Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heidi Van recognized as one of Kansas City's Masterminds

Masterminds 2010: This year's creative geniuses

Meet Our Masterminds: Winners of the 2010 Awards

Once again, The Pitch presents some of this city's aesthetic adventurers with $1,000 each — no strings attached — just for doing what they do.

Each year, we ask our readers to nominate artists, innovators and entrepreneurs who are changing the city's cultural landscape. This isn't a popularity contest or a lifetime-achievement award; instead, we want to recognize individuals or groups whose contributions are influencing the city's cultural and creative landscape.

We back up our appreciation with cash because we know that these people often do their work with little financial reward. A thousand bucks, we figure, is a small investment toward keeping the city interesting.

We'll hand out the checks at our annual Artopia party — a night of fashion, music, food and all-around creative energy — on Saturday, April 3, at the Screenland (1656 Washington). Until then, you can read about this year's Masterminds in this Artopia pullout section. The party that night starts at 7; tickets cost $25 at the door, or $20 if you get them sooner by calling us at 816-561-6061.

Mastermind: Performance
Heidi Van


When she puts on the nose, Heidi Van is free.

"Clowns make the rules," Van says. "They have the authority to change those rules. They can die. They can come back. They can look out at the audience and say, 'You know what? I'm an all-caps CLOWN!'"

Van makes rules, too. The pixie-ish native of Kansas City, Kansas, is as comfortable farcing it up for the New Theatre's dinnertime crowds as she is gliding through dark, experimental, movement-based clown extravaganzas like The Coppelia Project.

In the latter show and other shows like it, Van and her Hybrid-theater cohorts have achieved, through clowning, a casual profundity — work that seems simple yet cuts deep.

An actress, director, teacher of incarcerated juveniles, and manager of the Fishtank theater at 17th Street and Wyandotte, Van buys the freedom to clown through labor that's mundane (sweeping the Fishtank, painting its walls), instructional (guiding artists interested in a Fishtank show through the process of writing proposals and estimating budgets) and managerial (gathering the team to nurse an idea into a fully realized performance). The effort is also altruistic: By keeping the Fishtank alive, she gives Kansas City a space where the unlikely flourishes — where other performers are free to put on the nose, too.

Still in its first year, the teensy theater has hosted local and national performers putting on work old and new. It has given us Lisa Cordes' series of living-news performances in which motley casts declaim the writings of Sarah Palin or Carrie Prejean. It has mounted one-woman shows from out of town as well as locally cast plays that otherwise wouldn't have been staged here. It has put on a citywide show-and-tell, and it has dared improvised comedy every Saturday and themed celebrations of new performance art on First Fridays. (At one show inspired by Union Station's Warhol exhibit, Van dressed as Warhol-shooter Valerie Solanas.) We've seen workshops, rehearsals and Peter Lawless composing and performing music in the windows.

Those shop windows overlooking Wyandotte Street give the space its name as well as its greatest inspiration. Fishtank founder Corrie Van Ausdal even hatched an environmental-theater breakthrough when she staged Dial 'M' for Murder entirely behind the storefront's glass. The Hybrid theater collective followed up this past fall with clown love story. Written by the group, it was a tender and riotous tale of a street-sweeping clown (Matt Weiss) who falls for a comically buxom baker (Van, padded à la Dolly Parton) whom he sees each day in a sweet-shop window. For most of the show, Weiss was outside looking in, just like the audience members, who sat in folding chairs out on Wyandotte.

An original show, sharply written and performed, that actually spilled out into our city itself? That's why we call Van a Mastermind.

-- By Alan Scherstuhl

Read about the other MASTERMIND recipients at the link below.

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