Discuss: Lexington’s performance spaces

Quest Community Church was hosting its first concert in its new 2,400-seat auditorium.

Quest Community Church's new state-of-the-art 2,400-seat auditorium was built with private funds. Could Lexington arts supporters do something similar?

What do you think of Lexington’s inventory of theaters and other venues for live performances?

Currently, leaving aside our behemoth of Rupp Arena, our major arts and entertainment venues are the Singletary Center for the Arts, which seats about 1,500, and the Lexington Opera House, which accomodates just under 1,000. Then, in the seats-a-few-hundred category, you have the black box theater in the Downtown Arts Center, the Lyric Theatre, which is currently being rennovated, and the Kentucky Theatre. There are also venues such as Studio Players’ Carriage House Theatre and the Lexington Children’s Theatre that are almost exclusively used by the groups that occupy them, and University spaces such as the University of Kentucky’s Guignol Theatre and Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium that are primarily used by the institutions.

Am I leaving any Big Kahunas out?

So, is that a good inventory. What do we lack?

Some lament we never got the major performing arts center that was supposed to happen where the courthouses now stand at Main and Limestone. Others say Lexington isn’t ready for a venue of that caliber. Others look at smaller spaces such as the Woodford Theatre’s venue in Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center and wonder why Lexington couldn’t have something like that for groups that may see the Opera House as too big for their needs.

Still others say creativity trumps venues, and point to places such as Charleston, S.C., that have built vibrant performing arts scenes without an ideal inventory of venues. Here, we have examples such as Balagula Theatre at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar and the chamber music festivals that bookend the summer taking place in  an old tobacco barn at Shaker Village and Fasig-Tipton’s horse sales pavilion showing a creative use of non-traditional spaces in town.

Here’s another fly I’ll throw in the ointment: I just attended a concert last week in a new, state of the art 2,400-seat Lexington venue that would have been the envy of many area arts groups: Quest Community Church’s new sanctuary. If there is a desire for a new theater or theaters in town, do you need to have public funds to build it, or can the arts community come together to make something happen like, oh, Quest or a little baseball park near Broadway and New Circle that was built with private funds.

That’s sort of a distillation of conversations and thoughts I’ve had over the last several years about Lexington’s theater space.

So, what do you think? Hit the comment button and let’s talk.

This entry was posted in Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, Classical Music, Current Affairs, Discuss, Downtown Arts Center, Kentucky Theatre, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Paragon Music Theatre, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Studio Players, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Woodford County Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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6 Responses to Discuss: Lexington’s performance spaces

  1. I’ll play, Rich.

    Regards your question, can’t the arts community come togther to get a proper theatre built or are public funds required, I think the Arts community is too fratured, factionalized, and apathetic to get anything built. As for public funds…well, we saw what happened the last time…we got court houses, not a performing Arts center…Having watched LexArts push AGL, a theatre doing remarkable work on limited resources, into a premature coffin this summer without so much as a yawn from the city, I have my doubts that Lexington has any serious committment to the Arts at all. For a city of its size to have so few truly professional venues is somewhat sad and shameful.

    I find the best stage facilities for theatre in the area to be the Guignol stage at UK and the Woodford County facility. I may be nostalgic about the Guignol since I started my career there, though its access to the design and workshop makes it great and you can perform any size play there. It has enough seating without sacrificing intimacy.

    Though I find Woodford’s actual stage, audience seating, and backstage area excellent, I find their lobby, though certainly spacious, a bit cold and impersonal, as it also functions as the lobby for all the other activities going on there.

    My experience going to the Lexington Children’s Theatre was wonderful from the moment I entered the door, as a theatre experience should be. An inviting, warm lobby and a wonderfully intimate, comfortable stage area. I don’t know about its back stage facilities.

    The Opera House is an excellent space, but unfortunately, it mostly functions as a booking house for road shows. It is disappointing to see local groups go in there and use microphones when I’ve always found the acoustics quite fine. As I used to go see second-run bizarre double bill features there (Like the FIXER coupled with a TARZAN movie) for sixty-five cents in my college days when it was a run-down movie house, it refurbishment is a worthy feat and I loved producing THE EBONY APE there. None of the actors wore mics and could be heard from every seat in the house.

    I like the intimacy and flexibility of the Lucille Little Theatre at Transy, I’ve not been in Haggin Hall. The Briggs little theatre at UK has its charms.

    The Downtown Arts Center leaves a lot to be desired, but mostly LexArts is a poor landlord and steward of the facility. When I was on the Board of AGL, the theatre had many issues with LexArts’ running of the facility.

    First of all, when you say Downtown Arts Center to most people, they have to ask you either what it is or where it is. It has no identity or real visibility in the community.

    Despite the fact, that AGL was the major tenant of the building, producing the most shows in it and renting its offices there, LexArts never allowed the theatre any appropriate signage outside the building, would not allow them to make the very sterile, chilling, boring lobby their home with any kind of production photos or identifying features. AGL was charged for a rehearsal hall that was rarely, if ever, used by anyone but AGL and should have come free of charge with the theatre’s rent…LexArts is supposed to be helping local Arts institutions, they should not be forcing them to give back half of their allocation in fees to LexArts.

    Worst of all, the staff of AGL had to work for 22 months in their fourth floor offices in unliveable conditions because its landlord did nothing to fix the defunct air conditioning/heating unit. LexArts never seemed to understand that letting AGL brand the DAC as their home would bring recognizability to both the theatre and the venue…thereby hopefully benefiting both institutions.

    I could go on about limited load-in times, limited access to the stage and dressing rooms, cleaning crews in the lobby during show nights, etc. The impractible stage itself had enough limitations and problems without the restrictions imposed by LexArts on groups wanting to use the facility, to say nothing of its major tenant. The less said about industrial, cold, sterile, uncomfortable risers and chairs the better.

    Studio Players’ facility is quite nice for a community theatre. Its stage space, while small, is intimate, but it does limit the sort of play you can do.

  2. Patrick Joel Martin says:

    Lexington does not have nearly enough performing arts venues.

    The Lexington Opera House is great for the road shows, and the few organizations that can afford (UK Opera Theatre) and barely afford (Paragon Music Theatre) a week’s time. But it is a wonderful place to perform. One of my favorite things to do during tech week is to stand center stage, at the proscenium line and look out in the house. There’s nothing more comforting than seeing the seats and feeling like you’re home, on a stage.

    Singletary has a lovely recital hall, and a great concert hall. But there’s nothing more to it than that. Organizations can’t really produce shows, other than of course Grand Night, inside the SCFA. Which is unfortunate, seeing as its basically UK’s only large performing space.

    The Guignol and Briggs Theatres at UK are decent spaces for what they’re used for. But neither really have the option for growth in what the student body of the theatre and music departments are wanting — musicals.

    Having performed in the DAC, I can tell you its an awful space for musicals at least. Its like singing into a carpet box. While I know this wasn’t its original intent, the fewer the spaces in town, the more universal it needs to be.

    Studio Players’ space is a very intimate place. Performing in Godspell there a few years ago, it felt safe to be there, and that I was really performing to an audience.

    The Kentucky Theatre has 2 very nice spaces that are under utilized. Yes, it’s a movie house, but why can’t more organizations branch off and see what its like to perform a live show there again. UK Musical & Operetta Organization will be looking to do so in the future!

    Summerfest has a lovely setting at the arboretum, but why not have a permanent space? A simple uncovered amphitheatre (like the old Iroquois) would give Summerfest a true home without deterring from the beauty of the arboretum.

    Lexington needs another performing arts center. (In a perfect world this would take the place of the Centre Pointe hole downtown…or the old Lexington mall.) Similar to the Kentucky Center in Louisville, Lexington needs a multi-theatre facility, housing a proscenium, thrust and black box theatre. (With matching rehearsal facilities for each space.) By no means does it need to be the size of the Kentucky Center (lord knows we only need one Whitney Hall.) But with a new space, maybe, just maybe Lexington can get off the “B” list for tours and get first runs of tours and bigger shows, that more people want to see.

    A new performing space would allow more access to the Opera House, as well as the new theatres. And give a diverse type of theatre. Who’s tired of seeing musicals all on a proscenium? I am, that’s for sure. (That’s why UKMOO’s production of Company is in Memorial Hall.) The theatre community deserves a lot more in this town, and so do the artists in that community.

  3. Dpac says:

    Here’s what Lexington needs: http://www.dpacnc.com/

  4. No, Dpac, Lexington doesn’t need a venue for touring shows, bands, or comics. It’s got that.

  5. Tyler says:

    I think that we have to look at the fact that Lexington residents haven’t done a very good job supporting the small local joints like the Dame unless it is in a restaurant or bar setting. If they haven’t heard of the group performing, they often times don’t check it out. That is different from — say a Charleston — where heading down to the nearest venue is normal on a Friday night.

    I also think the Kentucky Theater is underused and underappreciated as a concert venue, and the Singletary Center, while too big to fill for a lot of bands, could easily be corded off for smaller shows. Some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to have been in venues like those and the Norton Center in Danville.

    As Rich suggested, I would love to see churches used for shows, even secular ones. Shake Anderson and Phil Keaggy are playing at the Vineyard Community Church this month, and Quest and Immanuel Baptist have been used for larger concerts before. Even the Ichthus grounds are a great place to watch bands — Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and The Impressions were both there two years ago.

    I think we have the resources — with the exception of good, personal venues like the Dame — to be a bustling music area. I feel like we’re right on the verge; we just need to make that one more push to get the good small acts in.

  6. Jim Nuti says:

    I have the perfect property for outdoor concerts and, eventually, an amphitheater. On Old Frankfort Pike our 60-acre horse farm is already zoned commercial (I-1). We’re at the corner of Alexandria Drive between Frito-Lay and Amazon.com.

    This farm is the closest farm to downtown Lexington, the Town Branch Trail goes across our farm, the RJ Corman dinner train runs along our boundary, we have great, scenic creeks and Lextran already goes by the farm all day every day.

    Lexington needs this….did I mention we already have commercial zoning!?

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