Steve Walker

Freelance Arts Reporter

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens. 

In addition, Walker has taught creative writing and film criticism classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and currently teaches at the University of Kansas. His writing has appeared nationally in The Sondheim Review, The Advocate and Theater Week, and locally in The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Business Journal, Ingram's, The Pitch and Review.

Lynn Wilson / Washburn University

As a teenager in Topeka, Kansas, Gary Jackson found solace from loss and loneliness in comic books, with a best friend named Stuart, and in putting his own pen to paper.

He captured those memories in a 2010 poetry collection called Missing You, Metropolis that won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award for "exceptional manuscripts by black poets."

Courtesy Fox Networks

In May 1978, three masked men strode into the Virginia Tavern east of downtown Kansas City and shot up the joint. Michael Spero was killed and his brothers Carl and Joseph injured. In his book The Mafia and the Machine: The Story of the Kansas City Mob, Frank Hayde called it "the most aggressive gangland hit" since the 1933 Union Station Massacre.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For a solid 10 years, actor Don Richard performed on nearly every Kansas City stage. A production of the musical Jane Eyre that began in Wichita, Kansas, eventually landed in New York City on Broadway, where he often appears today. He's currently back in town for Musical Theater Heritage's production of Urinetown: The Musical. 

As part of the monthly series Actors Off Script, Richard, who's now based in Chicago, talks about his journey from modest parts in local theaters to the Broadway stage.

Mike Edmund / Courtesy Andrew Jenks Entertainment

Ryan Ferguson was nineteen years old on March 10, 2004, when he found himself in the back of a police car headed to the station in Columbia, Missouri.

On the basis of flimsy eyewitness reports and faulty if not fabricated evidence, he would be convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder two years earlier of Columbia Daily Tribune staffer Kent Heitholt.

Courtesy Oskar Landi / Urban Romances, A Sundance Selects Release

Though the late choreographer George Balanchine may have been a genius, he had a skewed vision of what his ballerinas should look like. He dictated they be flat-chested and that they follow diets so strict they stopped menstruating. Today that's called body fascism in some circles. And it might have produced as much hurt as art.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Anyone staging Charles Busch's play Die, Mommie, Die! is advised to cast a male actor as its lead female character. Playing the fading movie star Angela Arden at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center is Late Night Theatre veteran De De DeVille, whose given name is David Krom.

As part of our monthly series Actors Off-Script, Krom talks about a 20-plus year career that began on a dare. 

You grew up as David Krom. What was your journey like to becoming De De DeVille? When did that happen?

Courtesy Aimee Larabee

The Hippocratic Oath that's guided doctors for centuries asks them to "remember that there is art to medicine as well as science." The late cardiac surgeon Jeffrey Piehler and Prairie Village filmmaker Aimee Larrabee shared that sentiment, and the result is her documentary Patient: A Surgeon's Journey, making its one-night local premiere October 1 at the Tivoli Cinema in Westport.


Julie Denesha / KCUR

As a young child, Helen Keller lost her vision, hearing, and ability to speak. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, gave her the tools to communicate with the world. Theirs was a friendship that lasted for five decades – and the play about that relationship, The Miracle Worker, opens this week at the Coterie Theatre. 

As part of our monthly series Actors Off-Script, Vanessa Severo (Annie) and Josephine Pellow (Helen) talked about some of the challenges of bringing this story to the stage. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In Sarah Ruhl's play The Oldest Boy, a suburban couple's life is turned on its ear when they learn their 3-year-old son may be the reincarnation of a high Buddhist lama. Playing the boy's mother in the Unicorn Theatre production is Katie Kalahurka. 

For our series called Actors Off-Script, Kalahurka spoke with me about motherhood and the innovative way her character's son's story comes to life.

Doane Gregory

Given the titanic success of Kansas City native Gillian Flynn's third novel Gone Girl and the subsequent David Fincher film, it isn't surprising that Flynn's back catalog would look tasty to the entertainment industry. But can lightning strike twice?

Julie Denesha / KCUR

During the day, Robert Hingula works as an attorney for one of Kansas City’s most prominent law firms.

But for the next few weeks, he’ll be spending his evenings as Shrek, starring in productions at the Jewish Community Center and at Shawnee Mission's Theatre in the Park.

Within the predictable summer onslaught of overstimulated superheroes in crushing surround sound, it’s refreshing to find a charming and funny antidote in "I’ll See You in My Dreams." Directed and co-written by Brett Haley, the movie stars Blythe Danner as Carol, a widowed resident of a retirement village who finds companionship with one man around her age and another some forty years younger. Both of them succeed at whittling away the tough barriers she thought she has needed around her.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has graced Southmoreland Park for 23 seasons — and actor John Rensenhouse has been there for 10 of them. This year, he takes on the role of King Lear, with his volatile moods and ungrateful daughters. 

"He still wants to be king but he doesn’t want to do the work, so he is going to divide his kingdom up into three parts and give a part to each of his daughters," Rensenhouse says. 

Courtesy of James Randi

In the 1970s and '80s, a magician known as the Amazing Randi was a favorite talk show guest for the wryly entertaining way he debunked his fellow illusionists, evangelical faith healers, and psychics alike.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The downtown performance space known as The Living Room arrived on the scene in 2010 with a debut season that included two plays by John Kolvenbach. Five years later, Scott Cordes and Katie Gilchrist are back in the directors’ chairs with both plays being performed in repertory.

Film 4 Productions

When editorial writers hoped to spur the country's westward expansion with the phrase “Go west, young man,” they might not have envisioned a sixteen-year-old from Scotland whose beloved has a bounty on her head. But that’s the deceptively simple narrative of Slow West, director and writer John Maclean’s creative, at times dazzling new western.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a teenager who left his native Scotland for the Colorado territories circa 1870, a place and time of volatility and random violence. Equipped with money, a gun, and two suitcases stuffed with clothes and cooking utensils, he’s on horseback and intent on reuniting with Rose (Caren Pistorius), his girlfriend from back home. Stopped and held at gunpoint by a grizzled outlaw, Jay is saved by a fellow renegade named Silas (the charismatic Michael Fassbender), who conveniently shoots the robber through the head.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / IFC Films

Based on its trailer and the reputation of its rowdy star, one might expect the new Jack Black comedy The D Train to be thick with predictable shenanigans involving the pot-bellied man-child at its center. But the writing and directing team of Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul give Black unexpected layers of complex emotion to make a profound statement about contemporary male sexuality.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 1961, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black and white college students rode buses through the South to challenge segregated public transportation. These "Freedom Riders" are the subject of a new play being staged by the University of Missouri-Kansas City's theater department. It's a collaboration between students, several playwrights, a director, and a choir. They hope to inspire a conversation about how the lessons of the past can have meaning in the present. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theater insiders will call someone who acts, writes, and directs a triple threat. Kyle Hatley, Kansas City Repertory Theatre's resident director, is such a person. Following his acclaimed performance in An Iliad earlier this year, he's now at the helm of Sticky Traps, the theater's third play by Kansas City's own Nathan Louis Jackson.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Hatley talks about his history with Jackson, a playwright-in-residence at the Rep, and what it means to rehearse a show with the playwright in the room.

Andrea and Annie, two students at the University of North Carolina, couldn't have had a worse college bonding experience. During their freshman year, both were sexually assaulted. The trauma united them to speak out about how badly sexual assault victims are treated on U.S. college campuses.

Subsequently followed across the country by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the director and producer of the startling new documentary The Hunting Ground, the young women manage to amass an army of like-minded survivors.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As curator of The Fishtank, an evolving performance space in the Crossroads Arts District, Heidi Van has helped ignite a growing interest in experimental theater. She's produced shows in the building's front windows with the audience in the street, performed a play in a lingerie shop around the corner, and tweaked the art of clowning.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Heidi Van talks about how her avant-garde sensibility might influence her first directing job at The Coterie: a production of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat

Sony Pictures Classics

In contemporary movies where characters are motivated by revenge, they're usually armed with guns and bullets — and there will be blood. But director Damian Szifron's Wild Tales has a different type of arsenal.

By compressing six short films into a two-hour triumph, Szifron turns revenge into an urge that can be as hilarious as it is sinister. This Academy Award nominee from Argentina lost the Best Foreign Language Oscar to Poland's Ida, a film whose calm, contemplative nature couldn't be more different from Wild Tales' brash and buoyant effervescence.

Jerome Prebois / Courtesy Zeitgeist Films.

Before the end of Volker Schlondorff’s Diplomacy, two men are embedded in a clipped war of words fraught with horror. German General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) is holed up in a luxurious yet besieged Paris hotel in 1944 as Allied forces close in on recapturing the city. On the day the Germans have scheduled a series of devastating explosions that would leave Paris in ruins, the General has a fortuitous visitor: Consul Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier), who has the inside scoop about the planned attacks as well as the kind of negotiating skills that could stop them.

Sony Pictures Classics

What starts as a seemingly benign spat over less than an acre of land turns toxic and deadly in Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's masterfully crafted Leviathan. A nominee for this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar, it focuses an intense gaze on a civil suit and the discordant parties whose lives are either pointlessly enriched or irrevocably destroyed.

Simon Mein / Sony Pictures Classics

Movies about artists typically stumble toward their most basic goal: to link the paint on the canvas to the psyche of the painter. Ed Harris’s Pollock worked masterfully, as does Mr. Turner, British director Mike Leigh’s complex portrait of the esteemed English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner.

Through beautiful cinematography (reflecting the artist's attention to light), Leigh’s learned script, and Timothy Spall’s robust performance, Mr. Turner presents a lush visual biography that’s strikingly relevant considering its subject died in 1851.

Jojo Whilden / Sony Pictures Classics

Dr. Alice Howland is at the top of her game as both a linguistics professor and a smart, sophisticated and sexy New York woman in her fifties, played by Julianne Moore in the wrenching new drama Still Alice.

At the family dinner that opens the movie, she carries herself like a bright and vibrant sunrise — until she has an uncharacteristic memory lapse so slight it goes unnoticed by her husband and adult children. Yet it is the first drop of the downpour about to wash away her faculties.

IFC Films

With the Academy Awards quickly approaching on Feb. 22, it may be just the weekend to head out to the theaters to see some of the nominees. Up To Date's Indie, Foreign, and Documentary film critics offer their Oscar nominated suggestions. 

Cynthia Haines:

  • Two Days, One Night
  • Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films
  • Boyhood 

Steve Walker:

IFC Films

In Two Days, One Night, the new film from the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Marion Cotillard gives a complex, tough performance as a wife and mother scrambling to keep her job.

On a Friday, Cotillard's Sandra learns that sixteen of her co-workers at a solar panel factory have voted to take a bonus of 1,000 euros rather than keep her on the payroll. Devastated yet not defeated, she spends all Saturday and Sunday on a desperate and humble but hopeful campaign to personally convince each colleague to change his or her mind before a Monday-morning vote.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theatre for Young America honors President's Day with the play Starring Abe Lincoln, written and directed by the company's co-founder Gene Mackey. The show is a biographical portrait of the 16th president told by the man himself, who happened to be attending another play the night in question.

Director Gene Mackey talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts.

Sony Pictures Classic

  The weather forecast for the next few days makes getting out and about a no-brainer.  Top off your weekend  by taking in a movie.  Up To Date's indie, foreign and documentary critics offer their picks to see this weekend.

Cynthia Haines:

  • Selma
  • Boyhood
  • Birdman

Steve Walker: