Julie Denesha at KCUR 89.3FM did an online article on 6 local artists who are surviving/thriving during COVID and included us. I feel like Julie really gets to the heart of the matter in her writing.

Michael and Andy Grayman-Parkhurst

 

Spinning Tree Theatre

 

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Spinning Tree Theatre founders Andrew Grayman-Parkhurst and Michael Grayman-Parkhurst found a new direction in 2020. They plan to collaborate with Variety the Children’s Charity of Kansas City so they can offer inclusive theatre experience for young artists of all abilities.

It was when they realized that the fall series of Spinning Tree Theatre would have to be canceled that Michael Grayman-Parkhurst and Andy Grayman-Parkhurst began to fear for the future of the company they founded 10 years ago. So they decided to widen their vision.

Since moving to Kansas City from New York City in 2010, the two have produced musicals and plays like ‘Violet,’ ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ and ‘Casa Valentina‘ — many of them debut works for Kansas City. In that time, they have also married and have a son together.

When COVID-19 hit in March, they abruptly shut down their production of ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ a musical they’d been looking forward to producing.

“That was difficult because ‘La Cage aux Folles’ was going to be like our ‘Nutcracker’ or ‘Christmas Carol’ of the season,” Andy says. “That was our built-in crowd pleaser, if you will.”

Many of their season ticket holders chose to transfer the value of their tickets to a donation rather than seeking refunds. So the two were cautiously optimistic they’d be able to come back strong in the fall for their 10th anniversary season. But that wasn’t possible.

Their theater was at a crossroads and Michael and Andy needed a plan.

“We wanted to keep doing this, but if we return in a year with no ticket sales, there isn’t going to be money to produce professional theater,” Andy explains. “Unlike larger organizations, there’s no endowment. There’s no savings. We’re hand-to-mouth and we’ve always been that way.”

While some organizations started offering productions online, Michael and Andy were reluctant to lose the special connection that comes from performing in front of a live audience.

“The thing that’s amazing about live theater is the relationship performers have with the audience and the energy that goes back and forth with them,” Michael says.

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J. Robert Schraeder
The cast of ‘Starlight Express’ in Spinnings Tree’s first collaboration with Variety the Children’s Charity of Kansas City.

So the two decided to rethink their mission entirely. For the time being, they won’t return to a schedule of professional productions. Instead, in late November, they partnered with Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City. Once it is safe to bring live theater back to the stage, Spinning Tree will offer year-round opportunities for local teens with disabilities and their able-bodied peers to collaborate with professional artists to produce plays.

The decision didn’t come out of the blue. Last year Spinning Tree worked with Variety KC on a production of ‘Starlight Express’ during a summer youth theater project.

“We always called it our heart project,” Andy says. “We want joy and we want light and we want authentic experiences in our professional lives as well as personal lives. We want to be in a room with people that are open-hearted and that are grateful, because gratitude begets gratitude. And it just felt like, with that group of kids, we were at our best and what we gave them, they gave back.”

The collaboration fills a need. Locally, there are few opportunities where kids with disabilities can collaborate with able-bodied peers.

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J. Robert Schraeder
Robin Robles as Rusty and the cast of ‘Starlight Express’ in 2019.

“We couldn’t wait to do it again and we also can’t wait to find even more kids who want this opportunity,” says Michael. “We have a very supportive board that’s gone with us.”

For now, with their hectic production schedule on hold, Michael and Andy have been able to spend more time with family — including their 3-year-old son, Sammy.

“I think it taught me to slow down and look around and take a breath, look at what we do and and make a huge decision like this,” Michael says. “For us, it was like 2020 allowed us to say, ‘We think we want to do something new.'”