In May 2019, UMKC announced Kenneth Martin as the Patricia McIlrath Endowed Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Theatre Division. This is his first semester here at UMKC. U-News sat down with him to discuss his background, his opinion on UMKC and Kansas City and some of his future plans for the department.
How do you like Kansas City so far?
K: I love Kansas City. It’s wonderful; it’s such a vibrant arts community. It’s just so good to have a ballet, an opera, a symphony and 20-30 plus theater companies in town. I never lack for something to do, in fact I kind of feel like there’s almost too much. I kind of overload, an art overload.
What’s your favorite play?
K: (Laughs) What’s my favorite play… Boy, that’s a fine question. I like a lot of plays. I like, it’s a little bit weird, I like Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis” a lot. I enjoy the work of movement-based companies. I like plays like “Mnenomic” and those kinds of things.
Is there a memorable production you’ve worked on?
K: I’ve worked on some really great productions over the years. I did a production of “Woyzeck” in Ohio that is still one of my most artistically fulfilling ones. I’ve worked on a couple productions, musicals, over the years that stand out. A production of “Sweeney Todd” many years ago and “Blood Wedding” that was very artistically fulfilling as well, which we’re producing here this year.
What was your background prior to UMKC?
K: I was the chair of the theater program at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
What was it about UMKC that drew you here?
K: I was looking for a new opportunity, looking to live in a city, a graduate program. When a program of this size and stature, when this job became available, I sort of threw my hat in the ring. And it was really about the fact that the history of the place, the reputation of the faculty, the reputation of the organization is what drew me here.
What’s something about the current theater department that you love?
K: I think the faculty here are tremendous. I think that they are caring individuals, they truly like each other, they care deeply about the students and the program.
Are you going to spend a semester getting used to UMKC? Or do you plan on diving straight into some changes?
K: We’re gonna have to dive straight into some changes. We won’t go too crazy, but there will be things that need, or want, to change now. The change of the university’s core curriculum sort of dictates the change, and the change to the Conservatory from the College of Arts and Sciences sort of dictates some curricular changes. But they’ve been here and successful for a long time, so it’s not like I need to change everything.
What are your long-term goals for UMKC?
K: I would love to grow the undergrad program significantly — start a bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre. I think it is something that would be really helpful to move things forward here. I would love to maintain and burnish the already-wonderful reputation they have, particularly at the graduate level, but also bring the undergraduate program to that level, as well, and make sure that has a regional and national reputation as well.