Discuss: What does Actors Guild need in a new artistic director?

Over the weekend we found out that Actors Guild of Lexington artistic director Richard St. Peter will be leaving at the end of this season, at the latest, to pursue a doctorate degree in theater.

Richard St. Peter rehearsing his 2007 production of Hamlet. Photo by Angela Baldridge | LexGo.com.

Richard St. Peter rehearsing his 2007 production of Hamlet. Photo by Angela Baldridge | LexGo.com.

AGL board chair Jennifer Miller said the theater would not be in a rush to name a successor, as the theater has other immediate issues to deal with and initiatives to embark on such as working with a consultant to help right the theater’s financial ship and point it in the right direction.

But, just like when the Cats make a coaching change, you mention a theater is changing its artistic chief, and interested parties cannot help thinking about who or what type of person that next director may be?

The last time AGL made a change at the top, the theater took the unprecedented step of conducting a nationwide search, which resulted in St. Peter’s hire. Should it do the same thing this time, or maybe look for a more familiar face to area theater fans and practitioners? Late in the spring, Actors Guild announced plans to expand its offerings and become a more professional theater by signing a small professional theater contact with Actors Equity. Good moves, or maybe over-reaching?

I want to hear what you think. Actors Guild of Lexington is undeniably a theater at a crossroads. What directions do you think it should steer into?

Hit the comment button, below, and let’s talk about it.

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48 Responses to Discuss: What does Actors Guild need in a new artistic director?

  1. Phil Nico says:

    The change at the top- should start with a new board leader.

  2. Rich Copley says:

    Interesting lead off, Phil. Why do you want to see a new board leader?

  3. Phil Nico says:

    The approach that I have read has been extremely negative. I wonder why many of the staff members have moved on.

  4. john says:

    I think we definitely need someone from within our community to lead AGL–someone familiar with the many talented people who make this their home. As much as AGL is about theater, it’s about nourishing a love of theater and the theatrical in our young people. We go to see good work, but we, as patrons, also go to support our friends who are artists. We, quite honestly, need someone who will give locals the opportunity to hone their crafts and become professionals. Bo List would be an ideal candidate.

  5. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Before that decision is made, I think there needs to be attention paid to a specific mission and vision for the board of directors.

    There is not much status associated with being on the board of Actors’ Guild. Members volunteer out of a commitment to service. At one time, the board was little more than a fund raising committee: respected volunteers whose function was to generate money and not “interfere” with the operations of the staff. As Actors’ Guild grew, the role of the board matured as well. In the mid 1990′s, the entire board personally guaranteed a loan to help the company make ends meet. These people were willing to put their own family finances at risk to keep the company alive. But in exchange, their expectations for accountability grew. In 1998, in the midst of a personnel and financial crisis that threatened the future of the organization, the directors were called upon to make radical and unpopular changes in management. Their courage at that difficult time was painful for AGL and for the community at large, but the decisions they made saved the company from implosion.

    Actors’ Guild’s current troubles are serious, but not insurmountable. Once again, the directors may be called on to make painful and unpopular choices. But before those choices are made, the role of the board needs to be clarified. While fund raising and crisis management are important tasks for any non-profit’s board, there is an even more important purpose – the board of directors are the stewards of the life of the company. They are the community’s representatives charged with leading and preserving an institution that we all value. The way they choose to exercise the authority and responsibility associated with that stewardship will define the future for Actors’ Guild.

    Good board members work hard. They deserve respect and gratitude. With a clearly focused mission, that hard work will be more personally rewarding and more valuable to our community. Once the board has a clear vision of their ongoing role as directors, not just financial lifeguards, they will be much better able to answer the question you’ve raised, Rich: how to conduct the search for new leadership.

  6. Jim says:

    Competency. That would be a good place to start. Competency hasn’t exactly been running rampant at AGL for the past few years. In fact, I’m surprised AGL didn’t go under completely under the “leadership” they’ve had.

  7. An Ex-AGL board member’s two cents. It would be sad to see AGL move backwards It needs someone who has professional regional theatre experience and knowledge to maintain its superior artistic achievements and continue to strive for the as-yet unattained fully-professional, Equity goal.

    Lexington has enough amateur community theatres. It doesn’t need another. To be a first class city, it needs a professional regional theatre. One where the local artists with deserving talent and who have professional ability can actually make a living at it. That has not yet happened at AGL and it should be the next step.

    In 1987, AGL did the world premiere of my play, THE EBONY APE. Right after that, it hired its first paid staff person with a mission to become a professional theatre. Twenty-two years later, it still has not realized that dream.

    Nor was it until AGL hired a director from outside the community, that the theatre made any real strides in that direction, raising their artistic game to where Mr. Copley has called AGL, “the area’s flagship theatre” and no less than LA Times theatre critic (and native Lexingtonian) Kathleen Foley said their work “measured up to the very highest standard of theatre.”

    For whatever people perceive as St. Peter’s faults, this theatre stagnated in its professional dream until he came. If there was someone locally with the ability to make professional theatre happen in Lexington, where have they been and what have they been doing for the last twenty-odd years?

    Part of the reason, it hasn’t happened, I fear, is simple complacency and smugness. I hear often from local theatre folk boast: “Lexington theatre is as good as anywhere.”

    No. Sorry. Sadly, it’s not.

    And any informed, rational assessment can see that it is not. Those who insist that it is are usually those who don’t see much theatre outside of Lexington and therefore have nothing to compare it too. One only has to go to Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cincinnati Playhouse-in-the-Park,The Ensemble Theatre, Cincy Shakespeare, and a few others nearby to see superior theatre. A simple visit to Cincinnati will reveal a truly vibrant theatre scene. And a professional one where many local actors can actually make a living at their craft.

    I don’t make this judgement lightly. In the almost four years I’ve been here, I daresay I have seen as much or more local theatre than anyone. I also suspect I’ve seen as much or more theatre outside this town. When almost everything in this town gets a standing ovation, no matter how mediocre it is, realistic perception has taken a holdiay.

    The definition between professional theatre and community theatre:

    Professional theare, you go to see the play; community theatre, you go to see your friends. I prefer to go see the play and see professionals perform it.

  8. Jim says:

    Also, finding an artistic director who understands the community and isn’t so ego-driven that he thinks what locals think doesn’t matter would help as well.

  9. Jim says:

    Excuse me, Mr. Pogue, but the last paragraph of your last entry is, frankly, horses***. How dare you say the people of Lexington go to community theatre only to see their friends? I happened to see Always…Patsy Cline three times not because I knew the cast. I went BECAUSE IT WAS GOOD!!! You need to get off your “professional” high horse, sir.

  10. Jim says:

    BTW, John – I agree with you 100 percent. Bo List would be absolutely the perfect candidate. I hope he is considered, and would consider it.

  11. Jim, I also thought Always…Patsy Cline was excellent! The actors terrific! Both are professional quality actors, in my opinion. What a pity they weren’t getting paid for their sterling performances.

    But perhaps you need to clamber off- your “anti-professional” high horse. The antipathy in your prejudices are clear and make assumptions about people that are simply erroneous.

    It is a shame that anything or anyone not local is not embraced, invited into, or given a chance by the often incestuous, insular factions of the local theatre community. I heard grumbles against Mr. St. Peter by theatre locals long before he ever got to town or had a chance to prove himself. Fortunately, other local talent was more welcoming and some amazing work got done in Mr. St. Peter’s tenure. I was certainly glad to be a part of it and glad to do work that was well-received, well-reviewed, will continue to have life and make an impact elsewhere. It’s also been a privilege to work with and become friends with so many local theatre talents.

    Your snarling xenophobia and defensive attitude toward anything that might expand Lexington’s theatrical horizons is precisely to what I speak. Thank you for providing an excellent example.

  12. Marvin says:

    I wouldn’t wish the AGL Artistic Director position on my worst enemy. If one had any passion for the art form when they took the job, it would be squashed soon thereafter. Banging your head against a wall long enough will eventually lead to brain damage.

  13. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Charles, I’m going to disagree with you on a couple of points. Changing direction is not the same as moving backwards. The question is, “Are you moving in the right direction to start with?” I don’t agree that Equity status is necessarily the best step toward creating a professional theatre community in our region. Far more important than AEA’s stamp of approval is the creation of actual jobs that will employ and develop talent in our economy. The jump to Equity status will most likely turn Actors’ Guild into one more regional whistle stop for artists who make their homes in NYC, Chicago, or LA.

    Where you see complacency and smugness, I see something else. Since moving to Kentucky from New York (where I confess I had a much less successful professional career than yours!) I have learned a lot about the Bluegrass. I have spent time in the arts, in churches, in manufacturing, and on the road as a door to door salesman from Lexington to Pikeville. I have observed one thread that runs through the fabric of all of central and Eastern KY: Kentuckians don’t like carpet baggers. Our state has suffered for centuries at the hands of “professionals” from “first-class cities” who roll in, show the hillbillies how it’s done, and leave nothing in their wake but contempt for us. More culpable than these strangers are our fellow citizens who believe that our town is so mediocre and provincial that we have no choice but to look elsewhere for anything of quality.

    I think it is a mistake to say that Lexington is not capable of producing our own leaders and our own theatre. Cincinnati and Louisville have unique cultural identities and their entertainment industries grew out of that uniqueness. Lexington can have that too, but it will require disciplined business management, superior artistic competence, and a leadership vision that sees our region as a potential incubator of artistic excellence, not just a market to be exploited by folks who want to make money in show business without having to ride the train to work.

  14. Kim Dixon says:

    Jim, I’m going to have to agree with everything you stated.

    I also think Joe Ferrell would make an excellent candidate. He possesses both the academic standing to lead a theatre (he served as an Artistic Director and Producer in the past), as well as the practical experience. He has local and national contacts, is well-connected to the community – both professional and amateur (whatever that means in Lexington). I seriously doubt he’d take the job, as I’m am sure he is spending a majority of his time planning for Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory’s amazing educational program and, of course, SummerFest.

    Making quality theatre available to audience members who are not involved in theatre should, in my opinion, be a goal of any theatre. Audiences for “amateur” theatre in our area has seen a steady incline over the past few years. AGL’s audiences have dwindled steadily for the past few years. The “amateur” theatres have been able to do this, why not AGL? I would love it if representatives from our “amateur” theatres would join the discussion to either corroborate my statements or to correct me.

    Non-theatre folk audiences generally don’t know the difference between professional and amateur theatre in Lexington, and I’m guessing that most don’t care. AGL could and probably should be more professional (Equity) in the future. Being Equity doesn’t seem to impress much of the local talent or audience at this point in time.

    As for PATSY CLINE, I know for a fact that Studio Players turned away many people each night after opening weekend. The show was extended by a week and Wednesday performances were added because of the thirteen-page waiting list. Even then, people still couldn’t get in to see the show. Melissa Wilkeson (Louise) has performed professionally outside of Lexington. As for Heather Parrish (Patsy), there is nothing amateur about her voice. Her band has been booked all over the country for the rest of the year, and perhaps further. These people are professional performers who happen to be working in community theatre. There are several other “professional” actors in the area who have worked at both AGL and amateur theatres.

    How can a person in theatre be both professional and amateur at the same time? Is a person professional for one show and them drop to amateur, only to recover and become professional again just a few months later? Lather, rinse, repeat?

    Strong leadership that heavily involves business sensibility as well as strong artistic decisions are what is needed to revive AGL. To help the business move forward, I think an Artistic Director who has strong business connections in the community is essential right now for AGL. This is why I think a local leader is necessary.

  15. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Historical footnote – Rich, Actors’ Guild has been conducting national searches at least as far back as 1994 when I was hired as Technical Coordinator straight from Lincoln Center. Kim Goudace came to us from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival after a national search for a business manager in 1996(?). Not important, just wanted to make the point that the place hasn’t always been the incestuous backwater some might think.

  16. Jim says:

    Mr. Pogue, my “snarling xenophobia and defensive attitude” comes from years of seeing local actors looked down upon and dismissed as “amateurs” simply because they don’t get paid. Of course it would be nice if the actors were paid. But many do it just for the love of being on stage, and that is payment enough for them.

    While I have no illusions that some of the local community theater productions are not filled with casts that are “professional quality actors,” the fact is, a good percentage of them are. And forgive the gruffness of my earlier comments, Mr. Pogue, but I truly took offense to the last paragraph because of this fact.

    Many of the actors who populate Lexington stages (and surrounding regions, especially at the Woodford Theatre) are simply people who, if they chose, could, as Mr. Johnson so rightfully put it, “ride the train to work.” But for whatever reasons, they choose to live here. But to diminish their talent by saying community theater is simply a place to see your friends onstage is an insult to them and to the audiences who enjoy their work.

  17. Jim says:

    Thanks Kim. And – right back at ya. :-)

  18. Robert,

    Thanks for a thoughtful, reasoned response. Always a pleasure to debate with you.

    My question: how long must one live here before they are not considered a “carpetbagger”? When your kids go to school here, when you work here, live here, pay taxes, when are you considered a local? Is that the new guy’s fault he’s come from elsewhere or simply a prosiac prejudice?

    I know that I upon arriving here, was expected to kiss the ring of a self-appointed few who considered themselves the royalty of the local theatre scene and do obeisance. Oh, given my resume, it was couched more like “come join our exclusive club”, but it was still strongly implied that there were ‘proper’ people one could only work with. I really don’t think I can be considered haughty for prefering to go my own way rather than submitting to such arbitrary silliness.

    And going my own way, I have developed strong friendships and, I believe, share mutual respect with many talented local people here who are serious about their craft and have the wherewithal to pursue a professional dynamic. Unfortunately, that does not include everyone in the local theatre community.

    I feel those who are talented are best served with the opportunities afforded by an Equity company. Equity is certainly not some dividing line of quality. I did not suddenly become a better actor once I got my Equity card.

    But I did get liveable pay, health and pension benefits, superior working conditions, I was able to put something in the bank. And more opportunities to ply my trade. Though I could base myself in one city (for me, that was first Dallas, then LA), I still had to travel and tour occasionally to sustain a career. That is the nature of a stage actor.

    Equity status is still the best chance for a local actor here to have a sustained professional career. There are several actors here that would have to make that decision. Do I want a chance to have a career as a professional actor? Or do I want to remain an occasional actor who gets a stipend, must work a day job to make end meets, and take my chances in shows where the quality may be inconsistent and not at the level of my own work.? Equity also allows for a freer rehearsal period and a chance to explore the work in greater depth.

    The cost of running an Equity “small professional theatre status” theatre is not that much more than running AGL on past budgets it’s had. There would still be plenty of roles for non-equity actors; but they would also be getting an actual weekly salary…not a stipend. Having been an Equity actor since I was 24, I personally see no downside.

    I came back to settle in the Bluegrass because I love it. I certainly don’t have “contempt” for the locals, have many friends and lifelong connections here and have made many friends since coming here. Equally, I feel Rick St. Peter has great respect for the actors he’s hired and worked with. And I think that, for the most part, has been reciprocated.

    You have in past posts about AGL matters used the word “disgruntled”. And I think that is from where much of the animosity stems. From people who merely didn’t get their perceived due. Well, sorry, it is a director’s perogative to cast the people that he feels will best serve the play and that he knows he can work with. Directors Joe Ferrell, Bo List, Ave Lawyer, Eric Seale, Bob Singleton, Beth Kirchner all do it the same way, as far as I know, and seem to have their select favourites they return to time and again. Theatre is not a democacy. Some don’t get to play.

    But the fear that “the professionals from first-class cities” will roll in, exploit the locals, and leave in their wake with nothing but contempt is an utterly unfounded one as far as St. Peter’s tenure. The majority of our casts were always the best professional-quality local actors. Many were discovered and nurtured and given a chance to do things that they hadn’t had the opportunity to do before. One of the reasons I see so much local theatre is simply I talent-scout for AGL, trying to find new local faces and talent that could compete at our aspired level of performance.

    Yes, outside talent was brought in to compliment the local scene and no apologies are made for that. They delivered. And local talent can learn and be broadened and inspired by working with respected talent from elsewhere. Best of both possible worlds.

    But St. Peter took local actors to perform in shows that he did other places. He has said to me, “Once you’re in my repertory company, you’re always in it.” And I believe him. Just as he brought superb actor Scott Wichtmann to Lexington, I think he would bring an Adam Luckey, Bob Singleton, Allie Darden, Laura Blake, or a Chuck Pogue somewhere if circumstances and resources allowed (And, in fact, has done so).

    Just as detrimental to a city as citizens dismissing the local scene as mediocre or provincial (and I don’t…) are locals so righteously and rigourously ethnocentric that they are unable to percieve what IS mediocre and provincial and think any local endeavour an artistic triumph without any sort of reality filter. That way artistic disaster lies.

    No one has said, Lexington can’t produce it’s own artistic leaders or its own theatre. I know I left Lexington in 1973 at 23 for my first professional gig (and I’ve been a paid professionally ever since), because there was no outlet here for me to work in my chosen profession at a professional level and earn a living.

    Sadly, that is pretty much still the case here.

    As I asked earlier, what have all the local theatre leaders been doing for the past twenty years about it? If professional theatre was going to happen under them, it should’ve happened by now.

    St. Peter, even though he came from Virginia became a part of this community when against some daunting odds, he tried to create a theatre and a professional environment where people don’t have to leave Lexington for 35-years like I did to have a career.

    Even Bo List has had to leave Lexington to work in the theatre and he has his advocates for the job, which is not an idea I dismiss. Because he has gone out in the world and experienced theatre from beyond the fishbowl of Lexington, he has gained a broader insight and practical knowledge…which I think is essential for anyone being considered for this postion.

    And to those people who still clinging to their resentment and wanting to vilify the AGL board that brought in a dreaded “outlander” to run their theatre, they might want to recall the “local” situation that prompted the board’s decision. Did a dreaded outsider take away their theatre or was it lost?

    I’m frankly baffled that the board didn’t just close the doors back then. I’m glad they didn’t…for whatever the future holds for AGL, I have enjoyed the work the theatre has done, been privileged to have been a part of much of it, and think it has shown what can be artistically achieved on a local level by local artist…one of which I consider myself.

  19. thomas says:

    let me start by saying that when i first met mr st peter, i knew he wasn’t the right candidate for the job. but the decision was clearly not mine to make. at the time, AGL was already struggling a bit & the direction he intended to takt did not seem to be a prudent one at that juncture. the foundation needed to be stabilized first.

    as for the term professional, it has nothing to do with whether or not a person is paid, but it does have a great deal to do with the way a person comports themself in their job. also,when speaking of professionals in the theatre, we aren’t just talking about the actors. there were many designers & technicians that were thrown by the way side when mr st peter came along. it has been stated that people didn’t give mr st peter a chance, but the same may be said of mr st peter.

    the direction AGL needs to go now? back to its roots, back to its foundation; embrace the community once again and grow from there. without a solid base of support within the community, the theatre will not succeed. once you have re-secured your base then you can decide how much you wish to grow.

  20. “Non-theatre folk audiences generally don’t know the difference between prfofessional and amateur theatre in Lexington, and I’m guessing that most don’t care.”

    That one statement speaks volumes to me. What a demeaning thing to say about Lexington audiences. They don’t know and they don’t care?

  21. Marvin says:

    Mr. Pogue, the pot is calling to tell say you are black.

  22. Ryan Spaight says:

    While it’s all well and good to desire a “professional” theater where the actors are paid, that’s not worth much if the theater has no money with which to pay its actors. While St. Peter’s ambition was laudable, he was unable to generate revenue to match his goals. AGL needs both an artistic director and a managing director that can effectively balance the art and commerce sides of the company.

    Seems to me that AGL must produce shows people want to see (or at least find a good mix of dessert and vegetables) and repair its local funding sources. Once the foundation has been firmed up, then the sort of aggressive expansion Mr. Pogue advocates can be contemplated. But to try to go Equity with AGL’s current balance sheet sounds like suicide. (If, indeed, Equity makes sense at all, which is still a debatable proposition IMHO.)

  23. Kim Dixon says:

    Chuck, my comments seemed to be a demeaning statement to you. It was not meant as an insult to our audiences at all. If by professional we mean Equity, then I would still say that the audience doesn’t understand what professional means. The audience expects to see a good show. Or a great show. Few people go to the theatre and say “I’m going to Studio Players and Woodford Theatre so I’m not expecting much because they’re amateur.”

    Who knows what the audience defines as professional, but I’m going to ask some people who live in town that I don’t know and see what they have to say. Some folks might think “professional” means a bachelor’s degree in theatre. Or a master’s degree. Or have received some money (salary, wage, stipend, whatever).

    Chuck, we’ve had this same conversation before, and we’re both saying the same things we said last time. We’re beating a dead horse. We are probably not going to agree on this issue.

    I would never become an Equity actor and try to make my living in Lexington. One theatre could not support me financially, as I would not be guaranteed year round work. As an actor, I wouldn’t be able to work in the local community unless one of the theatres hired me on a guest contract. They’re not going to do that for many reasons.

    Why would I want to be an Equity actor and live in Lexington? That’s nuts. It would certainly limit the choices of our professionals. Area theatres have been producing work that is on the level of that at AGL, or surpassed it.

    In any case, we are waaaaay off topic.

  24. Marvin,

    You may well be right. Id like to think I’ve been making fine distinctions, maybe not. It’s just one guy’s opinion.

    I confess my prejudice for professional theatre. You see, it’s really all I know. My contact with the community theatre world has always been minimal.

    My one scant fling with it was when I was in college. I ran a summer theatre for high school and college students in my hometown in Northern Kentucky (much like Apprentice Players) for a couple of years (it continue one several more without me). Back then I also saw a few shows at Studio Players…but alas, mostly going to see my friends — Jim Varney, the Silbars, and my (later )wife, Julieanne.

    I had two plays produced at the local community theatres in the eighties, one at Studio (a play-winner) and one at Opera House by AGL. But both had the creme de la creme of local talent (Roger Leasor directed the first one, Eric Johnson and Trish Clark were among my excellent cast; I directed the second with both Roger and Eric, Julieanne, Bill Hayes, Rebeccas Davis, and Fred Foster, among others).

    But I have no memory of seeing community theatre growing up and, once I left Lexington in that fateful 1973 and embarked on my own career, I never saw any community theatre again…except occasionally when I returned to Lexington tovisit and a friend was in something (See? Going to see friends again).

    I have never lived anyplace where community theatre was as pervasive as it is here, where it was even reviewed in the local papers. My entertainment dollar has always gone for professional theatre; though admittedly, a few of the Equity-waiver shows in LA were like watching bad amateur theatre.

    Still before I moved back here, community theatre.was nothing I saw. It’s just a beast I don’t get. Hence, my outpsoken advocacy and preference for professional theatre, I guess

    This memory may have coloured my brief foray into community theatre. At a dress rehearsal when Roger was directing my play, WHODUNNIT, DARLING? at Studio, one of the board members sat in the back scribbling away. At the end of rehearsal, she handed over her “notes” for the director to convey to his actors, filled with antiquated gems like “An actor should never turn his back to the audience.” Naturally, I bristled with professional umbrage and, after she had gone, railed to Roger, ” How dare she…this person who knows nothing about theatre…give you notes. Who does she thinks she is, blah, blah, blah!” Roger placated my indignity with a calm, bland smile, saying, “Chuck, don’t get your knickers in a twist. (or words to that effect). Here’s what we do: we takes the notes, say ‘Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. These will be helpful.’ Then we do this…” whereupon he tore them up and disposed of them.

    I wish I could be as kind, discreet, and diplomatic as my friend, Mr. Leasor.

  25. Kim, you’re probably right that we keep going around and around on this.

    My definition of a professional theatre person is one who earns their living by it. It’s that simple.

    That’s why I always try to make the distinction between “professional” and “professional quality” I know many people here who I think could make their living at it professionally; but aren’t.

  26. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Some random thoughts before auditions tonight…
    “How long must one live here before they are not considered a “carpetbagger”? I’ll let you know as soon as I get my membership card, fair enough? You are absolutely right – there are folk in our community who consider themselves superior to the rest of us. Like you, I was advised soon after my arrival that there were ways for me to avoid having to deal with people whose work was not up to snuff. I also observed that the people whose art I most admired had no respect for those artificial boundaries. I chose to follow their lead and think my work has been better for it.
    I think this moment will be a missed opportunity if we use it to accuse, rebut, and sift through every personal smear and innuendo we can find about Rick and his tenure. The man has a career and a family and does not deserve to be pilloried in this or any other space. Having said that, I certainly understand your impulse to defend a friend, and I respect you for it.
    You’re painting with a pretty broad brush here: Do I want a chance to have a career as a professional actor? Or do I want to remain an occasional actor who gets a stipend, must work a day job to make end meets, and take my chances in shows where the quality may be inconsistent and not at the level of my own work. The vast majority of working actors (a small subset of professionals, as you and I both know) live just as you have described. They warned us about all this the first day of acting class, remember? I’m guessing we’ve both known a lot of actors on soaps and series whose lives sucked. And by the way… what actor worth his salt would ever admit that the rest of the company was “at the level of his own work?”Dude, I’ll act for money if you insist. But don’t ask me to be humble too. I don’t know you well, Charles, but I’m guessing humility isn’t the strong suit in either of our hands.
    I neither remember nor deny using the word “disgruntled”, but if I did I regret it. Ugly, stupid word with almost no meaning outside the context of a multiple shooting in a post office.
    - Until someone is introduced to me as “my gruntled colleague,” I forswear gruntling altogether.
    - I will say with great confidence that neither you nor I nor the Pope of Rome will ever be as kind as Roger Leassor on his worst day. I would be honored to have him tear up my notes.
    - I have been paid very well to make very bad theatre. I would trade whole misbegotten run for an hour’s rehearsal in a community theatre where people love the work. Not as lucrative, but not as costly to the soul, either.
    - One last amused observation on the day’s cut and thrust – calling someone MR jackass doesn’t make the speaker sound like a nicer person…
    - Just saying.
    - Peace, yall. Break legs tonight…b

  27. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    And hey MR copely — who do we lobby to enable html tags in this box? I just lost a whole big blockquote up there in my disjounted ramblings…b

  28. Anna Hoover says:

    Returning to Rich’s question about the type of person the board should seek to helm AGL in the near future, I think that it is essential to identify an individual who can combine artistic integrity with fiscal responsibility. Whether this person is a born-and-bred Lexingtonian, a newcomer from another mid-sized community, or Mort Guffman himself come down from New York to save us all is not particularly relevant. The issue is that the person wants to produce the best possible art within existing budget constraints.

    We who love the theatre and have, past or present, traded our passion for dollars tend to have an “if we build it, they will come” mentality about our work. We believe that if we create truly transformative — or even just truly entertaining — theatre, that we will pack houses and the money to cover our expenses will appear in the coffers of its own volition. On occasion, this does happen. The marriage of material, direction, actors, and marketing can create a true “hit” — the likes of which Studio Players experienced this summer with the Patsy Cline piece and AGL experienced recently with “Bad Dates”. More often, though, one of the key pieces is missing. Great performances, alas, cannot overcome flawed material. Audiences will not attend work that they either do not know is happening or the quality of which they doubt. And word of mouth can come to mean very little in a community in which virtually every production — regardless of its actual merit — receives rave reviews.

    It is key that whoever comes along to run the ship at AGL understands these realities. Yes, it would be nice if the community at large showed more passion for theatre (and for the arts in general). However, when a great deal of what the community sees and hears about local artists arises from these kinds of situations and the amount of rumor, innuendo, and downright mutinies that accompany them, it is not really surprising that the general public can become less than wholly supportive of the work.

    AGL emerged from the 1998 situation because its new leadership recognized the importance of doing good work in a fiscally responsible way while trying to build good will with the community at large. It seems to me that the only way out of this situation for the theatre is to take a similar approach. Whether the person taking that approach is a Lexingtonian or outlander and whether the quality work that gets done is by people with or without Equity cards seem to me to be side issues that threaten to draw attention away from the most important point: like any business, theatre must have funds to sustain itself. To generate those funds, management must operate responsibly, producing the best quality product possible to ensure its client base. These are the issues that the new director will have to tackle; therefore, the new director should, first and foremost, have the ability to do so.

  29. Kim Dixon says:

    Chuck, I can understand why you would be gun shy of community theatre, based on what you’ve told us. Of all the community theatre that I’ve encountered since 1994, there have only been a very small handful of lame, poorly produced theatre. And those examples were hardly community theatre. I think, in fact, they were mostly college productions produced and directed by students. For the most part, my community theatre experiences have equaled or surpassed those of my paid jobs.

  30. Robert,

    All fair enough, maybe it was someone else who used the word “disgruntled” but I think it is been a valid description at times.

    Re: humility. I always say (and please hear this with the sly half-kidding humour it is being written with — but only HALF-kidding) I can either humble or accurate. But I know of plenty of situations where I’ve been in companies that have challenged me and kept me on my toes and the uniform excellence makes it a joy to come to rehearsal every night. And I’m sure we’ve both been in shows where our philosophy has been: It’s every man for himself and I’ll be damned if I’m going to look bad in this piece of doo-doo. But we also know that given who you have to interact with onstage, it can ruin your own work. I prefer to decrease the chances of that happening as much as I can.

    Regards: The chance to have a career as a professional or be occasional actor. Even the occasional actors who want a chance to have a professional career are usually doing it somewhere they might actually have a chance at a professional career. The wisest single piece of advice I ever got came from my mentor, Charles Dickens, at UK: “Ninety percent of talent is knowing what to do with it.” How one makes use of his opportunities, chances, ambitions, and talents is what is all about. But you can’t have a career if the career opportunity is where you ain’t.

  31. Kim Dixon says:

    Chuck/Bob, I believe someone used the term “disgruntled” to describe me in a post that was several articles ago.

  32. Phil Nico says:

    They need a board of directors that recognizes artistic entegrity and should form a search committee. Do something the right way for once. Hire someone who wont alienate the local artists but also bring in the best regional talent.

    Again this board has sunk the ship.

  33. Larry Snipes says:

    First let me say thanks Chuck for quoting me. “Theatre is not a democracy.” I couldn’t agree more.

    Over the past thirty years we have built a professional theatre in Lexington, a children’s theatre. We considered Equity in the ‘80’s but the restrictions would have made it almost impossible for us to serve our rural constituency. We are still working to make the company better and will continue to do so since we seem to have a few more years to have at it.

    Reading all of the comments on this blog has been ummmm interesting but I think many folks have wavered from the point. The question is not what is wrong with AGL, but what qualities should the next AD possess.

    Having witnessed the entire evolution of AGL (my comments speak to no particular administration), in my humble opinion, the next AD at AGL must:

    Thoroughly understand, focus on and have passion for your mission…little else matters. To accomplish that the new AD (and board) must also analyze and understand their audience. If the mission is clearly defined, the board and staff are all on board and the community is behind you, smooth sailing is on the horizon.

    The new AD should know that, as goes the company, so goes your career. Company first – egos, feelings and friendships – second, ‘nuff said.

    Work closely with the management and marketing teams to create a balanced season. Doing so is not a sin. It is no crime to do a show that is commercially successful if it supports a show that is important artistically. Successful titles are popular for a reason, if you look for something in it that challenges your artistic soul you will be able to get through it, and your audience will appreciate and reward your efforts.

    Understand that the new AD will need to eat, live and breathe the job and be prepared to do it season after season after season after season….you get the idea.

  34. Ms. Hoover, in the flurry of posting and reading, I missed your comment earlier. I really appreciate its thoughtful analysis.

  35. Jeff says:

    Seems many are off topic. I noticed someone above mentioning that AGL’s audience dwindled while community theatre’s audience were on the rise. As someone who attends different organizations I’d like to know was this purely theory on the commentator’s part? We should probably not just grasp at such straws.

    I don’t know all of the local players but there are some local names to consider. What about Bob Singleton, well known actor who has been on the board of Studio Players, seems to be consistently working on shows. Or Eric Seale the current associate director? He’s from Lexington and has continued to participate with local orgs while working for the Guild. I know he’s directed and acted outside of Actors Guild while employed there. Tim Davis from the BCTC program might be a possibility. I think he’s a company member of AGL already. I wouldn’t mind seeing Deb Shoss again, although she might not wish to take a second tour.

    I guess the reporter was looking for qualities rather than names. So I’ll say “community aware,” “dedicated,” “inventive” and in light of the current situation “brave.”

  36. Rich Copley says:

    Wow. I put up a post, ran out to do a little reporting and a big ol’ conversation happened, which is exactly what I had hoped for. Thanks to everyone who has chimed in.

    I can recalling having served on some boards, with some groups where major change was afoot and there was sort of a time for clearing the air, airing some issues before moving on, and it seems some of that happened today, which is cool. But several recent posts have provided a nice steer back to the original topic: what should AGL look for now in a new AD, so let’s keep that one going and sure, Jeff, name people if you like.

    And Bob, thanks for the clarification on AGL and national searches. We will not refer to the national search in 2003 as unprecedented again.

  37. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Anna, I agree that an artistic director has to balance art and money – no business, no show. Truth is, that ought to be a given, but far too often it is not.

    Still I don’t think we’ve really been off topic because what we’re discussing is just what the theatre ought to be. The answer to that question will dictate the mission, and the search can then focus on a person who is equipped to fulfill it. The person who can turn AGL into a national powerhouse is not the same kind of leader who will make it a legitimate LORT house or even a non-union professional company. The truth is that until the mission of the company is defined, there is no answer to the question.

    First ask “Why do we want to make theatre?” Only then can you know what kind of managers you need.

    My question and concern is not about personnel. It is even more fundamental: are the mission and vision flawed so that they not be achieved with the resources available? Was Rick hired to pursue a goal that the board did not really understand and ultimately could not support? If that is the case, then he is being unjustly blamed for undertaking what turned out to be a Promethean task, and the company is in danger of putting the next AD in the same impossible position.

  38. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Rich, I see that the comments actually do accept formatting tags. I muat have mistyped. Sorry,,.. MR b

  39. Rich Copley says:

    No problem, RPJ. And I think you raise a good point and one, if I understand correctly, the consultancy LexArts is co-sponsoring for AGL is supposed to help address: What is the mission of this theater? Kim, I believe, has said audiences here don’t distinguish between what is billed as professional theater at Actors Guild and community theater at other houses. Or is it that they don’t see a distinction? Chuck says we already have plenty of community theaters. Should it be AGL’s mission to offer a different kind of theater, a different level of theater, or both? Does Lexington Children’s Theatre offer an example of non-Equity professional theater a theater for adult audiences could possibly emulate?

    I realize I am veering after talking about steering, but several of you have made the valid point that along with looking at who the next AGL AD should be, that person needs to know what they are expected to do, granting that a portion of that mission will be his or her own vision for the institution.

  40. Thomas says:

    AGL needs the same thing in an artistic director today as they did in 03. someone to come in and solidify the base; repair the hull, right the ship, plot a course and find the wind. the 1st thing that needs to happen, however, is that the board needs to decide the final destination: the new world? the old world? the northwest passage?

    qualities: artistic & fiscal integrity, thick skin, sharp mind, open mind & willingness to embrace the local community

  41. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    I agree with Kim in this sense – I don’t judge theatre based on the payroll, but on the quality of what’s happening on stage. And what is my personal criterion?

    How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?


    1 to screw it in

    and 9 to tell you how much better they could have done it.

  42. Anna Hoover says:

    Bob: You ask, “It is even more fundamental: are the mission and vision flawed so that they not be achieved with the resources available? Was Rick hired to pursue a goal that the board did not really understand and ultimately could not support?” To answer this question, I think that we need to look more closely at the current mission and vision statements, as posted on the AGL website.

    MISSION: The Mission of Actors Guild of Lexington is to produce quality live professional theatre that stimulates, engages and entertains; elevates the quality of life for citizens of the Bluegrass region of Kentucky; and affirms the commonality of human experience through sustained production excellence and educational outreach.

    VISION: The Actors Guild of Lexington aspires to be the leader in the cultural community of Central Kentucky by producing quality professional theatre that illuminates and examines the common humanity in all of us. We affirm that theatre can and should entertain, enlighten, stimulate, inspire, provoke, question, elevate, transform, uplift, challenge and awaken. We believe that theatre can and should generate meaningful public discourse and be truly public: responsive to the evolution of our community and accessible to a wide cross-section of our populace. Actors Guild of Lexington will share and celebrate stories from across the spectrum of time and place while consistently reminding our community of timeless themes and universal interconnectedness.

    I would like to make two general comments about these statements. The first comment is that the mission has a lot of nice, feel-good words that lack much specificity; this is not uncommon for mission statements but, I feel, is a bit of a step backward from the very clear language of the old mission statement that very particularly supported the production of “compelling contemporary theatre.” My second statement is that the vision simply seems to be a restatement of the mission, with slightly more detail thrown in for good measure. Thus, the vision statement also lacks specificity that one would expect to drive a theatre (or any business, really) into the future. The vision statement strikes me as more of a values statement than a vision. (For a quick primer on the distinctions, please see: http://managementhelp.org/plan_dec/str_plan/stmnts.htm)

    What is missing? I don’t see any real definition of what is meant by “professional” — certainly, there is no mention of Equity or IATSE or any other relevant union. There are a number of buzzwords that those of us in the arts just love — “engages”, “enlighten”, transform”, and so forth. But how do we put those ideals into action? The vision, at its base, arises from the strategic plan, and neither the mission nor the vision seems to have the basic bones of a strategic plan underlying them.

    In my mind, a strategic plan must be a collaborative effort between the board — which represents the broader community — and the staff that must find ways to implement it. For this reason, I think that the board imposing its arbitrarily constructed boundaries upon new leadership would miss the mark. Instead, I feel that the board should enter into an honest search for a new artistic director, and part of that search should include working with both the candidates and the balance sheets to identify first what is desirable, second what is possible, and third what is practical. If this discussion is honest, open, and truly collaborative, the board should be able both to define the theatre’s goals and to find a director who is committed to these goals and capable of moving the organization toward them. Working together to create the vision of AGL’s future will give new management a vested interest in seeing it through while still allowing the board to set the parameters for achieving that vision.

    On a personal note, I am one of the people in this community who is passionate about drama and will happily launch into my treatise on the power of transformative theatre at the slightest provocation. I have studied it in this country and abroad, have an undergraduate degree in it, studied it at the graduate level, and have worked at a number of theatres both within and outside of Kentucky. But when choosing the kind of life I wanted to live, the hustle and bustle of NYC or LA did not appeal to me. Thus, I made a different choice based on the lifestyle I wanted for myself and for my family. This does not mean that I no longer want to participate in theatre, that I do not value quality theatre (or, in fact, know the difference between quality and sub-par theatre), nor that I do not want to be paid for my expertise on those occasions when I do have the time and energy to provide it. But I also feel that it does not make my contributions any less valuable than if I were making them at a LORT, an off-Broadway, or a West End theatre. In fact, I feel that it in many ways makes my contributions MORE valuable. I have the benefit of having studied the craft, and it truly gives me joy when I can help a less-experienced actor or designer look at a piece of, say, Shakespeare in a slightly different way. If I can explain a historical reference in the text in a way that someone’s eyes light up in that “A-Ha! I get it!” way, it affects me in a way that nothing else in life does.

    We can parse words like “professional” and “professional-quality” all day — and I very much appreciate the distinction, Mr. Pogue — but at the end of the day, it’s passion for the art and true commitment by the artists, whether they be union, paid through a stipend, or unpaid, that jumps off the stage, grabs the audience, and makes them hunger for more.

  43. Laurie Genet Preston says:

    I am never one to chime in on these kinds of things. I try to work by action rather than words. However, I do want to say what I think would make a qualified and APPROPRIATE leader for AGL. Those that know my close involvement with the theatre over the past decade and a half will understand where…perhaps…I may be an equally qualified and appropriate person to throw out some suggestions….

    I have zero desire to see AGL fold…but I do think there is more that can be done to “right the ship” that I do not believe has been achieved yet.

    First, we need someone who is marketing savvy….
    I still have people say to me “Actor’s Guild of Lexington? Where is that? Never heard of them.” To me, this is a MAJOR flaw that has been plaguing AGL for years and years. Marketing is expensive, but the efforts and outreach have faded a bit over the past years. Gotta invite people to the party if you want them to come, as they say.

    Secondly, we need an individual who understands that the position is more than business, more than artistic, more than political….
    After leaving Lex for the past few years and returning, I had the opportunity to work for and with a few AD’s that really were excellent examples of this. The AD needs an understanding of business acumen (no doubt here,) a realization and happy acceptance of the “dog and pony show” necessary for the public arena and fundraising, the social skills, desire and NEED to be a seeker of building bridges and connections with ALL artists (local or not), technicians and the local theatre community (both educational, community, and professional) AND good artistic sensibility. While this all sounds simple in a nutshell, to find this in one individual is, perhaps, rare. I do not know.

    Lastly, someone who is willing to promote the THEATRE in a positive direction…
    I agree with Bob. A positive direction, one that is timely and NEEDED currently should be the focus. Following that, steps can be made to move the theatre forward in whatever direction decided. I need to stress that while ambition both personal and for the theatre is fine, the AD should not lose focus on the current climate or culture of the theatre.

    I have no doubt that this person exists…but will they want to take the job given the set of circumstances in place? I do not know this either.

    Regardless, I think it is PARAMOUNT that these qualities be examined.

  44. Robert Parks Johnson says:

    Laurie and Anna — superb!

  45. Laurie and Anna both offer excellent thoughts

    Passion is my watch-cry. I believe an artist is more passionate when he is valued and his work is valued. I believe the adage: “A workman is worth his hire.”

    The only kind of theatre Lexington doesn’t have is a fully professional regional theatre for adult audiences. I believe the area can support that kind of theatre. I believe it is time for that kind of theatre. I believe the time for that kind of theatre is long overdue. I believe AGL should stay on a professional path and any leadership chosen should reflect that path and be ability to instrument it.

  46. Kim Dixon says:

    Hi Jeff!

    No one came on here to corroborate or dispute my idea that AGL audiences are dwindling while the community theatre audiences are on the rise. I saw AGL audinece/subscriptions dwindle while I was box office manager in 2004. (I was a part time box office assistant before that, and the concessions counter person before that.) I do not have solid numbers from the other groups, just what reps from other groups have told me. I do not have solid facts, but I’m not exactly grasping at straws.

    I will have limited computer access over the next few days, and am so sad that I will not be able to participate as fully in the conversation.

    Everyone, have a lovely afternoon and I look forward to reading more posts tonight!


  47. Josh Branham says:

    I think Laurie is spot on. Chuck, I agree with you as well; Lexington could and I hope will support a professional theatre. Not today, though. AGL needs an income base to do that. The new AD will need to make best use of the tools currently at his/her disposal in the short-term while employing the strategic plan that focuses on a SPECIFIC and feasible path to professional viability. Most theatres go about it by developing childrens programming. Programming that provides the necessary stability in cash flow, but thats not the only way. You could build your season based on known revenue generating material and limit the riskier choices until you can afford the reverse.

    This person need not come from the community, but that would certainly help in the near-term. Above all, they must be consumed and obsessivley committed to selling the theatre to everyone they interact with. Everyone is either a potential patron, employee, advertiser, or philanthropist.

    Run it like a business; know your audience; only be as artistic as your balance sheet allows. Thats my advice for the new AD, whomever it may be.

  48. Patrick Joel Martin says:

    As an actor who works both as an “amateur” and “professional,” depending on the time of year, and where I am, I have noticed several things about the theatre scene in Lexington and as someone else mentioned, “superior cities.”

    Firstly, it should be in AGL’s best interest to find someone local to replace Mr. St. Peter’s position. Maybe this person is from Lexington, maybe this person is from Louisville. I truly believe that anyone with the right education, and the right experience, coming from KENTUCKY would be a great asset to the theatre. (Theatre in Kentucky is a lot like politics in Kentucky….you have to remember your audience, you have to know how to reach them, how not to offend and annoy, and how to educate without being “holier than thou.”) And AGL has in the past taken a “holier than thou” approach to theatre, performing shows that quite aren’t the level for some of the audience members in Lexington. I’m by no means saying that AGL needs to perform the standard repertoire that most high schools across the country perform, but having a few more titles that people will know will definitely boost their audiences. Including one or two pieces that are world-premieres and more edgy stuff is great, as long as they’re intertwined with what people really want to see.

    Possibly AGL can take a chapter from Paragon Music Theatre’s book. In every program for every show, is a survey, asking its audiences what they want to see, and what they don’t want to see. Having participated in shows with Paragon, in multiple ways, since 2006, I have seen how this community theatre has grown exponentially in a short 3 years. My first show was “Sweet Charity” performed in the Downtown Arts Center — not a great place for musicals (or theatre in general imho), and now PMT is performing in the Opera House on a regular basis, with its upcoming production of “Hello, Dolly.” Mr. Copley in his review of the Summer Cabaret Series at Natasha’s mentioned that Paragon’s next summer venture will be “The Sound of Music” in the Opera House. While I was expecting another show, I was informed that, SOM was BY FAR the number one choice from the audience surveys.

    Another chapter they can find in PMT’s book, is its new artistic director, Robyn Peterman-Zahn. Robyn is a wonderfully talented director and performer. WHO GREW UP IN KENTUCKY! What a concept. Why can’t we find more successful theatre professionals who came from the Bluegrass? (Maybe TransformLex would tell us because of Lexington’s dwindling job numbers, and housing costs, etc etc etc.) But a true theatre person, someone who loves it for what it is, and not for the money, would accept a job because they love theatre, and they want to see it grow.

    I’ve been asked by many of my friends, why do I do community theatre, when I’ve done professional theatre. It’s because I love the theatre. And I have enjoyed being a part of the growth in the theatre scene in Lexington, especially with PMT over the past few years.

    Maybe AGL should take a more community approach to finding its new Artistic Director. Get former cast mates in on the committee, get a couple season subscription holders in on it. Get as many ideas and opinions as possible to find the right fit for the new Artistic Director.

    AGL has a lot of cleaning up to do in the community as well. AGL’s outstanding bills and somewhat of a bad reputation has been a roadblock to other theatres looking for community support and corporate sponsors. There are even actors in this community who have had such a bad experience working with AGL, that they have no desire to return in the near future, or at least until they get paid for the shows they performed many months or years ago.

    If AGL were to clean up its act, and find the right person to be the new AD, then god bless them, and best of luck. However, if the next person comes in, and can’t help clean it up, maybe it would do Lexington a bit of good for AGL to close, and allow the other theatres — Studio Players, PMT, Woodford, Balagula, et al — to grow and expand the way this city will allow them to.

    But what do I know…I was a professional actor this summer, and now its back to my amateur gigs…….

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