So we're back from Kansas where 'The Bus' played to over 400 people in Wichita and Topeka -- on behalf of the cast and crew we want to say: WOW!
During our mini-tour, we were treated to our largest audiences to date, and were moved to tears by the hospitality and generosity of the good people of the Sunflower State. Many on our team said it was the most humbling and moving experience of their professional lives. Our goal was to perform as near the Westboro Baptist Church as we could, and indeed, we did -- we were within sight of the Kansas State Capitol building and just over a mile from the notorious church headed by Pastor Fred Phelps and his family.
In our audience was a mother whose son died of AIDS, parents who came to understand, students who drove up to three hours to see our show, gay couples and straight folk, believers and atheists, people on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights in Kansas -- and even a couple of Kickstarter supporters.
I don't think any of our cast and crew expected the intense and warm reception we were to receive Kansas. Before we left New York and Vermont, friends and family expressed concern about us bringing a gay-themed play to Kansas, much less with the stated purpose to perform near an infamous hate group. I drove our set out from Vermont and on the way to Topeka, I passed a number of church billboards proclaiming 1 woman + 1 man = Family -- and the largest roadside cross I've ever seen -- at over 200 feet tall, it looms over the mid-west on Interstate 70.
When we arrived in Topeka, we kept seeing 'no gun' signs -- they're everywhere, posted near the entrances to many public buildings. In Kansas, it's legal to carry a concealed weapon and these signs are meant to deter carrying firearms into public buildings.
So even though, in hindsight, there were few reasons for us to be concerned, some of us in the production were feeling a bit uneasy about this romantic idea of taking our play to middle America.
And then we began performing, and meeting lots of really nice Kansans.
During the shows I stood in the back of the theater and watched as The Bus unfolded for some of the most attentive audiences we've ever played for. The cast felt it, too -- one of our actors, Bryan Fitzgerald, said that, 'Like no other time, he felt every eye focused on the show like a laser.' It was fascinating to listen to our audiences, too -- what they laughed at, when they were quiet, and when a few of them audibly gasped. Some jokes in the script that never got a response in New York, got hearty and sustained laughter from our generous folks in Kansas.
At the end of every show our cast received standing ovations -- lots of tears, smiles and people saying how much they appreciated us bringing the show to their state. We were so moved.
We played in three very different venues -- a college theater on the campus of Wichita State University, The Blue Planet Cafe, in Topeka, and probably our most interesting venue -- the social hall of the MCC Church in Topeka, where we were also treated to a church dinner just before the show. A super big thank you to all three of these places for hosting us.
After each show we participated in a talk back where the cast, crew and our special guests could talk with our audience. We were honored to have Nate Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps with us along with Kerry Wilks and Steph Mott of Kansas Equality Coalition -- an organization in Kansas striving for LGBT rights (and who treated us to a great night of Karaoke in Wichita!). During the talk backs we heard a lot of frustration about Westboro Baptist Church. Our audiences wanted us to know that the Phelps family in no way represented them or the rest of Kansas.
We received good publicity, too -- The Wichita Eagle wrote a nice article about us on the day of our show here, and the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote about us here as well as the state's LGBT magazine, Liberty Press. Two television stations covered our visit including one station that taped part of the show.
Steph Mott of Kansas Equality Coalition also wrote a beautiful blog about us saying, "I have never been more moved by any experience in my life than to be a
tiny part of the phenomenal presence of "The Bus" in our town. Topeka
has shifted a bit more away from bigotry, and a bit closer to equality.
The hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to be a part of
this experience will be forever changed." You you can read Steph's post here.
To say that we're incredibly grateful for this experience is beyond understatement. We're proud to have gone to Kansas and to have met some super people there who we now call friends -- and none of it would've been possible without you! During our talk backs we told each audience that we wanted to introduce to them to you, our over 400 Kickstarter backers who couldn't be there but who were responsible for the show existing Off Broadway and in Kansas.
So, once again, THANK YOU for your support -- even though we're not done yet!
I'll have another post in the coming days wrapping things up, with information on rewards delivery (I promise, they're coming!) and some thoughts on where our play is headed from here. But until then, here are some photos from our shows in Kansas.
Our poster at Wichita State University.
At Wichita State University -- our roadie, Shepherd Michael, taking tickets.
Before the show starts at Wichita State University.
Bruce, who came to our show, is a Wichita legend -- in the 1970's he threw a pie in the face of Anita Bryant.
Kerry Wilks and Kansas Equality treated our cast and crew to a great night of Karaoke in Wichita (pictured: Will Roland at the mike)
Our venue in Topeka, The Blue Planet Cafe is within walking distance of the Kansas State Capitol and serves vegan food and damn good coffee.
Melissa and owner Linda Carson (not pictured) were our hosts at The Blue Planet.
The Kansas State Capitol was across the street from our hotel and just down the street from The Blue Planet Cafe.
Our stage is set with about 65 seats in the back of The Blue Planet.
These guys were great! This is Chris Johnson of Journey 4 Justice -- this group actively seeks to disrupt Westboro Baptist Church protests by displaying flags in front of Westboro's picket signs. Journey 4 Justice showed up at all of our Topeka shows. Their presence may have been one of the reasons that Westboro decided not to protest our performance in Topeka. You can learn more about them here.
Journey 4 Justice in front of The Blue Planet Cafe for our evening performance.
Nate Phelps, Steph Mott (KEC) and the cast doing a talk back following a performance at The Blue Planet Cafe.
Actress Kerry McGann and stage manager Josh Wright during a talk back.
Actor Bryan Fitzgerald during a talk back.
Bryan Fitzgerald, Will Roland and Travis Mitchell during a talkback.
l. to r. Bryan Fitzgerald, Steph Mott (Kansas Equality), Nate Phelps, Jim Lantz, Shepherd Michael, Travis Mitchell, Will Roland, Julia Lawler, Bob Nuner, Kerry McGann and Josh Wright. (not pictured: our incredible director John Simpkins)
Journey 4 Justice gave Nate Phelps an award.
These guys drove three hours from Pittsburg, Kansas to see our show.
Loading the set into MCC Church, Topeka.
Prepping set and sound at MCC Church.
Nate Phelps introduced The Bus at MCC Church with a moving speech.
The long drive home with our set. Total miles traveled: 3100.