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Khalia Davis.

Khalia Davis Named Producing Artistic Director of Coterie Theater

A longtime leader in TYA and arts education, Davis takes over the theatre after a troubled chapter in its history.

KANSAS CITY, MO.: The board of directors of the Coterie Theatre announced earlier this month that Khalia Davis would be the new producing artistic director of the theatre for young audiences, replacing interim artistic director Heidi Van. Van stepped in after the resignation of longtime artistic leader Jeff Church in December 2022. Church died by suicide that month after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him; an investigation commissioned by the theatre found that Church had sexually assaulted several adults, but that there were no reports of attacks on children.

As leader, Davis will partner with managing director Jonathan Thomas, who joined the Coterie in April 2022 as director of development and served as interim managing director since November 2022, following the passing of longtime Coterie executive director Joette Pelster, until his appointment as managing director in March 2023.

“I am over the moon with this opportunity to carry on a cherished legacy valued by generations of families and young people here in Kansas City,” said Davis in a statement. “I was immediately drawn to the Coterie after reading their mission and value statement and seeing that they highlight justice as an important tenet of the work on the stage and in the classroom. I am energized by the Coterie’s history of embracing new work written and performed by historically marginalized communities and equally passionate about the positive impact of new-work development and community collaboration and partnerships.”

“From our first introduction to Khalia to the everyday interactions, her energy and passion for theatre for young audiences is palpable,” said Theresa Stoker, president of the Coterie’s board of director, in a statement. “We know she will continue to do exciting and innovative work in the field of theatre for young audiences, and we are thrilled to have her co-leading the Coterie. We’ve created an amazing team with Jonathan and Khalia; the two complement each other so well. With their collaboration, and that of the full team, we believe the Coterie’s reputation as a top theatre for reaching across races, genders, and generations, locally and nationally, will flourish.”

Davis is a multidisciplinary artist and arts leader who most recently served as assistant director for The Hippest Trip: The Soul Train Musical. As the former artistic director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT), she led the world premieres of a kids play about racism, which brought together over 40 theatre producing partners, including the Coterie, and was viewed on Broadway on Demand nearly 80,000 times during its limited run, then became a free resource for educators and their students, and The Imaginaries: An Immersive Musical, an original new work that transformed their theatre into an accessible playground created by the newly formed BACT Writer’s Room. Among the other works directed and devised by Davis are She Persisted the Musical, based on the popular children’s book by Chelsea Clinton, the Off-Broadway world premiere of an original adaptation of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings with New York City Children’s Theatre, and the world premiere Arthur and Friends Make a Musical!

As a producer, Davis has helped organizations reach hundreds of thousands of young people through interactive “edu-tainment” with the nationally known Story Pirates, generated new digital pre-school content with Spellbound at Home, and produced children’s media with her personal company, Kids at Heart Productions. Before assuming her role as artistic director of Bay Area Children’s Theater in 2020, she served as the director of inclusion and education with Brooklyn Children’s Theatre, restructuring their children’s musical theatre programming through an anti-racism lens.

Added managing director Jonathan Thomas in a statement, “As we further our mission to bring professional theatre to young people and families, as well as serve our community as the premier arts education theatre in our region, Khalia stood out as someone who brings exceptional leadership, talent, and experience in those crucial areas. Khalia’s commitment to new work, particularly in the BIPOC playwright and composer community, is an inspiring parallel to our equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice work. It’s hard to know how to begin to describe all the positives Khalia brings. She is a dynamic, caring, and skilled innovator at the forefront of the industry, and she brings a wonderful energy to our region.”

ALJP Consulting led the search process, in partnership with a diverse search committee of stakeholders. Over 90 candidates nationwide applied for the role, and the process incorporated feedback and invited participation from a wide variety of board, staff, resident artists, and other members of the Coterie and Kansas City’s arts community.

Since its founding in 1979, the Coterie has been at the forefront of commissioning new works or adaptations that contribute to the field of theatre for young audiences. More than 50 world or American premieres for all ages have been produced by the Coterie over the last 44 years, including hosting multiple major Broadway composers and lyricists to shape quality musicals for youth and families. As of 2022, the theatre’s budget was around $1.2 million.

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