The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The headline in the news that Actors Guild will put on a production of “The SantaLand Diaries” at the old Portabella restaurant space was, of course, that Actors Guild will put on a show at all.
After all the drama of the summer and a relative silence from the theater after late September’s production of “Beguiled Again,” people started wondering whether the theater would ever put on another production.
Seeing how AGL does after all the drama will be compelling.
But I’m interested in a subplot: arts in the ’burbs.
The Portabella space is well outside of downtown Lexington, nearly five miles from AGL’s usual venue, the Downtown Arts Center. It’s in an active strip mall at one of Lexington’s busiest intersections, Richmond Road and Man o’ War Boulevard. Film, not theater, is the art form that dominates this part of town, with the Movie Tavern just a few doors down from where Actors Guild will stage its show.
But as populations — here and in most cities — have moved into the suburbs, most art groups have remained rooted in downtowns and at universities.
Infrastructure is part of it. Suburbs, as they developed, were for houses and malls. Movie theaters and churches were the main multi-seat venues. That left most dedicated performing-arts venues downtown, away from where most people live.
But the arts sort of feel right rooted in the urban core.
Over the years, many people have defended that status to me, saying the arts should be downtown, at the center of everything.
But in 21st-century America, are downtowns the center of everything? You could easily argue, particularly at this time of year, that the center of everything in Lexington is somewhere near Nicholasville and New Circle roads, with a nod to the Hamburg area.
What if a theater performed there? What if there were orchestra concerts there? Might they catch a few more eyes?
If you Google “arts in the suburbs,” the resulting Web sites and articles fairly uniformly regard it as something of a nutty idea. But it can work.
Just last month, the Chicago Tribune had a story about a suburban movie house that was bought by a group that wanted to present plays. The troupe thought it needed to also book movies to support the theater, but they were surprised to find that it was the performing arts that sold.
There are reports out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of suburban arts initiatives catching on. A September 2007 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that suburban concerts helped turn around declining ticket sales for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Right here in Central Kentucky, you can see Woodford County’s success with The Woodford Theatre at Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center.
I have heard people deride the venue for being in a recreation center fronted by a big parking lot, but that misses the fact that “ample free parking” is often a phrase used to lure people to attractions. The evidence is that Woodford Theatre’s venue puts theater close to a general population and frequently sells out its productions.
If Actors Guild can put up a fun, engaging show at a major intersection, there’s no reason that with a little good word of mouth, people shouldn’t be able to find their ways there.
I always say I was raised as a kid from the ’burbs, but I have a long-standing love of downtowns and thoroughly enjoy working and participating in a lot of activities there. I am not saying the arts should leave downtown.
But in staging a little theater in the suburbs, Actors Guild might have stumbled into an experiment that is well overdue.
We’ve seen a lot of dream tours lately.
Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman went out for a show that hit Rupp Arena earlier this year. Another heavenly lineup was Third Day, Switchfoot and Jars of Clay – who didn’t get to Kentucky.
Thanksgiving weekend will close out with another great headlining duo, playing in Louisville, that offers a compelling look at the current state of Christian rock.
Winter Wonder Slam blows into Broadbent Arena with TobyMac and Relient K topping the bill.
With its growing mainstream cred, it seems a little surprising Relient is still taking part in faith-based tours. But as targeted at general-market listeners as its latest album, “Forget and Not Slow Down,” is, it’s also a reaffirmation of the band’s faith base. And by teaming with Toby, Matt Thiessen and company help present a microcosm of the best of Christian rock that is both reaching out and playing to the choir.
TobyMac has yet to score a mainstream hit, though that is certainly not due to a lack of quality, as Toby and his Diverse City Band offer a blend of hip-hop and rock that is second to none. And Relient K has moved out into the marketplace by being another crack ensemble that has shown a faith-based band can write songs with mainstream appeal, and secular audiences don’t mind.
So here it is, a tour that shows you where Christian rock is going: in several different directions.
Coming next year
One big marquee tour making a return to Rupp Arena for the third straight year is Winter Jam, the Newsong-presented tour on which the venerable band willingly plays second fiddle to current chart-toppers.
Headliners for the 2010 edition, which will be at Rupp on March 13, are Third Day, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Fireflight, Sidewalk Prophets, Robert Pierre, and Revive. This will be the area’s first chance to hear Newsboys with former dc talk member Michael Tait on lead vocals.
Tickets are $10, and they are available only at the door.
- If you are looking for the David Crowder Band concert review that appeared with the print version of this column, click here.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich