New Year’s Day 2009, I assumed by New Year’s Eve I would have written about at least one Lexington arts group closing its doors. The economy was buried nose-first in the ground and theaters and other arts organizations were closing their doors around the county. While Actors Guild of Lexington did give us plenty of offstage drama, there actually were no fatalities here as far as arts groups go, and some even thrived despite the nation’s foundering fortunes.
The poster child for doing quite well, thank you very much, was Studio Players. In the depths of our national despair, Studio put up a winter show about Mary Todd Lincoln it thought would probably have limited appeal. And “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” was a sold out hit that had to add performances to accommodate the audiences.
And that’s pretty much how 2009 went for Studio, the pinnacle of the year being the summer production of “Always, Patsy Cline” that added numerous performances including unprecedented, for Studio, Wednesday shows.
Studio was not alone in bucking trends. The Lexington Ballet went out and hired a new company of professional dancers, the ballet’s first pro troupe since the early part of this decade. Paragon Music Theatre presented its first two productions directed by new artistic director Robyn Peterman Zahn at the Lexington Opera House.
Now Lexington and Central Kentucky were not immune to economic challenges. Donations to campaigns cooled a bit and the Kentucky Arts Council has had to endure several cuts due to state cuts. But, everyone came out alive.
Of course, there were other big arts stories this year:
A new maestro: After two years of searching, the Lexington Philharmonic named Scott Terrell its new music director. He succeeded George Zack, who held the Philharmonic’s baton for more than three decades, and so far, it seems the change has done the orchestra good.
“This orchestra is coming alive,” Herald-Leader critic Loren Tice wrote, reviewing November’s MasterClassics concert. “There is a sense of cohesion, of belief that there is first-rate music being made here.”
The new face has given the Philharmonic a chance to rebrand itself with a more youthful profile, helped by a group of hip, young soloists to start Terrell’s debut season. In all, it has been a profound change for Lexington’s flagship arts group.
Actors Guild melts down: Lexington’s one-time flagship theater had a very different year. Actors Guild of Lexington has long been angling to become the area’s fully-professional theater for adult audiences — Lexington Children’s Theatre has been a professional house for years. In May, it announced plans to make that move, but less than a month later, the bottom fell out. LexArts, exasperated after years of AGL’s financial roller coaster, withdrew annual general-operating funding from the theater. That nearly-$70,000 hit sent the theater into a tailspin, with both artistic director Richard St. Peter and managing director Kimberly Shaw eventually leaving to pursue other opportunities.
This fall, AGL has presented an abbreviated and altered schedule from what was announced in the spring. The December production of “The SantaLand Diaries” was reportedly sold out, and Actors Guild says it is making plans for 2010. But none have been announced.
It should be noted that at the same time this story has played out, other area theaters including the ones mentioned above plus The Woodford Theatre, Balagula Theatre and Children’s Theatre have thrived.
“Our Lincoln” in Washington: Many Lexington artists and groups go to perform in other areas on celebrated stages such as Carnegie Hall and even Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But taking 375 performers from a diverse ensemble of groups to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington was a whole new level of ambition.
The Kentucky Humanities Council pulled it off, traveling – despite the epic ice storm that befell Central Kentucky – on the first days of February to put on a show for 1,463 people. The performance, narrated by Bob Edwards and including the Lexington Singers and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, is now available on DVD from the Humanities Council Web site.
Film incentives pass: In June, the state General Assembly passed a bill providing financial incentives to filmmakers who shoot in Central Kentucky. The incentives – a 20 percent refundable tax credit for production and post-production expenses for feature filmmakers who spend at least $500,000 in Kentucky – are seen as essential to attract filmmakers. An immediate result was Disney’s “Secretariat” chose to come to Kentucky for filming in October.
New works: It’s always important to remember new performing arts works, because they help keep the disciplines vital and relevant.
This year started with the Lexington Ballet’s production of artistic director Luis Dominguez’s “The Magical Tales of Beatrix Potter” in March and concluded with The Woodford Theatre’s original holiday show, “The Christmas Presence.” In between, Actors Guild launched Silas House’s second work for the stage, “Long Time Travelling;” Pioneer Playhouse director Holly Henson presented “The Infamous Ephraim,” about Danville physician Ephraim McDowell’s historic abdominal surgery; the UK Opera Theatre premiered composer Joseph Baber and librettist James W. Rodgers’ opera “River of Time,” about young Abraham Lincoln; the Lexington Singers premiered “A Bluegrass Tapestry,” which was 11 songs accompanying the photography of Scott County’s James Archambeault; the Lexington Ballet presented “The Koln Concert,” set to Keith Jarrett’s iconic jazz concert album and the UK Symphony premiered Lorne Dechtenberg’s “Token of Affection.”
Lexington’s Michael Shannon was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for “Revolutionary Road.” … Lexington musical theater artist Christopher Tolliver was fatally shot at Lexington Green. … The New York Philharmonic played a sold-out show at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts. … Lexington Children’s Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary. … The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras named Kayoko Dan its new music director. … Former UK Opera star Reshma Shetty landed role on the USA TV network’s series “Royal Pains.” … LexArts announced Horse Mania will return in 2010. … UK’s Cliff Jackson was named “coach of the year” by Classical Singer magazine. … Winchester’s Jason Epperson, runner-up on Fox’s “On the Lot” film-director reality series, shot his feature film debut, “Unrequited,” in Central Kentucky. … Norton Center completed a $3 million rennovation. … The Men of Note big band played its last gig. … Former Kentucky State University drama teacher and area director Jack Parrish died. … Norton Center director George Foreman announced he is leaving for a University of Georgia job. … The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes came to Rupp Arena for the first time with the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”