By Shana Siren Kempton
The Arts Asylum opened its doors in 2011 with one mission – to provide “a safe space to create.” After 10 years of hosting, promoting and making art, and in the process, engaging over 17,000 people a year, they made the difficult decision to leave their well-loved historic building and theater at 1001 E. 9th St. and open anew.
Act two of their story includes an ever-expanding cast of characters in a setting more hospitable to their mission of safety for all. Now located in East Brookside on the A-Z Theatrical Campus at 824 E. Meyer Blvd., the performance venue and artist refuge has finally brought live theater to the area, increasing patronage to nearby businesses and greater visibility to their movement.
Miss Gay Missouri
The stage has been set, the crowds have come, and the momentum is palpable. Their soft opening was playing host to the Miss Gay Missouri America Pageant in March to a sold-out audience.
“You can still hear the drag queens and there’s a little glitter everywhere,” beams Korey Childs, artistic director for The Arts Asylum. “Our tagline is ‘a safe place to create,’ so we wanted to start off our story here with the pageant. For so long, so many of those people had to hide behind bars and had to slip in through back doors. We wanted to open up our doors and really prove to Brookside and to them that we are a safe and welcoming place for everyone to come and create.”
Gabby for God
“Gabby for God,” a new play by local playwright Jennifer Cannady, premiers on April 21 and is The Arts Asylum’s first in-house production of the year. With an all-female cast and peppered with satire, the play examines the experiences of six women whose lives and beliefs intersect one afternoon.
“My intent is to show that we can still relate as human beings even if our belief systems aren’t exactly the same,” says Cannady. Her connection to The Arts Asylum dates back to an event in 2019 called “Script Saturdays.” Cannady’s play was chosen and set to premier in 2020. After what has been dubbed “the long intermission” in the arts community of pandemic restrictions, opening night is finally here “Gabby for God” runs April 21-30 and tickets cost $20.
Built in the 1930s, the new space has undergone a rapid transformation over the past 90 days. Construction, rehearsals and lots of hustling by local talent has given light and life to a previously empty box. While the interior walls provide shelter and intimacy, the asylum does as much outside as they do inside. Their programs include the Pendleton Arts Block, the weekly Art Garden KC pop-up, arts education for Crossroads Preparatory Academy, partnering with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for Drag Queen Story Time, art exhibits in galleries across the metro, and the Theater Community Fund of Kansas City which provides support and relief to artists experiencing financial distress.
“We do try to have our hands everywhere because we believe in the community and helping people,” says Childs.
Future plans include expanding to house an art gallery and larger event space, and the addition of braille programs for patrons unable to see the performance. Seating for 155 will remain flexible for 100% accessibility to patrons and performers as well as to allow for a theater in the round, which will be set for their next production, “Heathers.”
“We’re a tiny but mighty organization that has a lot of heart and ambition,” says Childs. “We used to say dream bigger and now we say dream differently.”
To purchase tickets for “Gabby for God,” please visit the artsasylum.org/gabby.