KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As local theaters remain closed due to COVID-19, two organizations are partnering to provide grants for local actors, stage managers, directors and technicians.
The Theater League, a nonprofit performing arts organization, designated funds from its endowment. It tapped the Theater Community Fund to help distribute grants up to $500 each.
"That cuts a lot of people's rent in half or could pay a couple months of student loans. It could pay for a couple of months of groceries," said Jake Walker, the executive director for the Theater Community Fund.
Walker, a full-time actor, founded TCF in October after suffering a loss of income himself. He was set to perform in Canada before COVID-19 changed the world.
"To see all of my income disappear and potential income for at least a year just become non-existent was profoundly upsetting," Walker said.
He decided to reach out to friends for help on Facebook but soon realized that others may not have that same support.
In the midst of his own hardship, Walker created a food pantry for anyone in the community. With the seats covered and the stage removed, the Unicorn Theater now provides the space for food, toiletries and pet items.
"We're not going to turn away someone who is hungry," Walker said. "Food insecurity is skyrocketing in America so we want to make sure that if someone's hungry, we can give them at least some pasta."
Just weeks after starting the food bank, TCF caught the attention of the Theater League. The board asked Walker if TCF could help identify local theater artists in need and help distribute the grants.
It's assistance Sidonie Garrett knows is needed.
"The longer this goes on, the more challenging it becomes because the longer you don't have work or don't have as much work, the more your bills may stack up and you may not have any savings left," said Garrett, the executive artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.
Garrett was forced to cancel this year's outdoor festival because of the pandemic. She now hopes it can return in 2021 after the approval of a vaccine.
In the meantime, they've held classes and performances online, but Garrett admitted it hasn't been easy.
"We're not filmmakers. We're theater-makers so we're used to coming together in a room," Garrett said. "We rehearse together, we perform together we have a live audience giving us feedback and energy, so it's been a real pivot to learn how to engage in storytelling through a different medium that is not our initial forte, and it's hard to compete with real filmmakers."
While it may be challenging to navigate the current state of theater, Walker hopes TCF will boost the local theater industry and encourage more artists to come to the city in the future.
"We're hoping to be able to create an environment in Kansas City that makes Kansas City attractive to other artists... and actually makes it easier to have a career in the arts in Kansas City," Walker said.
For more information about TCF's food pantry or to apply for grant assistance, visit the organization's website. The Theater League plans to award the grants after Jan. 1, 2021.
The grant application states, "applicants must be professional actors, stage managers, designers or technicians who reside in the Greater Kansas City area and performed in, designed, or assisted at a professional (not community) theater in the Greater Kansas City area from 2018 to 2020."
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