For the last four years, celebrity drag artist Mrs. Kasha Davis has pizzazzed Blackfriars Theatre with her live Imagination Station events.
During the performances, Mrs. Kasha Davis — the stage name of a Rochester native best known for appearing on the TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — reads inclusive children’s stories. Kids and families also enjoy original music, a dance party and a themed craft activity, according to Blackfriars Theatre’s website.
“Imagination Station teaches love and acceptance, encourages kids of all ages to live authentically, and celebrates the beauty of how kindness and diversity can change the world,” the site states.
Now, with the help of a community supported GoFundMe, that theater performance is being developed into four pilot episodes of “Imagination Station with Mrs. Kasha Davis.” The GoFundMe page describes as “a home-grown, family-friendly new television series.”
Launched in mid-May, the online fundraiser initially asked for $26,000. The group has surpassed that goal — already raising $26,286 for the show — as of the end of June.
Mary Tibali Hoffman, development manager at Blackfriars Theatre, said they’d first thought the $26,000 goal might be a bit ambitious, even though it would fund a lean and minimalist budget.
Mrs. Kasha Davis, Blackfriars Theatre and Fish and Crown, a local video production and creative service, are all donating their time, but there are still significant costs associated with the production of a show.
“We said we can do this if we have $26,000, anything else is icing on the cake, but that’s what we need to make it a reality and the community stepped up in such a big way, it’s actually overwhelming,” Hoffman said.
The community donations ranged in size, from $5 to $10,000. Trillium Health came on as a platinum sponsor for the project.
The theater’s GoFundMe page thanked Triullium and pointed to the healthcare provider’s origins as an HIV/AIDS clinic in the 1980s and it’s work with the LGBTQ community.
Given the times, Hoffman was concerned about reaching the fund goals, but they succeeded with both the community support and Trillium’s sponsorship, she said.
“I was nervous about it straight out the gate because in these uncertain times it’s really hard for a lot of people to support work like this, so it’s just been absolutely amazing,” she said. “To have a company like Trillium Health align themselves with this project has been huge for us.”
‘Imagination Station with Mrs. Kasha Davis’
“Imagination Station with Mrs. Kasha Davis,” the pilot series, builds upon the live theatrical events that Blackfriar’s theater has produced.
The theater is collaborating with Fish and Crown creative, which is coming on as production partners to write, build and shoot four episodes that are about 20 to 30 minutes each.
The episodes will be shot at Blackfrair’s theater stage. Under construction is a show set that will have three different locations for the performances to take place.
There is Mr. and Mrs. Kasha Davis’ house, the primary setting, and an exterior scene, like their front porch, which will include a garden, Hoffman said. The kitchen can transform into a singer’s lounge.
“A live pianist will roll into the shot and the lights can dramatically change,” Hoffman said. “A microphone drops down, (Mrs. Kasha Davis) can hop up on the countertop like it’s the top of a piano. All of the cabinets will have lights in them, so she opens up the cabinet doors and (there are) marquee lights like there would be at a night club or a theater, so there’s some kind of imaginative, whimsical stuff happening on the set.
The third and final set location is the imagination station itself, which Hoffman describes as a “fairytale, storybook kind of world that (Mrs. Kasha Davis) can enter, which is essentially a drag closet.”
Hoffman said the location has a vanity table, lights, wig forms with all different color wigs and fanciful bouffants. There’s Davis’ story time chair, which is 7 feet tall and upholstered in purple velvet. The chair has a working train with fairy doors that open up, all of which enhances the “really enchanting, fun, whimsical kid’s stuff” that Hoffman describes.
The entire project is a collaboration among Rochesterians.
Jack Haldoupis worked at Blackfriar’s Theater as the artistic director for 35 years before he retired. He’s returning to work as the production designer for the set. Haldoupis created renderings of what the elements of Davis’ Imagination Station home will look like, while a group of volunteer carpenters is building the structure. They intend to have the structure all done by mid-July because they’re scheduled to shoot that same month.
Along with Davis, Haldoupis and the volunteers, the team includes Rochester-based artists, designers, technicians and writers.
“All of our designers, all of our artists — we’re going to have a couple neighbor characters and people that (Mrs. Kasha Davis) meets along the way,” Hoffman said. “Everybody involved is from Rochester now, so we hope to keep it that way.”
“Imagination Station with Mrs. Kasha Davis” is designed to be a family program, which means that viewers of all ages will find enjoyable elements in it, Hoffman said.
“We’ve all had to sit and watch the shows that interest our children, and it’s always more fun when there’s something in it for the parents to enjoy,” Hoffman said. “So that’s the goal, to have it be something that little, little kids can watch, older kids get some value out of it too and then something that the parents can enjoy and appreciate as well.”
Hoffman said that she understands that the type of show could be politically polarizing, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be about.
“It is really just about spreading a message of kindness and compassion and empathy and celebrating who you are without putting any kind of limitations on that,” she said. “That’s what this program has always been about, so we’re excited to take that message of kindness and positivity and empowerment out to a broader audience, but have it be centered in the heart of Rochester.”
Though she declined to specify, Hoffman said that there has been interest in the program from major streaming networks, including “the big ones.”
“We’re kind of doing this in response to them saying, ‘This is really interesting, we want to see a little bit more,’” she said. “So hopefully we can keep that where, if it gets picked up by a major streaming network, we’ll still be able to use it as a showcase for this region and all the good things we have going on here in Rochester.”
Adria R. Walker covers public education for the Democrat and Chronicle in partnership with Report for America. Follow her on Twitter at @adriawalkr or send her an email at [email protected] You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.