Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Spotlight on Katie Gilchrist" by Pete Bakely

This article is from the May 2012 issue of KC Stage

What's Katie Gilchrist Doing Now?
Let's say you were to try to follow Katie Gilchrist and see every show she was doing. Let's narrow it down a little. Let's try to see every show she was involved in for the Months of February and March 2012.

First, you would had to have seen Oleanna, David Mamet's terrifying play about sexual politics in academia which was presented at the Living Room Theater in February. Katie directed David Fritts and Lauren Friedlander in the tense drama.

On February 15, you would have seen Katie sing with Cody Wyoming at Californo's in Westport as part of the national Love Hangover music festival.

On February 23, 24, and 25, you would have seen her play Yitzhak in the concert production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Justin Van Pelt at the Off Center Theater.

Previews for Hungry, featuring Katie in a leading role, began February 29 at the Unicorn Theater. It ran until March 18.

Immediately following this, Katie dropped into The Living Room's production of Bucket of Blood, a stage working of the classic Roger Corman horror film, where she sang husky chanteuse numbers every night.

She was also in rehearsals for The New Century Follies, a burlesque review presented at the renovated Folly Theater where she sang with her longtime friends and collaborators Caroline Oates and Annie Cherry. She began rehearsals for "Dream Ballet", a short play by Alli Jordan that Katie's directing as part of the inTENsity short play program at the Fishtank Performance Studio at the end of April.

Oh, and every Thursday night you would catch her singing with the band Hot Caution at the Czar Bar from 10 until 1.

What most performers consider a good year, Katie did in two months. She shows no sign of letting up. Unbelievably, I managed to find two hours in her schedule to interview her about her life and career as one of the hardest working performers in the Kansas City area.

Where Did Katie Gilchrist Come From?
She's a Kansas City woman born and raised. Her father was a firefighter. And the urge to perform bloomed late.

"I was a jock," she says, "and the only reason I auditioned was my best friend at the time was doing it. It was The Wizard of Oz. It was the first time I heard an audience laugh at something I'd done. And I did every single show after."

At Archbishop O'Hara High School, after her conversion (to acting) she was active in theater and choir, but had no formal training until she got into college.

She went to St. Mary's College in Leavenworth on a soccer/theater/music/academic scholarship. "I played soccer all the way through. They just kind of threw money at me for everything," she laughs. "I did a lot of theater and played a lot of soccer."

St. Mary's gave her the opportunity to perform many different types of parts. She was in Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. At the age of nineteen she played Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. And she played Helena in A Midsummer's Night Dream opposite local actress and producer Heidi Van. "Heidi's the only one who's ever really made me crack up onstage."

She graduated in 1999. Time passed. She got married. She auditioned for and was accepted into the UMKC MFA program as an actor. Somewhere in there she got divorced.

"UMKC lost me a husband and gained me a life. A lot of the things I believe and the philosophies I adhere to as a performer came from that program."

Not wanting to lose any aspect of the opportunity she was given, she missed only one day out of the three years she attended. That was when her goddaughter made her first communion.

The grad school experience put her in classes with teachers from all around the country, especially from the Dell'Arte School in California. They had a rotating teacher in the UMKC faculty and their style of physical comedy has been highly influential on Katie. She also worked with Cynthia Levin of the Unicorn and that association continues today.

She graduated with her MFA in 2003 and began performing regularly in Kansas City.

Where's Katie Been Acting?
Immediately after graduation, Cynthia Levin offered her the female role in Lobby Hero which got her into the actor's union straight out of school. Then Katie moved to New York. She stayed for two years.

In New York City, she would regularly spend 15-16 hours every day working temp jobs and going on auditions. She got, as she says, "a few nibbles", but "decided I wanted to be a working actor instead of a struggling one."

She returned to KC because, "I knew I could work here. Not only work but make an active contribution to the theater community. I perceive a real sense of community. It's a very loving generous community. This city is a hotbed of awesome. The talent here is really astonishing."

Katie has been highly in demand as an actress in Kansas City since she moved back. At Metropoitan Ensemble Theater she's been a regular, appearing (again) as Hedda Gabler, as Kitty in The Time of Your Life, as Anna in Mappa Mundi, and as Mrs. Walker in Tommy. At the Unicorn, she's been in Distracted and Hungry. And at The Living Room, where she's one of the founding artists, she's appeared in Oil Boiler, Carousel, Harold Pinter's Betrayal, and A Bucket of Blood. She's worked at Martin Tanner Productions, the Coterie Theater, Actor's Theater of Kansas City, and will work at The Rep when Carousel moves there next spring.

"I take everything where I think I can learn something. If I could live being a student for the rest of my life ,I would. And not just a student of theater, a student of life. It's been kind of a joke. People ask me, 'Can't you say no?'; 'When do you sleep?' I can sleep when I'm dead."

Where's Katie Been Doing Burlesque?
Another performance career unexpectedly presented itself to Katie and so for the past few years, she's been a popular burlesque performer in Kansas City.

"Years ago, Madame McKay (Marisa McKay Smith), who was an undergraduate at UMKC when I was a grad student there, asked me to join this new burlesque troupe she was forming at Cheryl Kimmi's request for the Fringe Festival. And I couldn't do it; I was booked. She wanted to form a company that was made up of local professional actors, singers, and dancers. I joined the company (Burlesque Downtown Underground) for their Christmas show. That's where I met Caroline Oates."

Caroline Oates is a Kansas City singer, dancer, and actress who turned out to be a kindred soul. She joined up with Katie to form their burlesque company, Bee's Knees Burlesque. Bee's Knees features the duo in a variety of guises, most notably Bumble and Buzz - a non-verbal duo, child-like girls dressed in black pants, white shirts, and bowlers. They specialize in slapstick comedy.

Silent comedy is often been part of her burlesque performing, such as when she and Damian Blake, a local comic actor who does a mean Charlie Chaplin impersonation, did a completely silent 10 minute bit to an enthralled audience as part of the revue Bali Hai' Jinks.

Bali Hai' Jinks was an effort that brought together a wide range of local actors, singers, dancers, and burlesque performers. Katie remembers, "We decided we wanted to do a huge large scale burlesque production in town because nobody does that. Burlesque with a plot."

The show featured Katie and Caroline and a talented group of performers including Victor Vector, Ivanna Rockefeller, Becca Scott, Grant Fletcher-Prewitt, and the aforementioned Damian Blake and his partner and spouse Annie Cherry. This show marked the first performance where Katie, Annie, and Caroline performed together as a trio, singing "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby" as sirens on the rocks.

Katie, Annie and Caroline, plus Damian have continued to work together whenever they can. "Literally our brains have been in a mind meld since that time. Whenever they come calling, I say yes." The most recent show the four did together was The New Century Follies, a large scale burlesque production utilizing the Folly Theater space, a century old classic former burlesque house. The three woman lit up the room with their version of "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" from the musical Gypsy.

What's Katie Been Directing?
As part of her association with The Living Room, Katie's been asked to direct certain shows. One of the first was Love Song by John Kolvenbach, a play about a family with a seemingly mentally ill sibling that ends up being about the nature of love. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Katie recently directed David Mamet's Oleanna, a vicious play about a professor and a student destroying each other's lives over accusations of sexual harassment and rape.

"I'm proud of directing Oleanna. That's a bitch of a play," says Katie.

Both productions were noted for pristine acting from their casts: Bryan Moses, Kimberley Queen, Shauna Journegan, and Rusty Sneary for Love Song and David Fritts and Lauren Friedlander for Oleanna. Katie's noted as an actor's director and as such gets to work with some of the best Kansas City has to offer.

Where's Katie Been Singing?
With all the rest going on, it might be surprising to hear that Katie also has a thriving career as a singer at local bars and clubs. A dynamic performer with a healthy belt, she can be seen singing all over the region in different venues.

She began by doing pickup gigs at the request of her brother. "There was a band headed by a guy named Jason Kane. And my brother asked, 'Can my sister sing with you?' and I'm like 'What are you doing?' but I sang and whenever I went there Jason would bring me up on stage. Jason Kane was a very loving, giving performer. One song turned to four songs. "

A weekly cover gig at Reverbs came soon after. That turned into two weekly gigs at Reverbs and O'Dowd's.

Then came a steady performing gig with a UMKC actor and guitarist Nick Gehlfuss at Club180. Nick had appeared with Katie in Hamlet and The Death of Cupid. He called the venue and set them up to play there every week.

"Nick and I worked really well together. And the theater crowd shifted from their old regular bar to hanging out and seeing us every week."

In the late spring of 2010 two major events occurred: Nick Gehlfuss graduated and moved to New York and Club 180 closed. Katie had already performed with local musicians Vi Tran and Sean Hogge, both actors who were moving to becoming musicians. They came together as Hot Caution with Ben Byard on bass and Jerod Rivers on drums. The venue changed to The Czar Bar and the band has been playing Thursday nights there ever since.

What's Katie Got Coming Up?
Believe it or not, Katie has managed to also have a long term relationship with musician Mark Lowery, an amazing jazz pianist who's almost as busy as she is. They go to each other's shows as often as possible and known as one of Kansas City's sweetest couples.

The New Century Follies continues on a quarterly basis and will be seen again in July. Carousel, done in The Living Room in a minimalist set experimental version will be moved to The Rep relatively intact for the 2012-2013 season.

She's recording an album with Hot Caution. She's recording the music from the stage production of Bucket of Blood, where she sang sultry numbers in front of a crack jazz ensemble. (She also mentioned that Forrest Attaway made her laugh onstage in Bucket of Blood, so Heidi Van is no longer the only one.)

She's performing in the Kansas City Actor's Theatre productions of The Real Inspector Hound and The Mousetrap in August and September.

She'll be at the Czar Bar Thursday nights with Hot Caution.

And whatever else comes her way, she'll be up for it.

What's Katie Gilchrist doing now? Everything.

Pete Bakely is a Kansas City area actor and playwright.

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