Steve Walker

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.

courtesy of Cohen Media Group

There's a scene in Cédric Klapisch's warm, exuberant comedy Chinese Puzzle that perfectly captures both the beauty and complications of a life well lived. A discussion between two men (one living, one a hallucination) proposes that a piece of embroidery is an apt metaphor for the human condition: on one side is a lovely picture of a moment captured in time. But turned over, one sees all of the knotty entanglements.

Guy Ferrandis / IFC Films

Despite director Roman Polanski's checkered personal history, his film resume is nearly blot-free.

From Rosemary's Baby to Chinatown to The Pianist, Polanski films examine our capacity to strive and dream in the face of brutal outside influences.

While his adaptation of David Ives' Tony Award-winning play Venus in Fur isn't at the level of those movies, it has a familiar and intoxicatingly dark tone and pulse.

Brian Collins / Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

The cast and crew of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s The Winter’s Tale have shared three weeks of rehearsals and 17 and a half performances since they gathered for their first read through at the end of May.

There was one complete rain out and one at intermission — but all in all, healthy crowds, nearly 23,000 people, for one of Shakespeare's lesser known titles. The final installment of the series From Page to Park explores what it means for a company to close a show.


  Up to Date's independent, foreign and documentary film critics share their favorites showing on area screens:

Steve Walker:

Cynthia Haines:

  • Ida
  • A Hard Days Night
  • Chef
Canal+ Polska

  Up to Date's independent, foreign and documentary film critics share their favorites showing on area screens:

Cynthia Haines:

  • Chef
  • Belle
  • Ida (English subtitles)

Steve Walker:

2014 Entertainment One Films

When independent films feature a small town and a huge corporation at their core, they are usually depicted as foes like David and Goliath – the good and the average against the lumbering giant.

Local Hero from 1983 comes to mind, as does Promised Land, the recent movie about fracking in the Midwest. The Grand Seduction, however, reverses that formula, proving that the battle lines aren’t always drawn that cleanly.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

As the march toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in America advances at varying speeds, there remains a sense that the LGBT community can still be marginalized in the movies. That's what makes film festivals like Out Here Now so relevant to the LGBT communities and their staunch allies.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For more than two decades, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has turned Southmoreland Park into a place where Hamlet posed questions, Macbeth’s witches toiled and troubled, and Romeo and Juliet professed their love. This year’s production of The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, will come to life thanks to like-minded artists whose collective goal is to make the play leap effortlessly From Page To Park.

Getting started

Courtesy / Tipping Point Productions/Cinedigm.

In Kelly Reichardt’s astonishingly good thriller Night Moves, a trio of environmental activists gets trapped in a political and deadly morass of their own making. Played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, they demonstrate to a fault what happens when passion for a cause is trumped by human frailty.

courtesy: IFC Films

There's a deliberate seediness to the Texas noir Cold in July that makes it both entertaining and calculating. Directed by Jim Mickle, it stars Michael C. Hall as Richard, an ordinary man around whom extraordinarily violent things happen, all triggered by an act of self-defense that leaves a home intruder dead and his living room splattered with brain matter like a Jackson Pollock.

Courtesy / HighRoad Media

For all the comic book mayhem thrust on summer movie audiences, there’s never a sense that anything’s at stake besides how much money the studios will bank. That’s what makes the new documentary The Hornet’s Nest – a movie about a real war, not one constructed of computer graphics - essential viewing to people crying out for substance.

Brian Paulette / The Living Room

Much like Vincent Van Gogh, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo wasn’t famous in her own lifetime. A new play at The Living Room examines the artist's trials and tribulations, especially a series of tragic events that would have daunted many people but actually motivated her to paint in the first place.

Kahlo had a look as distinctive as her art. In a series of self-portraits, she emits a piercing stare from beneath an arched unibrow and a crown of braids. And her work has found the acclaim that eluded her in life.

Picture perfect

Courtesy Maloof Collection Ltd.

By their very nature, photographs are loaded with backstory. There's the image itself, deemed important in a moment that becomes frozen for eternity.

And there's the person who snapped the picture, for reasons that are as personal as they are mysterious.

In the fascinating new documentary Finding Vivian Maier, the title character's exceptional photographs are brought to light after years of being hidden away from any and all scrutiny.

Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Nymphomaniac: Volumes I and II may be the most sexually explicit coming-of-age movie ever seen outside an adult book store. But to call it pornography would minimize and tarnish its cinematic worth.

Like most of Lars von Trier’s films, it’s provocative, audacious, weird, challenging, and hypnotizing – sometimes all at once.


Film festival curators work diligently to give audiences an eclectic menu with as much breadth and depth as possible. The 2014 edition of the Kansas City FilmFest offers dozens of experimental, animated, and even “Afrofuturist” short films, as well as narrative comedies and dramas hoping to generate buzz. But from the offerings previewed by this writer, the strength of this year’s festival rests on its documentaries.

The National World War I Museum, housed at the base of the Liberty Memorial, is this year marking the 100th anniversary of the start of that war. By pure coincidence, the national tour of the Tony Award-winning play War Horse arrives at the Music Hall next month, creating a rare convergence of history and theatricality in Kansas City.

Confounding the skeptics

Sundance Selects

It's not often that a New York City institution actually leaves the city. But such was the case last year when 89-year-old Broadway legend Elaine Stritch returned to her Michigan hometown after some 60-plus years making any show, movie or television series she appeared in better than it would have been without her.

Steve Walker / KCUR

For the past 16 years, University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate students in theater design have participated in an intensive professional training exercise called a charette. Visiting artists from the profession visit the university to both encourage and critique the students, who are given five days to design the set, costumes or lighting for a production that will never really open.

Drawing inspiration

Chaos Theory / Ambush Entertainment

Every restaurant prides itself on its distinct vibe. But Joseph Levy’s surprisingly moving documentary Spinning Plates discovers a mutual truth: whether you’re running a taqueria with a drive-through or an expensive restaurant gunning for a Michelin star, there are similar motives and emotions behind and on the table.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

It's been nearly 120 years since the publication of Bram Stoker's gothic novel Dracula. But his tale of the Count, who stalks living creatures and survives on their blood, continues to this day to be interpreted and popularized in theater, television, film, and dance. This season, the Kansas City Ballet is staging choreographer Michael Pink's Dracula, based on Stoker's classic work.

Phil Bray / Roadside Attractions

Jessica Lange has been absent from the movie screens of late, focusing on chewing up the scenery on the small screen for three seasons of the FX series American Horror Story.

In the new film version of Émile Zola’s "Thérèse Raquin" called In Secret, Lange is the scheming matriarch in a single parent home in 19th century Paris who ill-advisedly locks her son and niece together in a passionless marriage. And as fans of the show know, Lange makes a very good schemer.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Many ballets often depend on the concept of tension, whether in the muscles of the dancers or the story itself. That may be even more evident in the Kansas City Ballet's production of Dracula, opening this Friday.

In bringing the iconic character to the stage, the company is venturing to its dark side with a production that is the first in the Ballet's history to come with parental discretion advised. 

Sony Pictures Classics

At the 84th Academy Awards in February 2012, the worlds of director Asghar Farhadi and actress Bérénice Bejo were serendipitously in synch. He won the Oscar for best foreign language film for Iran's A Separation, and she was nominated for The Artist, which went on to win Best Picture. Now their careers thrillingly converge in his extraordinary follow-up film The Past.

J. Robert Schraeder / Courtesy the Coterie Theatre

For more than three centuries, Salem, Mass., has been linked to the infamous witch trials. In 1692, at least 20 men and women died after being convicted of witchcraft; it was then considered a crime punishable by death. Hundreds more faced accusations.

A new production at the Coterie Theatre, Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, provides the story behind the girls — the accusers, who started it all.

Afflicted is written by Laurie Brooks, a longtime Coterie collaborator. She says the play is "not easy. It’s subtle, it’s complex. It's about relationships."

Weinstein Company

If done well, movies about dysfunctional families are able to elegantly dance that fine line between humor and pain. Terms of Endearment succeeded at finding that balance, as does the film adaptation of Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County, where an unplanned death reopens life-long yet still festering wounds. The Weston clan of Osage County, Okla., must have a family tree that looks like a weeping willow. It is headed up by Beverly (Sam Shepard), a college lecturer and occasional poet, and his poly-addicted wife, Violet (Meryl Streep), who personifies how pills came to be known as mother’s little helpers. Of their three grown daughters, only Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) has stuck close to home; Barbara (Julia Roberts) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) long ago picked up stakes for relationships by turn strained or serially monogamous.

Courtesy of Janus Films

Throughout Paolo Sorrentino’s exuberant and strange film The Great Beauty,  a 65-year-old writer whose only hit novel was published 40 years prior struggles with his own reputation and mortality, as well as that of his beloved Rome, Italy. According to Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) and his jaded circle of friends, Rome is over and done – finito. As one of his friends says, the only decent people left in Rome are the tourists.

Allison Michael Orenstein

On the basis of Sini Anderson's enlightening and electric documentary The Punk Singer, many will come to consider its subject, Kathleen Hanna, one of the most influential musicians they've never heard of. But they can't walk away forgetting her.

The documentary Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney started to make in 2009 about Lance Armstrong ended up being something else entirely. Called The Armstrong Lie, the film contains footage that was shot as recently as May 2013, including the minutes following Armstrong’s confessional but smug and non-contrite interview with Oprah Winfrey.

courtesy of The Living Room

It's the dream of playwrights everywhere to see their words make the leap from the page to the stage. The Crossroads venue known as The Living Room is currently helping young writers build that bridge with a project called The Writer's Den.

Widening the spotlight

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

This week, the Unicorn Theatre opens the play Clybourne Park, which has the distinction of winning the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Its two acts take place in the same house 50 years apart, and examine with equal humor and drama all the varying shades within the phrase, "There goes the neighborhood."

A house divided