Theater Fills Her Days and Nights
April 30, 2009
by John Long
Many of us multi-task every day. But Missy Koonce is playing two theater roles at the same time, once again proving herself to be a master of the local theater scene. She’s directing "The Witches" at the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center and starring in "Bare" at the Unicorn Theatre. The two plays are running concurrently through May 17.
Most performances of "The Witches" are during the day, and "Bare" performances are mostly in the evenings.
I sat down to talk with Koonce recently about both roles and what she’s been up to since ending a five-year gig when she owned bar Natasha with business partner J.D. Mann. These days, she is being selective about new work.
“I personally want the freedom to choose with my heart about what projects I want to do,” she said.
Having been an actor in Kansas City for many years, she and Mann took a great leap of faith when they opened bar Natasha in the Crossroads area of Kansas City. It quickly became the preeminent spot for cabaret acts and local actors to go to after their evening shows ended. For the LGBT community, it was a great space to hold events and fundraisers.
Unfortunately for the bar’s ongoing business, not enough people returned on regular nights after the fundraisers had ended. She and Mann closed bar Natasha last year to move on to new projects. The space was recently purchased and is now a new venue called Flo’s Cabaret.
“'The Witches' has turned out to be a really, really great, fun show,” she said. “I’m so proud of the cast. Ron Megee is, of course, starring as the Great High Witch. He used to put me in shows all the time when he was directing, and I was his star, and now he’s my star. We take turns going back and forth. It’s a great vehicle for him, and he’s very funny. The whole cast is amazingly talented.”
The ensemble includes actors Nancy Marcy, Lauretta Pope, Cooper J. Scott, Dakota Hoar and Michael Dragen, of whom she proudly said, “I’ve choreographed him before, and he was a bar Natasha Idol.”
“What’s great about it is that it’s got something for all ages. The adults really enjoy it, and I put little secret gems in there, you know, like Fractured Fairy Tales where the kids don’t get it but the adults really like it.”
Koonce said she was also thrilled to be back on the stage at the Unicorn Theatre in "Bare." She plays Claire, the mother. (See Paul Donovan’s review of "Bare" also on www.campkc.com.)
Among the other roles she has played at the Unicorn are Yitzhak in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and Lucille Ball in the one-woman show "Loving Lucy," written by local playwright Phil Blue Owl Hooser.
"Loving Lucy," she recalled, “was hard. One-woman shows are lonely. I’m used to being in ensemble pieces where everybody is equal and you play lots of characters, so this was a real departure for me. It was a great experience and certainly a stretch for me as an artist.”
“You’ll notice that was one of my last shows before I retired from the theater for a few years,” she said with a laugh.
To support her acting career, Koonce spent several years tending bar in places such as Sisters and Tootsies. At the former Dixie Belle bar, she was the first female bartender after discussing the idea with owners Michael Burnes and Johnny Parks. She said that they set it up on a 30-day trial basis by mutual agreement.
“I remember when I first started working there, I was on the main bar on Sunday days. I worked with the bartender “Widow Cooper,” and I’d get everything from ‘What’s the fish doing behind the bar?’ or ‘When did this become an aquarium?’ ”
“It was very, very segregated at that time, in the early ’90s. Eventually they saw that I was serious about being part of the leather community and got their drinks and made them the way that they wanted.”
It all worked out, she said. “That was what was so great. The Dixie Belle was such a great family and such a great group of guys who were very supportive of me.”
Her acting career began at the Unicorn in Mark Houston’s "Expiring Minds Want to Know, Or Six Women with Brain Death."
“That was the show right after I had graduated from college in 1989. Cynthia Levin hired me to do that show, and I was the youngest person in the cast. But yeah, I was working in bars and doing theater and interestingly enough, 20 years later, it’s basically the same story,” she said with a laugh. “Only with more experience.”
Koonce has been directing since college, but professionally, she began directing with Ron Megee and Late Night Theatre. She had moved to Denver with a friend and was acting in dinner theater.
“I lived there for basically 10 months, and Ron and I talked almost every day on the phone. He said, ‘You know, Missy, I am starting this company and calling it Late Night Theatre. We’re going to open with "The Birds," and I really want you to come home and be in charge of the women’s company. I want to do a women’s company, too, and I want you to do this with me.”
Her friendship with Megee goes beyond acting. They’re both familiar faces at AIDS Walk, Gay Pride and many other events in the LGBT community where they have emceed or been auctioneers. She has also served on the board of the AIDS Service Foundation and is a board member for the Millennial League. She has received other awards, including a GLAAD leadership award that she and Ron Megee received at the same time.
Koonce grew up in Grain Valley, Mo., where her parents still live, and she has a great relationship with them. She lives in her one-bedroom bungalow in Westwood with her dog Izzy and her cats Guy and Lilli, and she has been dating her friend Stacie for about a year.
This is a good time for Koonce, and she plans to take the summer off.
“My first summer in maybe 10 years that I’ve taken time off,” she said.
She continues to sing and entertain at the Piano Room at 8410 Wornall in Kansas City , and Heather Price will be there on her off weeks. “Those other weeks, I’m going to travel” she said. “I’m going to take a trip to New York. I haven’t been to New York since I opened the bar. I’m going to see friends in Austin, Texas.”
Has she thought of relocating to New York or Los Angeles? “Oh God, no,” she said. “I’m a Kansas City girl. I like Kansas City. I like the people here. I have a vested interest in this community. I’m as famous as I would like to be.”