.
To Carden, “there’s nothing more thrilling” than producing a new piece of theater. So the Rep’s strong new play programming — particularly the OriginKC: New Works Festival started by previous artistic director Eric Rosen and running next March 6 to April 5 in its fifth season — made the theater stand out to him.
“I could come in with a new works program that already has found an audience and has the support,” Carden explains. “I could come in and amplify that program, bring my own producing and artistic aesthetic to that program, but the foundations were already there.”
Carden’s tried to spend what little free time he’s had exploring the city. He cites the coffee scene and maker culture as two major positives. As a vegetarian, he also quickly discovered Char Bar’s jackfruit barbecue sandwich. When his wife, a public art curator, brings their seven-year-old twin sons, he’s excited to take them to a Sporting KC game.
You just might see Carden shaking hands at intermission of the Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, which opens Nov. 22. Although Jason Chanos, associate artistic director who led the Rep between Rosen’s exit and Carden’s entrance, will direct, Carden says it’s been a topic of conversation with theatergoers — particularly the Rep’s traditional “glitter row.” (If you’re not familiar, you have to see for yourself.)
“As soon as I got here, I had heard from so many people, ‘It’s great that you all are doing a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but you’re not getting rid of the glitter row, right?’” Carden says. But working with a different version of A Christmas Carol while keeping some classic Rep touches encapsulates his vision for the theater: “an evolution, not a revolution.”
GO: Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry St., Kansas City, Mo. Showtimes vary. $38-$82. kcrep.org.