Fairway playwright tells the story of Midtown diversity

Donna Ziegenhorn has used interviews with people in Kansas City to transform their stories into compelling performance.

Bringing a community’s own stories into performance makes a powerful connection for the community and an audience, a power Fairway’s Donna Ziegenhorn believes in and has witnessed through her own 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 speaking it. Through stories that they have lived – not dogma or opinion – there is a visceral connection with people and to the audience.”

Ziegenhorn’s second production based on stories from Kansas City, “Bingo on the Boulevard,” will debut this fall during the Festival of Faiths. 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 “Boulevard” and the “Bingo” game both exist in Midtown.

The two plays spring from interviews with real people in the metro. The “Hindu” is backed by about 100 interviews exploring stories from different faith traditions. It launched from a post- 9/11 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.

The “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. “Bingo” started as “The Troost Project,” using the symbolic dividing line to tell personal stories from both sides, but it expanded to a panorama of diversity that includes race, sexual orientation, socio-economics and mental health. “Bingo” is more about people from different backgrounds finding community in strange places, Ziegenhorn says. (And Troost is not the “boulevard” in question.)

Her hope is  “Bingo” will be performed in public schools, perhaps with student actors. “Hindu” has successfully been presented in parochial schools, but because of its interfaith base (even though it does not push religion of any kind) is a harder sell in public schools.

Both plays this year will be produced by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in Kansas City.

The two productions are not her first foray as a playwright, but her original works were drawn from personal stories. Still writing, there is a musical on the drawing board.