When a visual artist paints or sculpts something "on commission," it means a gallery, company, or private collector has contracted that artist to create something very specific to their particular wants or needs.
Performing artists haven't always had the same luxury.
But with the recent formation of a troupe called The Monocle, four Kansas City performers have combined their talents in a way that will allow patrons to commission them.
On a balmy afternoon earlier this fall, the futuristic, octagonal Crestwood home of Retro Inferno owner Rod Parks has been transformed into a performance space. About three dozen people are gathered for the launch of The Monocle - a collaborative, multi-tasking ensemble of Kansas City actors, singers, composers and producers whose collective talents will be seen in original productions or at private functions patrons can, in a sense, special order, says one of the Monocle's co-founders, Christian Hankel.
"It’s a performing arts ensemble," he says. "And our intention is to create new works of art but also to create entertainment packages for private clients. So we’re going to take our spare time and work with events planners for weddings or whatever it might be - working directly with them to come up with interesting themes and script out entertainment for their events."
Asked if the concept was similar to how people commission visual artists, Hankel says, "Right, they're commissioning us, and it can be original or it can be classics.
"We have this deep background into all these various types of music. And so we will script events and do these events for people. And then the idea is to use the money from that to fuel our original productions so that we become self-sustaining."
The Monocle also consists of operatic tenor Nathan Granner, actor and director Katie Gilchrist, and the eclectic singer Shay Estes. Gilchrist, who most recently appeared in The Kansas City Repertory Theatre's Pippin, explains what draws her to such a collaboration.
"I think any time a group of people who are creatively like-minded have a desire to bring something creative to the city, I get very excited about that notion," Gilchrist says. "We know we have very high standards and do very good work to fulfill, say, a call from a client. Like, 'We just want a small jazz event. Could you provide us with a trio?' We can do that.
"Or if somebody wants The Monocle to come in and sing two hours of musical theater revue, we can do that too. The four of us have our hands in an awful lot of honey pots in this town and we can pull all that really great sweet stuff from a lot of places because we do a lot of stuff around here."
Shay Estes adds that The Monocle will allow her to step outside the artistic boundaries she and fans of her jazz singing may have defined too narrowly.
"This gives us the opportunity to learn about each other's primary art forms, as well as it does exercise and flex some muscles we don’t ordinarily get to use on a regular basis," Estes says. "I have a tendency as a jazz musician to feel more inclined to suppress my more theatrical tendencies.
"What we really will be is a means to an end. Not really an agency, not really a label. But a means to an end that carries with the name a standard for performance. A standard for professionalism. A standard for impressiveness that people will be able to trust as we develop and it will take years to fully flesh out."
Near the close of the party, the members of The Monocle gave a little taste - seasoned with basso nova - of what they might offer. Emphasizing how diverse the group's members can be, the second number featured Gilchrist and Granner singing a duet from the rock musical Tommy.
The Monocle publicly reveals itself this weekend at The Arts Asylum with a performance of an original script called The Orphans Feast, described as a Christmas holiday zombie play - with music.