KU Theatre & Dance Plans for In-Person Performances

The Department of Theatre & Dance at the University of Kansas offers escapism, comedy, music, dance and poignant drama in its 2021-2022 season.

The department’s production divisions are regrouping after an all-digital season last year, and this season is planned to be live and in-person. Audiences can expect spirited movement, diverse perspectives and appreciation for the written word in seven professionally produced theatre and dance works as well as one student-produced festival of short works. All rehearsals and performances of the University Theatre and Dance Company will follow industry standards as well as state, local and KU guidance regarding COVID-19 safety.

man in a suitcoat and collared shirt looking directly at the camera. Greenery behind him“We are excited to get to work,” said Henry Bial, professor and chair of the department. “There’s nothing like a year of quarantine to make you think hard about your priorities, and for us that’s meant doubling down on our commitment to telling stories that celebrate diversity of all kinds and offer a hopeful vision for the future. We aren’t quite where we hoped we would be with the pandemic, and we may have to make some adjustments along the way, but we need to perform, we want to perform for our community, and we’re going about it as safely as we can. I know our students, staff and faculty will rise to the challenge.” 

This season features a range of projects led by faculty and graduate students, in addition to guest directors and choreographers, which will enrich the art and entertainment scene at the university. The introduction of a student-produced short works festival, the Jayhawk Performance Lab, will offer fresh perspectives and give the student audience stories that reflect a contemporary perspective. In the spring, Gabrielle Lamb, a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow and nationally commissioned choreographer, will take part in a two-week residency as the department’s choreographic fellow. Her work will headline the University Dance Company Spring Concert. A co-production with the KU School of Music and KU Symphony Orchestra of "H.M.S. Pinafore" serves as the season finale.

Performance descriptions:

"Airness," Oct. 1-7. Classic tunes from the '80s and '90s fill the air of dingy bar after dingy bar culminating on a glamorous L.A. stage where everyone — well, almost everyone — pulls for the dark horse contestant in an air guitar competition. This comedy focuses on individualism as well as the challenge of fitting in as a newbie in a group that exudes coolness. Through the art of air guitar, characters discover their authentic selves in big hair, studded wristbands and ripped T-shirts. "Airness" promises rivalry, glorious ridiculousness and genuine joy. It’s a lifestyle for the competitors and great escapism for the audience.

"Head Over Heels," Oct. 22-31. Peril is coming to the kingdom of Arcadia. At risk of losing its beat, a symbol of prosperity generations in the making, the royal family takes on a lively journey to save their kingdom. Together they discover the answer lies in love, acceptance and dancing to the rhythm of one’s own heart. Set to the fabulous music of the 1980s, all-female rock band The Go-Go’s, this progressive love story will have audiences laughing and dancing in their seats.

University Dance Company Fall Concert, Nov. 19-21. The University Dance Company presents its semiannual repertoire concert, "Bodies of Text," featuring choreography by KU faculty including the newest member of the Department of Theatre & Dance, Tristian Griffin, assistant professor of the practice. Ballet, modern/contemporary and hip-hop works all explore the fascinating, fun and complex ways that bodies and texts align, collide and work together.

"The Devils Between Us," Dec. 3-9. For Latifa, a trans woman who came of age in the American South, a return to her childhood home means revisiting her roots, her Muslim religion and a shared trauma that tore apart teenage lovers. When Latifa comes sputtering into George’s auto shop, the surprising reunion leaves them conflicted and yearning for closure. Her return presents an opportunity to close a chapter in her life with the burial of her father and to push an old friend to explore his values. In turn, George shares an unlikely way he always stayed part of Latifa’s life and begins his journey to self-acceptance.

"Measure for Measure," Feb. 25-March 6. From power brokers to delightful comedic characters, this Shakespearean “problem play” explores themes around love, hypocrisy, merciful justice and righteousness. It challenges the audience through silence and sex, chuckles and tricks. A rich and nuanced cast of characters reacts to a governing change together, while one individual’s life hangs in the balance. "Measure for Measure" was written during the same era as many of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, and while still classified as a comedy, its mood reflects that time. The play’s exploration of morality, government and the ever-evolving fabric of society has secured its place as one of Shakespeare’s timeless titles.

University Dance Company Spring Concert, March 25-27. Choreographers examine the notion of "Insider/Outsider" in modern/contemporary, hip-hop and ballet works exploring the complexities of how the binary (exclusion and inclusion) is constructed and the ways it shapes our lives. The department’s Choreographic Fellow Gabrielle Lamb presents her work "Tessellations," a contemporary dance set to playful, Parisian cafe music. A Guggenheim Fellow (2020) and Princess Grace Award winner (2014), Lamb is a New York City-based choreographer and founder of Pigeonwing Dance. Faculty choreographers will also present original works.

Jayhawk Performance Lab Festival, April 1-3. This student-generated performance series features original works created and curated by KU Theatre & Dance students. Presented in a stripped down “laboratory” style, with minimal production, this performance series is a chance for students to create original work that is self-driven. This will be the Jayhawk Performance Lab’s series premiere.

"H.M.S. Pinafore," April 29-May 5. A comic clash that tugs at the heartstrings, the "H.M.S. Pinafore" takes us on deck where secrets are stowed away, chief among them Little Buttercup’s baby-farming past. A young and lovely Josephine appears doomed to marry someone whom she does not love, Sir Joseph, the epitome of unmerited rank, as she struggles with a secret yearning that ultimately puts her lover’s life at risk. Can she convince her controlling father, Captain Corcoran? Love hits the deck, but Buttercup’s secret eases matrimonial woes in this satire of the British class system and masterpiece of musical theatre. Staged in cooperation with the School of Music, featuring the KU Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Carolyn Watson.

Throughout the year, community members will have opportunities to celebrate KU’s Director of Theatre Katherine Pryor, who is retiring in May after 42 years in the department. Additionally, friends, colleagues, patrons and alumni wishing to honor Pryor’s legacy of student support can do so through a gift to the Katherine Pryor Student Emergency Fund via KU Endowment.

Woman dressed in gray with wire-rimmed glasses. She smiles widely and has short gray hair."The generosity of Friends of the Theatre members, alumni, patrons, and KU faculty and staff is incredible. The need for an emergency fund to assist students in crises has grown immensely over the last 10 years. We have witnessed homelessness and hunger, as well as students with the need for medical assistance or help with travel during a family emergency. We are so grateful for the compassion and understanding of our community,” Pryor said. “It is a privilege and an honor to have my name attached to a fund that will benefit students in this manner, especially for those students who have been historically marginalized. I am so grateful to the Department and Friends of the Theatre for creating this endowment. Theatre and dance students are very special, and having my name associated with their health and safety is a dream come true."