There is a consensus among artists of all vocations in the Kansas City area that, though there is an exceptional exchange of ideas and an abundance of creativity abounds, there’s a lack of commercial vitality with regard to artistic métier.
Recipient of the 2012 Inspiration Grant from the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City, The Monocle — a new performing arts production company taking its name from the modish eye-piece and adopting its retro sophistication as the founders search for new ways to advance toward the future — is one of the inventive entities crafting a platform where performance and payment can coexist.
Co-founder, writer, composer, and performer, Christian Hankel discusses the cultural and artistic needs he, along with the three other founding members of The Monocle, hopes to meet. Marrying art ability with business savvy is the key to how the company will accomplish the goal of producing original works and hiring artists at a livable wage.
With internationally renowned tenor, Nathan Granner; nationally recognized actor/director Katie Gilchrist; and breathtaking Brazilian jazz vocalist Shay Estes, Hankel answers the question: how do we create a situation where performing artists can afford to work within their discipline, instead of spending most of their time working in jobs that do not serve them?
By changing the game.
“I have been struggling with this question for quite awhile. You can’t actually support yourself as an artist in Kansas City. In general, it is very, very difficult to make a living,” Hankel admits.
For the opportunity to be vigorous in his trade as well as to create an avenue for the spirited action of other artists, Hankel investigates the cause of Kansas City’s sometimes listless approach to patronizing the arts.
“We have this amazing performing arts community in Kansas City. It’s on par with cities ten times its size. We have really talented people and lots of talented people. And then we have a community of arts supporters who are fervent. They are really great, but it’s not a big community of art supporters. Then we have an audience that encompasses those people and a few more.”
All great ideas begin by questioning the status quo and by refusing the quotidian standards that inform calloused cultural habits.
What Hankel finds, like so many others, is that artists, to some extent, have to supplement their craft with a mainstream job, treating it more as a hobby than career. This also means the artist is neglecting her ingenuity, her imagination, her gift.
“Every hour they spend on this other job,” Hankel regrets, “is an hour they don’t spend thinking about new ideas. They’re not honing their skills. They aren’t finding new work; they aren’t creating new work. So, their career suffers. The arts community suffers, and I think, the city suffers.”
But at the tail end of his discovery, Hankel ascertains that, not only are the artists available, but the money is also available, and so is the audience. His challenge is to bring them together.
As other companies concentrate on the business of running a season — putting together shows, selling tickets, and delivering marketing materials — The Monocle alters the customary model by taking an invigorated look at it. Hankel has spent 20 years asking those hard questions and has finally drafted a new design for the performing arts community, artists and supporters alike.
“We will create two types of shows,” he explains with a dream-swept demeanor and excitement in his voice, “original pieces and custom entertainment packages for private clients — corporate events, weddings, et cetera.”
Playing events yields more money and though large and diverse audiences may not routinely come to playhouses, they are drawn to events.
Often the entertainment warbles quietly there in the corner, but The Monocle will provide a presentation appropriate for the spotlight, in hopes of satisfying both the spectators and the client.
The Monocle relishes its ability to tailor a program to an event’s theme, or, if there is an event, but the theme is undecided, The Monocle assists in developing it. “Along with having these great performing artists, we also happen to be writers, and composers, directors, and producers.” The final product can be theatrical or it can be musical.
Clients will be willing to pay more because of the added value. With that additional money and fair wage, the company will pay the artists who’ve worked with them and reinvest in The Monocle, striving for sustainability.
With their first original show they long to make good on the promise of becoming economically alive while helping to lift Kansas City’s self esteem as it’s reflected by its undernourished relationship with the arts.
“The Orphans Feast,” a fresh offering for the holiday season, is The Monocle’s inaugural production — a play with music.
Written and composed by Hankel & Granner, and opening Friday, November 30, at The Arts Asylum, “The Orphans Feast” is a mix of the traditional and avant-garde, a tale about bringing friends and strangers together over a shared meal, people forming their own families around the holiday table.
Beginning in 1940s London, this show bounces through time and over continents, coming to the present, then flashes to an apocalyptic future when zombies roam and kill at will.
Even with music, humor, and creatures of the night, “The Orphans Feast” focuses on family. Sometimes we choose our own. “The show is quirky in the best sense of the term, very entertaining, and ultimately hopeful.”
Hope is the cornerstone of The Monocle’s mission and they prove it by introducing themselves with this heartfelt holiday show that captures their style and professional personality.
““We are students of the past looking to the future and we want to support the arts by supporting artists,” Hankel says. “We all do better, if we’re all doing better.”
Join The Monocle on indiegogo to help fund their campaign, to claim your amazing incentive — like an hour long bass lesson with a widely respected bassist, and receive your ticket to the show before time runs out.
For more information on show times, visit The Monocle website.