Friday, October 5, 2012

"Spotlight on David Luby" by Jon Parton

This article is from the August 2012 issue of KC Stage

When it comes to theatre, Kansas City is just as vibrant and diverse as some of the larger cities in the country. It was not always that way, though. Individuals within the local theatre community have made Kansas City a great home to many performing arts. One such individual is David Luby, theatre teacher at the Paseo Academy of Performing Arts and president of Gorilla Theatre.

Luby first got involved with theatre back at Bonneville High School in Ogden, Utah. "They were doing West Side Story and they needed somebody to paint the sets. My friend was the stage manager for the production and he roped me into it," Luby said.

After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah, Luby attended the University of Missouri – Kansas City for his graduate degree. Even though Luby was initially interested in set design, his professors asked him to consider directing as well. After graduating, Luby took on a number of freelance jobs in film and other related endeavors. "When you're fresh out of college, you do whatever you can to pay off those student loans," said Luby.

During this time of uncertainty in 1988, Luby collaborated with a few of his colleagues and friends like to start up what would become Gorilla Theatre. Since its inception, the theatre company has performed more than 100 productions and 75 venues. "We all got together and said, 'Why are we working for someone else? Let's start our own theatre company,'" Luby said. "And that was the birth of Gorilla."

By September of 1989, Gorilla Theatre was officially formed. The following year, they put on their first show, Plan 9 from Outer Space. The show was so successful, Luby was interviewed by the BBC on his involvement. Luby said that one of the goals was to create a company that would act as a stepping stone between community and professional theatre. "We wanted to provide a venue for unrecognized artists to be seen, both performers and playwrights," Luby said.

Luby also wanted to reach out to younger audiences. He said they accomplished that by bringing theatre to public venues and charging little or no money for the shows. "Theatre seemed to be kind of a dying art form. That most of the audience were older people. That there was no theatre being done to attract young people," said Luby. "When we started, there was not much of anything other than a few community theatres. And there were only four equity theatres. There wasn't much."

More than twenty years later, Luby said that Kansas City's theatre community has grown rapidly. "It's getting hard to find talent now because there are so many [venues]," Luby said.

The theatre company has vowed to perform every surviving Greek play, 33 of them in all, every summer. This past summer, Luby staged a production of The Suppliant Maidens.

In addition to running Gorilla Theatre, Luby took on the role of a DJ at KKFI from 1997 to 2002 when he hosted a program called Episode Irreverent. Having control of the airwaves for two hours a week, Luby played a mix of eclectic music and spoken word content. He also brought in live musicians and poets, giving local artists a chance to show off their talents. "We did a live recording of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the Westport Coffeehouse," Luby said, "I made a serial over a month. So for five weeks, I played one act of The Winter's Tale on the radio."

Luby entered a new phase of his career when he began teaching theatre for the Kansas City, Missouri School District eleven years ago. "I had just recently got married and my wife said, 'You need a real job.'" said Luby.

One of Luby's friends, a music instructor, advised him to apply for a substitute position at the school district. Although Luby enjoyed the change, he was required to go back to school in order to receive his teaching certification. "Working full-time, going to school full-time, it was rough," Luby said, "Going to school full-time during the summer, and then I always had to have a couple of classes while I was teaching, and doing shows, and still running Gorilla Theatre."

Playing the role of a teacher has not always been an easy one for Luby. "This is the hardest thing I've ever done," said Luby. "I've got kids who could care less about theatre. They're just here because they don't want to go to another school. And so I've got to try to get them excited. At the same time, I've got a kid who knows more about Broadway than I do and he's in ninth grade."

Luby said that his experiences with Gorilla Theatre have assisted him with his teaching. He said that the wide range of experienced and inexperienced performers helped him learn how to deal with the wide variety of students he faced at the school.

As head of the theatre department at the school, Luby takes it upon himself to involve his students in various acting competitions and workshops. "Five years ago, we set up an annual pilgrimage with our graduating seniors in theatre and dance and design to go to New York and do workshops and see shows and audition," said Luby. "This past year, one of them got a callback to the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts."

One of Luby's former students, Shanice Hayes, wowed the judges on America's Got Talent earlier this year when she performed a duet with her father Maurice in front of a nationwide audience.

In a school district beleaguered for many years, Luby and Paseo stand out for their accomplishments. Just this year, Paseo won the district's Pylon award for the most improved school in the district.

While Luby finds teaching to be difficult, he said there is no other job he would rather have. "I like it here," Luby said. "I could have been teaching at Rockhurst High School, but I chose here instead. Seeing my students succeed is rewarding."

Jon Parton is a local actor and writer. He is a native of Kansas City.

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