Photo by Rob Colletti of Kip Niven as Henry in Spinning Tree's 2012 production of The Fantasticks by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Kip Niven was a hometown boy. He was born in Kansas City, MO, grew up in Prairie Village, KS, graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in 1963, where he first discovered his life-long love of the theatre and performance. He graduated from the theatre program at the University of Kansas in 1967. Following college, his acting career had to wait, as he served as an officer in the US Army and was deployed to Vietnam at the height of the conflict.
After his service, he moved to Los Angeles to launch his acting career. Thus, his professional journey began as he spent the rest of his adult life as a working actor. Add to that, writer, director, educator, mentor, organizer, storyteller, mensch.
Over the course of 15 years in L.A., Kip appeared in over a dozen feature films, over 100 television shows, mini series, movies of the week, episodic series, and daytime dramas, as well as national, regional, and local commercials. Following a move to NYC, he spent most of a decade primarily working in theatre. His theatre credits include Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theaters, summer stock, and numerous guest artist appearances. He moved back to his hometown in 1994 and went on to appear in nearly every professional theatre in the Kansas City area. He was also a member of the company of “Right Between the Ears”, an award winning radio comedy show.
He was a co-founder for EARTh (Equity Actors’ Readers’ Theatre), a highly successful series of staged readings of wonderful plays that are seldom fully produced locally, performed by local professional actors.
Kip was a proud union member. He was a vested member of both SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association and served as Vice President of Equity’s Kansas City Area Liaison Committee.
Kip loved to teach. For many years he taught a Musical Theatre Audition Technique Workshop (based on the teachings of his teacher and mentor, David Craig) for college students and theatre companies throughout the country. He worked as Interim Director of the Musical Theatre BFA Program at Emerson College in Boston. He also served on both the Professional Advisory Board for KU Dept of Theatre, and on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Dept of Performing Arts at Stephen’s College. He believed strongly in giving back to the theatre community that had supported him, through mentoring/teaching/ supporting young talent, and advocating for his peers.
Kip Niven was the consummate professional: skilled, accomplished, and knowledgable. Beyond his work, he found joy in his family and in the camaraderie and support of his fellow theatre professionals. He endeavored to attend as many local productions as possible (where his distinctive laugh could be heard in the audience), and after the show, always waited to greet actors and crew for a word of praise and congratulations. He loved his theatre family, and he was their biggest cheerleader.
Kip would have been so pleased and honored to know that Spinning Tree Theatre has established a scholarship in his memory, to recognize and support young talent of the future.