Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why We Love KC Now--Pitch Best of Kansas City 2017

David Wayne Reed Pitch6

“I think it’s in the act of listening that we incubate empathy. And empathy breeds compassion, and compassion tears down proverbial walls of otherness.” 
That’s what David Wayne Reed told us last winter when we asked him about his Shelf Life storytelling project. He would say something like that. Reed, an actor and playwright long familiar to KC theater audiences, is the sort of local fixture it’s easy to take for granted. He’s been a barometer sensitive to changing attitudes; he has occasionally seemed ubiquitous but also disappeared for spells. When he says he’s putting disparate voices onstage to talk Moth-ily, using objects (from, you know, off the shelf) as jumping-off points, you figure you know what to expect. 
Yes and no. Shelf Life as pure live entertainment? Yup. Reed as witty ringmaster? Of course. Notes that felt different this time? Yes. Reed is still Reed, you see, but we’d forgotten how true his instincts can be. We hope this Shelf stays fully stocked.

Thursday, June 29, 2017



On November 20, 1983, ABC aired the made-for-tv-movie-event, The Day After—a movie about nuclear holocaust filmed here in Kansas City. I was 11 years old and I made the horrible mistake of watching it alone.

There is an insufferably long montage of mushroom clouds, hellfire, and death. I watch people evaporated by fire, burned to extinction in skeletal x-ray vision. The fire rushes over town and country like a flood of flames. But even in the aftermath, there are survivors.

One survivor says “What matters is that we’re alive and we’re together.” 

In this fallout, they’ve taken to stacking corpses in mass burial sites and building make-shift encampments out of plastic sheeting and duct tape. People have resorted to looting, hijacking, rape, murder and cannibalism. There may not be food, water, or electricity but there are still cigarettes.  A doctor pulls a drag on his cigarette and says, “We’re lucky to be alive.”

Another says “We’ll see how lucky that is.”

Someone else says “Hiroshima was peanuts.”

Seeing this movie at a young age profoundly fucked my life. Like any pubescent, I was already sensitive, dramatic, and hormonal, but now I was also panicked, hysterical, and afraid. For months after seeing this movie, I was prone to breaking into fits and tears when we passed by roadside nuclear silos or even when I would see nuclear warheads on TV. I lived in perpetual fear of nuclear aftermath—which for a tween is A LOT to take on. The US was in a nuclear arms race with Russia, AIDS appeared out of nowhere, and its surrounding hysteria was spreading. This and the fact I was in the 7th grade which is in of itself its own terror event.   

I knew then that I wouldn’t survive nuclear war or would even want to for that matter in a post-apocalyptic world. For God’s sake, I don’t even like it when the electricity goes out. If and when the world falls down, I plan on falling down with it. I will take it as it comes, and I will go with the flow.  

I’m not a survivalist or some doomsday prepper because that just seems like a lot of work for little pay off. Why would I want to live in a world where only the fittest survived—where we’d learn to subsist on radioactive cans of cat food, pork and beans, roadkill, or dead relatives. No thanks.

To be a survivor is to overcome something, to find the resilience, determination or health to carry on, to endure despite all that endangers us. In this respect, I am a survivor and the fact that you are here with me now proves that you are, too.  We are survivors and we will survive. Until we don’t. Anything can happen at any time. And you know --that’s the good news and the bad news.


I grew up on a Kansas farm. The farm is a microcosm of life and its counterpart, death. From birth to death, from seed to harvest, the complete cycle of life is apparent, experiential. And there’s an inherent danger in that. In living. 

On the farm, accidents happened, and danger was omnipresent.

My brother, Steve worked on a hay crew and was headed southbound on Rockville Road when they were t-boned by brothers, Rocky and Bubba Kush and Steve was thrown out of the back of the truck, skidding down the gravel road scraping his entire torso medium rare.   
One other time, Steve was pulling a land leveler over a waterway.  The 20ft long leveler hit a snag and popped up onto the tractor pinning Steve's head between the steering wheel and pipe of the leveler. Steve recalls “If I wouldn't have pushed the clutch on the tractor, my head would've squashed like zit.” 

I have watched as my father was charged at and tossed into air by mama cows protecting their newborn calves.
The combine fell off the jack and onto my Dad’s head while he worked to change the tire. 
Our neighbor, Mr. Good was trapped and nearly suffocated by falling grain in his silo.
My Uncle Edward died a few years ago while spraying for thistles.  His four-wheeler fell over near a creek bed pinning him underneath and drowning him in its shallow waters.
Life and death, seed and harvest.
It’s a sunny day in May of 1990 when we walk the pomp and circumstance down to the track to where my graduating class sits in a fold-out chairs.  Reverend Lane Bailey, of the First Methodist Church steps to the podium to deliver the keynote address.

"Louisburg Class of 1990, you are mortal. You will die."
We snicker in disbelief; we are timeless. We are invincible. We are the high, we are the mighty, we are the Class of 1990. 
“The only thing we know in this life is that we will die…" said the Reverend. 

"Statistically, five of you will be killed by drunk drivers." He pointed over some of us. To others of us, "Ten of you will overdose. Four will be victims of domestic violence. Three will die of homicide. Two will die of AIDS…" And so on. I don’t remember what else he said…just ‘You are mortal. You will die.’
I am mortal. I will die. And so will you.
Not many people know this about me but I’ve nearly died many times. Many more than I care to admit.  
I’ve nearly drowned four different times. Once at a pool, in two different lakes, and once caught in the undertow of the rushing Colorado river.  
I cut off the tips of all 10 of my fingers in a fan at the age of 4.
I locked myself in an old latch-door refrigerator while playing hide and seek--with my imaginary friend, Pete Sulzen--when I was 5. It was by chance that my Dad found me a half hour later.  If he wouldn’t have I’d have suffocated.
I was stung 18 times by a swarm of bees while raking clover hay.
I fell asleep at the wheel driving down a country road late and night and rolled my car in a wheat field before crawling out the broken window and running a mile a half to the nearest neighboring house when I was 16.  
My life has been threatened and in my early 30s I was  kidnapped.

A large tree fell under the duress of a heavy snow and toppled down onto my house, missing my head by mere inches. 
I have considered suicide.
Most frightening was the most recent time—just over a year ago, I nearly died here—in this museum—choking on a piece of steak.
Quick story: I had just gotten my new braces installed and was working a shift as a caterer when I snuck a quick bite of flank steak. Not yet adjusting to braces, I swallowed the meat whole and began to choke. I couldn’t speak or breathe. I stood in the kitchen and flailed my arms about, unable to make a sound before one of the other caterers recognized what was happening and gave me the Heimlich and I spit up the steak. Time froze in paralysis and it was several minutes before I could even muster a breath to whisper ‘thank you for saving my life’ to my co-worker, Susan. It was scary for sure but even more frightening were the looks of alarm on the faces of my co-caterers that reminded me that I’d come close to death and somehow cheated it.

I have dared death many times. These are many times, many instances, many poor choices, and other circumstances that should have taken me. But here I am and here I remain. 

And sometimes I wonder if that’s luck or if that’s punishment. 
Summers throughout college, I worked for the Central City Opera. Built in 1878 by Welsh and Cornish miners, the Opera has hosted and boasted the talents of stage stars Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Beverly “Bubbles” Sills and even Buffalo Bill.
Though I’d never even seen an opera until I worked for one, I became one of a 16-member usher corps comprised of college students from across the country. Landlocked in a high altitude that excluded most radio and television reception, we were forced into operatic seclusion in Victorian homes dotting the mountainside in the former goldmining boomtown of the Wild West.  

Each year, at our first company meeting and orientation, the Artistic Director and Conductor would always give the same speech and include in it his tips on how to survive a mountain lion attack. We would laugh because it seemed so implausible and remote a chance—of being attacked by a wild animal. And though his approach was sassy and congenial, there had in fact been recent sightings of mountain lions here—in fact, a hiker had been mauled here in the 80s. These lessons of survival have stuck with me over the years now nearly 30 years later.

If you ever come in contact with a mountain lion, this is what you should do:

·                     Do not run away. This may trigger an attack.
·                     Never turn your back to a lion.
·                     Maintain constant eye contact.
·                     Make loud noises, yell, wave your arms.
·                     Make yourself as big as possible.

While these tips are meant for surviving a mountain lion attack, I took these to be pretty good skills in life.

Do not run away…from problems. They will follow you in escalating devious incarnations until you confront them.

Never turn your back. Just stop and back away.

Make eye contact.  Take time to see people, to make a connection. (also, as a way to say “I see you.”)   

Make loud noises, yell, wave your arms. (Speak up for yourself, make some noise, get excited.)

Make yourself look bigger. (Be a bigger person. Also, a little hype never hurt anyone.)

I’m sorry to say that these are the only survival tips I have to share.

This is the movie, HG Wells The Time Machine.  It was made in 1960 and used to play often on Saturday afternoons on Channel 41. Just like I’d seen in The Day After, The Time Machine depicted nuclear holocaust as inevitable, inescapable. They projected that it would happen in the mid-60s. In this movie, Rod Taylor travels past the holocaust, and the ravage of endless wars and transports himself far, far into the future from turn of the 20th century America.  We watch in a sped up timelapse as the earth heals itself and regenerates from a desolate post-war wasteland into a lush jungle paradise filled with fit young blonde people who dress in pastel cottons and lounge on grassy knolls and frolic near water’s edge. 

One moment from the movie shows a group of young people sitting riverside while a young woman drowns nearby.  While the drowning woman struggles and calls out for help, the others just look on ignoring her and leaving her to die. 

This was always the most unnerving part of the movie for me.  Why wouldn’t anyone help her to survive?  

And then a siren sounds in this paradise and the blondes all line up and march in single file lines to a temple where they offer themselves up as sacrifices to a hungry cannibalistic overlord.

This disturbed me immensely. 

In the future, would people no longer have empathy?  

Would people no longer care about the survival of others or even themselves?  

Would our lives be nothing more than a daily snack for the Morlock? 

Why wouldn’t they put up a fight?

In this political climate and overwhelming apathy I see, I wonder if that future is already here.  


In the 1980s, AIDS was a plague that decimated the gay community. In response, the group ACT UP was formed. Out of tragedy, a group united to fight---to fight for survival. To fight for their lives. 

Their slogan was Silence=Death. 

Silence is acceptance. Silence is compliance. Silence is death.

By being vocal, these activists and heroes let people never forget the struggle-sounding the death knell that claimed too many lives, including many of their own. This was a war of ignorance waged on our own health. 

I think of this now decades later and see how even though things change, how much they stay the same. 

How do we counteract systemic compromise of our health and well-being? Will we use our voices to survive? Can we? Or will we turn away and let those voices be drowned out as we march blindly onward to our own demise?   

I regard storytelling as a survival tactic.

I write because I love to listen and I perform so I know I'm not alone. I share stories in order to connect to something larger than myself.  I write as a way of recording my life. I write to give my life meaning, to gain perspective, to force introspection, to document my history, my existence.  

I am the creator and host of Shelf Life-a modern show and telling.  Think The Moth meets Antiques Road Show.  Shelf Life is a live storytelling event, where tellers share the stories behind the weird and wonderful objects that have shaped their lives. In our first season, nearly 40 storytellers shared their objects and their stories.  Many of the objects were mundane but they carried with them tremendous and harrowing stories.  These objects were symbols, imbued with memories of family poverty, white privilege, alcoholism, suicide, divorce, faith, obsession, displacement, and chasing your dreams--just to give you an idea.

The stories revealed universal truths and encouraged others to think about their own meaningful objects and the stories they represent. At each show, people laugh and cry. It is often a cathartic experience for both storyteller and audience. Our objects, ourselves.  Belongings. Belonging. 

We survive because we speak. 
We survive because we speak up. 
We survive because we speak out. 
We survive because we share. 

And when we are dead, we will survive in the memory of others. 
We will survive in that which we leave behind.

It is through sharing stories that I survive. 
It is through stories that I plan to extend my own shelf life.

Script for talk on Survival at Creative Mornings/KC.  
Kemper Museum, KCMO. June 23, 2017. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Eternal Harvest Wins Rocket Grant!

Growing up on a farm in Louisburg, Kansas without formal creative outlets for his talents, David Wayne Reed created his own venues for self-expression. His family lived off the grid, connected to the world by dirt road and antenna—the CB, the AM/FM, and in small doses, the TV. Alone, with the nearest neighbors miles away, he found creative spark in the solitude of his imagination. David desperately desired an audience, a connection. When people would come to visit the farm, he finally had a captive audience. He performed impromptu drag numbers for visiting seed salesmen. He danced for the hay crew. He made a connection. These memories have informed his creative work—from his trucking musicals to his one-man show about growing up gay on a farm. Having transported farm and country to the city with those productions, he would now like to return to his rural homeland and make a new artistic connection: to put the art in agriculture.
The relationship between farmer and land is spiritual, interdependent, and profound. It is an exercise in having faith in a seed’s future. It is the ritual of daily chores. It is the consequent prayers for rain and sunshine. It is the gratitude for a bountiful harvest. It is the inevitable surrender to the Winter. David recalls asking his father about the idea of reincarnation when he was a young man. His father said that the idea was plausible and offered the idea of a volunteer crop of wheat, or a perennial plant as possible evidence. Life continues from birth to death, from seed to harvest, again and again, he reasoned, creating a vision of the farm as a mandala of life—seasonal, perpetual, unrelenting, and eternal.
Eternal Harvest is a seasonal performance installation series, culminating in a film about the cycle of life as depicted in the landscape of the Reed family’s rural Kansas farm. Using drones, dance, farm implements, heirloom quilts, agriculture, and video installation, Eternal Harvest re-imagines and re-purposes the familiar agrarian implements and landscape to illustrate and celebrate the land, as well as the coming and going of livelihood it brings.
The short film will be projected on the side of a large barn that sits beside a road and on top of a hill – allowing for drive by and drive up audiences. This project is collaborative, and both reflects and shifts the perspective of the landscape back to its own community in a pronounced and innovative way.
David wants to cross-pollinate disparate communities in artistic collaboration. The process will, he hopes, create meaningful exchanges in a way of life and state suffering from an ongoing cultural drought. In addition to his urban creative community, he will be enlisting the assistance of his family and the communities to which they belong—including the Louisburg First Christian Church, the Two-Cylinder Antique Tractor Association of Greater Kansas City, the Masonic Lodge, an elderly dance and social club, and the hometown marching band.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


       In 1984, my Dad won a family vacation to Panama City Beach, Florida.  His business card had been drawn as part of a citywide raffle sponsored by our hometown Chamber of Commerce. All of Louisburg’s businesses had fishbowls to collect business cards for this raffle. Dad dropped his business card in the fishbowl at our local funeral home.   

For Thanksgiving that year, we drove to Florida in the brand new Chevy Celebrity that my parents had recently bought, replacing the much longer and well-worn Ford LTD. That trip was different and bigger than any previous trip, and on a holiday no less. As we drove, we were able to take in so many sights along the thousand mile trip to our destination.  We went to Graceland in Memphis, to the space museum in Huntsville, to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, we roller-skated in Mobile, before arriving at our Oceanside hotel and our humongous room that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City Beach. 

While my parents preferred to drive in silence, I begged them turn on the radio. I needed music to underscore this moving scenery.  Somewhere near Jackson, Mississippi, I heard it for the very first time. A song, a jubilant song that sounded like it came from the past—anachronistic and yet completely new.  It was delectable and like nothing I’d heard.

The song ended and the announcer said “that was Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by WHAM!”  You better believe that the song jitterbugged into my brain and boom-boomed into my heart.  On that trip to Florida, I only hoped it would come on the radio again and again—which luckily it did.  In fact, on that Sunday, November 24, 1984, Casey Kasem announced on American Top 40 that Wake Me Up Before You Go Go was the week’s number one song. 

I had to know more about this WHAM!  Who was WHAM!?   Was it a man, was it a band?  Were there more songs?  I bought a Tiger Beat and saw their name is print.  WHAM! The name alone was amazing.  It was ALL CAPS!  It had an exclamation!  It was an  onomotapeia. Then I saw a picture and realized that Wham! Was not a him but rather a them. There were two? Two people, two men. Andrew Ridgely, who I’ve never quite figured out exactly what he did, and the other, the voice, the golden-throated star, the one with the perfect honey-haired mullet and bronze tan, George Michael.  Their hair was gorgeous, their skin sun-kissed, their eyebrows overarching.  They wore big neon shirts, tight pants, and fingerless gloves.  They had their ears pierced, which in my school was the ultimate way of proclaiming you were gay—especially if you wore your earring on the right ear. Which they did! To me, they weren’t gay, they were just two English lads who didn’t want to work but to have a good time—to sing, dance, and on occasion rap.  What the heck was rap? It was all so new!

Our family vacation was awesome and much-needed. Thank you luck and Louisburg Chamber of Commerce! It had been a particularly rough year for me emotionally starting on November 20, 1983 when I watched the movie, The Day After. By myself. A made-for-TV-movie-event about a nuclear holocaust filmed in my hometown region of Kansas City. Seeing this movie at this age profoundly fucked my life. I was already sensitive, dramatic, and hormonal, but now I was also panicked, morbid, and afraid. After seeing this movie, I was prone to breaking into tears and hyperventilation when we passed by roadside nuclear silos—of which we saw several on our road trip.  I even freaked out when seeing nuclear warheads on TV news.  I lived in perpetual fear of nuclear aftermath—which for an 11 year old is A LOT to take on. Here in 1984, the US was in a nuclear arms race with Russia, AIDS and its surrounding hysteria was spreading, and I was in the 7th grade which is in and of itself its own terror event.    

Most terrifying was gym class that I had at the end of the day, 7th period. This during a time when we were coming into our bodies and by vulnerably sharing our bodies during daily gym class. After running laps, I shower with some twenty other naked boys for the first time. I am pudgy, androgynous and hairless. I am effortlessly effeminate. Here I am shamefully aware of my undeveloped body. I uncover my own burgeoning sexuality as I look to see who has pubic hair yet and what their bodies look like, and how I compare. My eyes have been opened and I am naked and I am ashamed. This is the fallout of puberty.

We make our way out of our clothes and into the steam of the showers. I stand with other boys encircled under the shower heads that hang above us like an umbrella. Some farm boys begin to chant "Pee on Leon, Pee on Leon" before pointing their dicks and aiming their streams on a pimply classmate named Leon and peeing on him and other bullied kids including myself. We yell, slap, fight, and run away, tiptoeing quickly across the cold locker room floor foul with the stench of well-worn tennis shoes, urine, Speed Stick, and cruelty.

Our teacher, a coach, stands behind a half door rolling up towels into whips and snapping us on our wet asses before tossing the towel down to the floor forcing us to bend over and pick it up in front of him. This was my puberty in 1984, in the new wake of AIDS, a nuclear arms race and Just Say No. This is my sexual genesis in the age of fear.  I digress just to provide context.

WHAM!  I loved WHAM!  Luckily, they weren’t just a one-hit-wonder.  Their album, Make It Big was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They made it big, indeed—featuring hits Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Freedom, Everything She Wants, and Careless Whisper.  In fact, Make It Big wasn’t even their first album. On their debut album, Fantastic, they look like greaser twinks shirtless in black leather motorcycle jackets reclining into each other-shoulder to shoulder.  It’s so obviously and teasingly gay--I see that now but then I didn’t see it explicitly.  Like maybe not seeing the forest for the trees. 

They sang about girls, about everything SHE wants. I thought the gay rumors were nothing more than, well, …careless whispers.  These guys were studs who went snow skiing with girlfriends for Last Christmas and cavorted in speedos and drank umbrella drinks at Club Tropicana. They don’t want to work, or get down in the dirt-these boys had better things to do. They choose to cruise. Their music, their style, their kinship was like religion to me. Their music was a revelation in ways I didn’t even have the capacity or knowledge to fully comprehend at the time. 

I’m Your Man is my favorite WHAM! Song.  The video for I’m Your Man features George Michael gleefully shakes a tambourine as wildly as he shakes his hips. 

Call me good. Call me bad. Call me anything you want to baby
If you’re gonna do it, do it right!
I'm your man!!

As I moved into the 8th grade, I endured more bullying, more name-calling, but I also think that was the year I began to more overtly embrace myself as a part of a culture I had only began to discover from a considerable distance.  Under lock and combination of my locker, I had a memento, a glass placard of the group WHAM! that I bought at the State Fair over the summer.  This was stuck on the inside of my top locker door, only disclosed in the three minute intervals between classes. Only displayed in glimpses, and at close range.  

Maybe it was a first stab at ownership, of fulfilling the label that was bestowed on me. Of claiming an identity—one that was discovered and labeled by bullies but ennobled by both puberty and by the sexual fluidity that was hitting the mainstream—by Wham!, by Prince, by Boy George and Culture Club. 

Even with the pictures of WHAM!, in my locker, that didn’t mean I was gay. 

Even if I dressed up as Boy George that year for Halloween it didn’t mean I was gay.  

Regardless, I become an easy target for ridicule. In a small town junior high, nobody gets to hide. Anonymity is a luxury not afforded us by small town life, especially for an outgoing, moody flamer particular about his looks. But the door to my sexuality had begun to become unlocked, in fact, I couldn’t even repress it.  I couldn’t help but be effeminate. It was natural to me because it was me. And so, from junior high right on through high school, I was called a faggot.

In between classes, I would be harassed, in passing.

Faggot. Faggot. Fag. Fag. Faggot. 

They would call and push me into my locker with a shove, a thud, and a WHAM! before carrying on down the hall to class. As they walked on, I stood behind the door between the barely open locker.  Just one last glance at WHAM! before I would grab my gym bag, shut my locker door, roll the combination lock, and walk to class knowing that the door had only just begun to be opened. 
By Annie Raab  
February 2017

It’s difficult to describe exactly how a room reacts to David Wayne Reed unless 
you’ve been in a room when David Wayne Reed enters it. This is what I 
learned last December, when I was among the storytellers drafted for 
one of Reed’s Shelf Life events. I knew the local actor and playwright by 
reputation, but I’d never watched him work up close. For that evening’s 
installment of the new-ish series (the theme was a seasonally 
appropriate “Unwanted Gifts”), the Brick was packed, and when 
Reed took the stage, wearing a panama hat and a button-down shirt, 
the room hushed as though everyone present were expecting a healing sermon.

Shelf Life isn’t without therapeutic properties. It’s hybrid of Moth-style 
monologues, literary slams, and old-fashioned show and tell. 
Presenters share stories connected to objects (generally on view in the 
room) that relate somehow to that occasion’s chosen theme. February 25’s 
is Idol Worship — about which, more in a moment.

Reed landed on the idea for the series while cleaning out a relative’s 
home. As he separated which items to discard and which to keep, 
he recognized that behind each possession was a tale of some 
kind — an origin, a connection. Shelf Life, then, makes up a kind of 
fragmented play about life with objects, one with a disparate, 
purposely mismatched cast.

For Saturday’s Idol Worship, the title suggests objects and events 
tied to heroes of pop culture.

“My object is a RuPaul doll,” says Megan Metzger, a former Pitch 
contributor now working toward her doctorate in Illinois. “She’s 
wearing a red-vinyl body suit with matching thigh-high boots. She’s fierce!”

Metzger’s story involves RuPaul’s Drag Race, a Project Runway-like 
elimination contest in which participants fight for the title of best 
drag queen. “Being a superfan of anything is usually perceived 
by others as crazy or nerdy, but I’m hoping my story will dispel 
some of that craziness and/or nerdiness,” Metzger says.  She adds that, 
though she travels back to KC infrequently, “when David Wayne Reed calls, 
I answer.”

Also participating are Judy Mills (of Mills Records), Ryan Wray, 
Pamela Liebbert, Gustavo Adolfo Aybar, and Kimmie Queen. 
Expect to see Loverboy drumsticks, Elvis, autographs from poets, 
and an imaginary friend.

I heard seven narratives the night of Unwanted Gifts, including 
Mark Manning’s admission that ceramic clowns seem to follow him, 
and Jen Harris’ tale about a dog-shaped doorstop. During the latter, 
the room stayed utterly still, and the already-weeping woman 
sitting next to me at one point had to stifle a gasp.

Such reactions are why Reed has undertaken the project. 
“I think it’s in the act of listening that we incubate empathy,” 
he says. “And empathy breeds compassion, and compassion 
tears down proverbial walls of otherness.”