Playwright tells the story of Midtown diversity

Using interviews with people in Midtown, Donna Ziegenhorn has transformed their stories into compelling performance.

Posted by Dan Blom

Playwright Donna Ziegenhorn says her new play, “Bingo on the Boulevard,” started out as “The Troost Project,” using the symbolic dividing line to tell personal stories from both sides. However, it expanded into a panoramic view of diverse races, sexual orientations, socio-economics and mental health issues. “Bingo” is about people from different backgrounds finding community in strange places, Ziegenhorn says.

The new play will debut at this year’s Festival of Faiths at the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.

Bringing a community’s own stories into the performance makes a powerful connection for the community and audience, a power Ziegenhorn believes in and has witnessed through her work. “From a distance we can enter someone else’s life, and a playwright can raise more intimate questions,” she says.

“They claim who they are and their identity just by speaking it. Through stories that they have lived – not dogma or opinion – there is a visceral connection with people and to the audience.” “Bingo on the Boulevard” is Ziegenhorn’s second production based on stories from Kansas City. Her 2004 work, “The Hindu and the Cowboy,” produced a number of times in recent years, focuses on moving interfaith stories. “Bingo” tells the stories of diversity in Kansas City’s midtown.

The two plays spring from interviews with real people in Midtown. “Hindu” is backed by about 100 interviews exploring stories from different faith traditions. It launched from a post-911 group that witnessed the urgency to learn about Islam, but also saw a need to learn about other faiths. In it the actors play multiple roles to deliver the compelling tales. In “Bingo,” the nine or 10 actors stay with one character.

“Hindu” has drawn such rave reviews and awards for its compelling message that it is the centerpiece for this year’s festival. “Bingo,” like “Hindu,” will be revised after its initial presentations. Ziegenhorn’s hope is that “Bingo” will be performed in public schools, perhaps with student actors. “Hindu” has been successfully presented in parochial schools, but because of its interfaith base (even though it does not push religion of any kind), it is a harder sell in public schools.

Both plays this year will be produced by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in Kansas City. “The Hindu and the Cowboy” will be presented October 1 and “Bingo on the Boulevard” on October 2. Both performances are at the Plaza Library and are free.

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