The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Feb20Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Downtown Arts Center, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Theater; Tagged as: Alliance Construction, Downtown Arts Center, Doyle Gibson, Gregory Fitzsimons, Jeanne Miller, Joe Ferrell, Joe Salsman, Julie Wright, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Nanci Barnhart, Short Street, ts. Peter and Paul School, W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation
West Short Street is on the verge of becoming a veritable Lexington theater district.
Already it is home to the active Lexington Opera House and Lexington Children’s Theatre. Come next fall, it will have a new 250-seat venue, in a school.
In addition to creating state-of-the-art classrooms for students in the Sts. Peter and Paul School, an $11 million expansion will include the renovation of the theater that sits at the front of the nearly 100-year-old school building and a gymnasium with an elevated walking track. (The building has housed only the middle school, sixth through eighth grades , but when it reopens in August, it will house the whole school, grades 1 through 8.)
The gym and theater facilities will be open to the public, at specified times after school hours.
While the school will of course have first crack at the theater space with its own active music and stage programs, Principal Julie Wright says she envisions the space being available to the community, somewhat like the gymnasium at Calvary Baptist Church on High Street.
“That’s always been our hope,” Wright said on frigid morning tour of the new space. “We want it to be a real community theater.”
For the community, the theater could fill a void that many artists and arts administrators currently see between the black box theater in the Downtown Arts Center, which seats 100 to 200 people in most configurations, and the 866-seat Lexington Opera House.
Walking into the theater, it still retains its 1913 allure. A scalloped proscenium arch ends in a cross over the center stage that, legend has it, would occasionally be illuminated by sunlight bouncing through a vent in a projection booth, which is no longer there.
The auditorium is wide and will have removable seats, because the school will want to use the space for a variety of events. Tall windows on each side fill the space with natural light, though in the renovation, it will be outfitted with blackout curtains.
Leading up to the theater from the Short Street entrance is a winding split-level staircase that finishes in the theater’s modest lobby.
School leaders, including its fine arts coordinator, Nanci Barnhart, say they have communicated with theater experts such as SummerFest director Joe Ferrell, about what needed to go into the theater. Among the recommendations were expanding the wing space and providing a space for set design and storage.
Bluetree is an Irish worship band that has written one of the most popular contemporary praise anthems in recent years. One day last year, they thought they were something else: dead.
“We got smuggled into Burma illegally,” the band’s frontman, Aaron Boyd, explains from his home in Ireland.
They bribed the Democratic Karen Buddist Army to smuggle them into the country so they could minister to people in a refugee camp. They thought this was a safe journey because they had an army on their side, and the larger Burmese army had not been through the camp they were visiting in years.
“We went to the school and visited and brought in the hymnals and Bibles, and it was brilliant,” Boyd says. “On the way back, the general of the army wanted to meet us. So we all got out of the car — and I didn’t want to get out of the car, I just wanted to get out of the country, because it is really tense and really frightening.
“While we were there, the other army that wasn’t bribed came in off of boarder patrol, and this argument ensued over our lives with this other army saying they were going to slit our throats.”
In the midst of all this, Boyd was handed a guitar and he started singing that signature worship anthem, God of This City.
“I’m singing God of This City to these people who kill Christians, singing, ‘Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in your city,’” Boyd recalls.
Since the group is coming to Immanuel Baptist Church on Sunday, they obviously got out alive. They will be presenting a few songs at the 9 and 11 a.m. worship services, and then returning for a longer set at the 6 to 8 p.m. young adult service.
It should be a fairly friendly environment for a band that has been used to playing in unfriendly places —though not necessarily places where armies argue over their lives.
God of This City was born in a very dark place in Burma’s neighbor, Thailand.
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