Ron Megee and I have often joked with each other about how many times he’s been on the cover of Camp. We make comparisons to the Saturday Night Live “Five-Timers Club” of most-frequent guest hosts, which includes such celebrities as Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve been trying to get an exact count of Megee’s Camp covers, but frankly, with back issues buried in boxes, I don’t know.
I do know this, however: No other person in Kansas City has graced our covers more than Ron Megee.
And how can we help it? Megee plays so many roles in Kansas City’s LGBT community.
For example, on April 29, Megee will once again take the stage along with Missy Koonce, his fellow actor and good friend, to host the 29th annual AIDS Walk.
He and Koonce have hosted nearly every AIDS Walk in Kansas City over the years, Megee said, except for once or twice when one of them couldn’t make it.
“I was involved back then when it was called the Walk for Life,” said Megee, 49. “I remember when it was small. I was just coming out of working with friends that were doing ACT UP, Queer Nation.”
Megee said he was involved in activism and was arrested for protesting.
“God, this is a cruel disease isn’t it? I’ve lost so many friends and my cousin. All to this disease.”
He remembered that in 1987 and 1988, the AIDS epidemic began hitting the Midwest hard.
“You had a government that wouldn’t say a word about it,” Megee said. “We used to smuggle pills for people.”
Why does Megee continue to participate in AIDS Walk? He talked about the spirit of the walk.
“On this day, we will celebrate the lives of those who are still here and the lives that were ended. We will say that we have made it one more year. Yes, it has somber moments, those beautiful moments when the names of our friends we have lost are read out loud, that lost the fight. But they fought, and we have to remember that.
“It’s also family. All of us who have been with this for years and years. Like Michael [Lintecum]. I think he’s phenomenal. He’s kept this going and made it one of the best in the country.”
Megee also spoke about how much AIDS has affected the theater world, where he has been so involved. “In all aspects, just watching theater communities get decimated … our community, actors, dancers and all of that beautiful entertainment.”
In 1997, Megee helped found Late Night Theatre, and he and the other LNT actors have performed in AIDS Walk fundraisers, such as the play Auntie Mamed and the KC Strips benefit for Actors Against AIDS that has raised more than $20,000 in a single show.
“This is our 20th anniversary of Late Night Theatre,” he said. “We had a hiatus when we left Grand Street, but we did shows under the LNT umbrella during those years.”
Megee was referring to the theater space they leased in downtown Kansas City that had formerly housed a bank. He said that during its two-year hiatus from their own theater, LNT still performed in venues such as La Esquina, The Living Room and Unicorn Theatre. “So we never really stopped.”
Megee has performed in local camp theater for many years, such as Nasty Sally, Marilyn Schmarilyn and Voodoo Annie, and has also performed in shows at the Coterie, Unicorn and other theaters.
Megee, 49, was born in Anaheim, California, and moved as a teenager to Blue Springs, Missouri, with his family. He now lives in an 1884 home in Northeast Kansas City with his husband, Jon Fulton Adams, a designer who has also assisted with Late Night Theatre costumes.
LNT started out performing in the Westport Coffee House, Unicorn Theatre, Hobbs Building, the Old Chelsea and finally their Grand Street location.
“When we moved to Grand, we stepped up our game,” Megee said. “It was wonderful, because the Old Chelsea being torn down meant that we could take the chairs. We had already paid to have them recovered. KC Pioneers moved them for us. … The community stepped up. It was all these beautiful men in leather. Leather men helped build Late Night!”
He said that finally giving up the lease on the Grand Street space freed the group from the pressure of managing it, including the challenge of maintaining the bar for customers, which involved inventory, bartenders, and a liquor license.
Now, Late Night Theatre performs at Missie B’s, 805 W. 39th St. Describing the shows as bar theater, Megee said the idea was not originally his.
“It was Jessica [Dressler] and Chadwick [Brooks]. They approached me one night. Michael Burnes approached Jessica, and Jessica approached Chadwick. Michael had been on top of it [bar theater] for a while. It’s a perfect fit for us.”
When the decision was made to create a Missie B’s stage for theater as well as the familiar drag shows, the bar partitioned off the performance area with insulated sliding doors that can provide a soundproof venue for theater while the bar outside maintains its regular crowd and music. Late Night Theatre shows at Missie B’s are affordable, with some evenings selling tickets for as little as $10.
“It’s wonderful because using the bar has an ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ theory,” Megee said.
For example, Missie B’s already pays the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers each month for the rights to play music because they have DJs and drag performers, he said. “That right there is a major plus” for LNT.
And for Missie B’s, the advantages include bringing in more customers, Megee said. “We know that on a Friday and Saturday night between 7 and 10, we’re having an extra 100 people in this bar that wouldn’t be here and buying drinks. Sundays and Monday shows are sold out. So you’re talking about a gay bar on a Monday from 7 to 10 being packed.”
Megee said another benefit of the theater crowd they bring to Missie B’s is that it has helped expand the wine and liquor choices, including customized Late Night Theatre drink specials for each show.
Megee gave credit to Dressler, not only as an actor in the LNT plays, but also in the shows she puts on at Missie B’s under her One Trunk Productions name.
“What’s really great about this place is that it’s such a shared experience. Our sets are built so that drag queens can perform on our sets and they don’t have to be torn down.”
He said that Late Night Theatre shares the dressing room with the drag entertainers, and at intermission of their shows, they move the LNT clothes to another area of the small dressing room to make space for the drag queen performers and their makeup, wigs and dresses.
“It’s very family-like,” he said.
LNT just wrapped up its latest Golden Girls parody, Golden Girls Gone Wilder, and the group is bringing back its popular Dykes of Hazzard parody with its all-female cast for performances from May 5 to June 17.
Megee said that LNT usually takes the summer off and also participates in the Fringe Festival. They are planning their future shows now, including a Sept. 8 condensed performance of Valley of the Dolls at the Folly Theater to celebrate their 20th anniversary. He said that they are planning a Halloween show and that, although it’s not confirmed and might change, “We’re really thinking about doing a Judy Garland Christmas special.”
But for now, he’s getting ready for his AIDS Walk hosting duties – and the feeling he gets from that crowd.
Seeing the returning walkers and new walkers among the thousands of people at AIDS Walk can be overwhelming,
Megee said. “The waves going out from it, it’s this energy from the stage that I see and can’t be duplicated.”