Coterie Stages the First of Three World Premieres in Kansas City

Coterie Stages the First of Three World Premieres in Kansas City

Kansas City's The Coterie, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious theaters for young audiences (TIME magazine deemed it "One of the five best theaters for young audiences in the U.S.") celebrates its 35th season this Friday by kicking off the first of three world premieres.

RED BADGE VARIATIONS is New York playwright Melissa Cooper's theatrical take on the character archetypes and themes established in Stephen Crane's indelible Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage.

Cooper sets her action in modern-day Afghanistan, explaining in a recent interview "[O]ur wars are informed by past wars...there are aspects that are the same, and yet, this is a new war that we are fighting now, this war on terror is different, fundamentally different, in some ways. I was really terms of how it affects these five individual boys."

Jeff Church, The Coterie's producing artistic director, commissioned the work from Cooper after seeing a workshop of her play LITTLE MEDEA. After some discussion, it was decided that using the Crane novel would be a way "to foster dialogue between civilians and soldiers...(in) a country that sometimes forgets it is at war," according to Cooper.

Director Kyle Hatley, who also serves as Kansas City Repertory Theatre's associate artistic director, speaks to the difficulties of developing a new work: "[I]t's my job to support Melissa and her vision and the play every step of the way as much as possible...I think with any new work there are challenges from page to stage. When we're playing around certain questions get raised in rehearsal as you stage things, as you work things out.

"I think as far as what we do in the room is we do anything we can to find a solution." This is Hatley's second go-round directing at The Coterie, and he has an informed take on some of the unique challenges presented by young audiences:

"What's great about Jeff and The Coterie and everyone on the team of this show is they're very mindful of their audience, and educated me (and Melissa) about their audience."

Presented as part of The Coterie Sparks series, which focuses on works for audiences from pre-teen through adult years, RED BADGE VARIATIONS is meticulous in its research. The work uses Logan Black as its military consultant, a position he seems uniquely suited for as both a third-year graduate acting student at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and an Army veteran who saw duty in Iraq.

Of course, as playwright, the main research burden has been Cooper's, and her take on that duty is noteworthy: "You have to do a ton of research, and then you have to the imaginative research of putting yourself in someone else's shoes...When I got a draft done, I showed it to some vets." She says she would often "Just hang out with the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran groups...trying to make it so that when this actor, you know, this character, encounters the different moments, it feels right."

Main character Henry Fleming is played by Kansas City actor Jacob Aaron Cullum. Having appeared on many Kansas City stages, as well as those in Florida and Texas, Cullum says "It's been really fun to create a character, to see what, you know, what I bring to it, how Melissa has written it, what Kyle and Melissa's vision is together."

RED BADGE VARIATIONS opens this Friday and runs through Oct. 5. For tickets and more information, visit, or contact the theater's box office at (816) 474-6552

Photo Credit: Photo by J. Robert Schraeder

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