A new theater group in Michigan is bringing a fresh approach to funding and producing plays.
It’s called Kickshaw Theatre and its first production, “The Electric Baby,” is at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth in Ann Arbor.
Artistic director Lynn Lammers tells us Kickshaw is all about “creativity, curiosity and connectivity.” She explains that they want to create experiences that inspire curiosity and help viewers expand their perspective of the world.
“Are we making theater just because we like theater? Or are we telling stories that really matter to someone in our community, that they can grab hold of and say to their friends, ‘this is me up on the stage. I can’t put my story into words, but here it is right here,’” she says.
To that end, Kickshaw has reached out to connect with different community organizations. Lammers tells us they’re excited to be working with the kite network, because “they get what we’re trying to do.”
Amy Milanovich is the executive director of the kite network, a non-profit organization that provides grief education and peer-to-peer support to adults who are in grief.
“In some ways I think this was always meant to be,” Milanovich says. “We had been talking about trying to find a different way to help the public explore the issue of grief, and potentially doing it through art.”
So when Kickshaw sent their script to the kite network, Milanovich tells us “it was like a gift that just dropped in our laps.”
“I mean truly, we felt immediately like this was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for, where we could partner with an art-based organization to figure out how to help people explore grief in another way,” she says.
Lammers tells us “The Electric Baby” is about six people “whose lives interconnect in these really strange ways,” and slowly come together around a baby fighting a terminal illness.
“Along the way they’re trying to figure themselves out, figure their lives out. They’ve all experienced grief and loss in various different ways,” Lammers says. “It sounds like a sad play, doesn’t it? But I tell you what, on opening night we had so many laughs.”
Critic Patty Nolan calls the show “one of the most imaginative, sweetly melancholy comedies we’ve seen in a while.” She also calls the cast “a dream team of Detroit favorites.”
Milanovich tells us that Kickshaw will be presenting a special “Kite Night” on Saturday, Feb. 6. The event will include a performance of “The Electric Baby” followed by a reception and what she calls a “talk-back,” in which representatives from the kite network will sit with Lammers and some of the actors to have a conversation about issues that come up in the play as well as “explore the issues related to grief and loss and how people grieve differently.”
“What’s so exciting about Kickshaw … is that it’s not just about sitting there and being entertained. It’s about really exploring the issue and this, we hope, will give people an opportunity to further discuss what they’ve just seen and what their reaction is to it, and to hear a little bit both from the production side as well as the kite network side about our reactions to the play and our sort of reflections about how that reflects into real life experience,” Milanovich says.
Lammers believes that other theater and arts groups could learn a lot from Kickshaw’s approach.
“We’re really intentional about how we connect to the community,” Lammers says. “We’re having great fun making theater, but who cares? That question is important to us. We’re also interested in telling diverse stories and looking at stories from diverse perspectives, and one of the reasons this play works so well is that it looks at grief and different kinds of grief from lots of different vantage points.”
Information about “The Electric Baby” can be found at kickshawtheatre.org.