If KC's Fringe Festival has a face, it might be Tara Varney's. For the past four years, the playwright, director and producer has been involved with at least one of the festival's 10 most-attended shows. Among the big scores: 2008's Jesus Christ, King of Comedy; 2009's Lingerie Shop; 2010's Khaaaaan! The Musical; and 2011's Hexing Hitler. This year, she and her creative partner, Bryan Colley, have received an Inspiration Grant from the ArtsKC Fund for their latest Fringe work, Sexing Hitler.
The Pitch: How do Hexing Hitler and this year's Sexing Hitler complement each other?
Varney: Sexing Hitler is this crazy story we found about how the Third Reich invented inflatable pleasure dolls to prevent soldiers from fraternizing with French prostitutes. The project is led by Heinrich Himmler, who sees it as a way to inspire his Aryan dream in the SS soldiers and keep the Nordic blood pure. Last year's play, Hexing Hitler, told the true story of a group of Americans who tried to kill Hitler by using a voodoo effigy to put a death spell on him. Both plays can stand alone, but they are designed to be performed together, utilizing the same cast. They are very different, but there are a lot of parallels. Obviously, both are set during World War II and indirectly involve Adolf Hitler. Both involve people trying to harness a fantasy as a means to an end: one for murder and the other to create a master race. Both explore power struggles between people, and both are about using imagination to affect world events. And both use a doll as a focal point for these fantasies.
At the same time, Hexing Hitler is fairly realistic and tells a believable story within a single time frame and single location. Sexing Hitler does away with realistic constraints. It spans several years and also uses poetry, music and dance to tell the story. In terms of style, they are complete opposites.
What's the most outrageous scene you've ever witnessed at a Kansas City Fringe Festival?
A lot of people are going to think that nearly everything in the Fringe Festival is outrageous, and, to a certain extent, it is because it's riskier theater than you're going to find pretty much anywhere else. And that's the purpose of Fringe: for artists to have a space where they can challenge themselves and their audiences, and not stick with something tried-and-true because they have bills to pay.
Not that there's anything wrong with traditional theater — it's just that most companies aren't in a financial position to be able to take artistic risks. There's a lot riding on every decision they make. They've got to keep selling tickets. They've got boards of directors to please. And many don't want to do any other types of theater anyway because they love what they put up, and that's cool, too.
What gets me excited about Fringe is that I know we can try anything. It's a breeding ground for creativity. Anything can happen. Fringe doesn't censor its artists, so it's a really wonderful place to say yes to possibilities, to say, "This really scares me. It may fail spectacularly. I'll do it." Fringe is usually pretty raw. There isn't the luxury of rehearsing in the performance space or polishing the technical aspects for days before the show goes up. Things go wrong all the time. They just do. And the really great thing is, you just deal with it — you move on. Fringe audiences understand that. They kind of thrive on it. They root for you, so it's like we're all on the same team. It makes it a really supportive, party atmosphere.
What local summer productions are you excited about?
I'm not able to see a lot of the shows that I'd like to, due to my weird schedule and finances. Honestly, there are a lot of plays on the Fringe schedule that I'm interested in: Skillet Tag, Thank You Notes, Cultural Confrontation and a collection of 10-minute plays by different authors called Fourplay.
What are you going to do this summer for fun? What are you going to do professionally?
Summers are incredibly busy for me. I teach a lot of summer camps for the Coterie Theatre and Young Audiences. My days are filled with teaching theater, and my nights and weekends are filled with doing theater, so having free time is a real oddity. I'll probably spend some time here and there watching birds visit my backyard feeders. Pretty geeky, I know, but it's fun and relaxing for me. I will probably collapse for a couple of days after Fringe is over, but Bryan and I have already started working on our Fringe show for 2013, and there is already a lot to do.
Sexing Hitler, part of the Fringe Festival, will be performed at Off Center Theatre in Crown Center (2450 Grand) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 20; 8 p.m. Saturday, July 21; 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 23; 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 24; 8 p.m. Thursday, July 26; and 10 p.m. Saturday, July 28.