Usually, as February turns into March, many Lexington theater practitioners are packing their bags to head south to the Southeastern Theatre Conference‘s annual convention.
But this year, they’re keeping their clothes in their closets, preparing to play gracious hosts as 4,000 theater folk descend on Lexington.
“Most years I spend all my days in auditions and callbacks,” says Larry Snipes, producing director of the Lexington Children’s Theatre. “This year, we’ll be busy managing a festival site.”
The Children’s Theatre will be in the heart of the action for the four-day event, which runs Wednesday through Saturday.
Roseanne Mingo, destination sales account executive with the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau says taking up six hotels and numerous venues, SETC is one of the larger conventions to come to town. She says she conservatively estimates its economic impact at $1.2 million.
For the most part, the convention will take place in the blocks along Broadway between High and Short streets. The University of Kentucky’s Guignol Theatre will also be a venue for the SETC high school theater festival, which will include Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School as a participant.
A quartet of theater festivals – children’s, high school, college and community – is one of the major facets of the festival, which also includes massive auditions where theater companies from across the country hire actors, and more than 300 seminars and workshops.
“It is a busy, busy, busy three days,” Lexington Children’s Theatre education director Jeremy Kissling says.
SETC director Betsy Baun says Snipes and the LCT crew were keys to attracting the convention back to Lexington for the first time since 1978.
“Larry Snipes rewrote the book to make this happen in Lexington,” Baun says.
She describes how when she and two SETC officials came to scout Lexington as a conference site they were greeted by costumed actors in the hotel lobby, and continued to have similar encounters everywhere the visited.
“What Larry was telling us was if we come to Lexington, it will be a theatrical experience,” Baun said.
There were other factors in Lexington’s favor.
Baun said they liked that most of the performance venues, including the Lexington Opera House and the Children’s Theatre, were in close proximity to each other and the convention center, and there were plenty of places to eat, particularly with the Lexington Center‘s food court.
“We’ve been to some places where there was nothing close to the theaters we were in,” Snipes says.
Kissling adds, “And there is so much going on, and it’s so tightly packed together, you really don’t have time to go drive to eat, so sometimes you just don’t.”
As a not-for-profit, SETC also has to bring its convention expenses in on budget and, “Lexington was very affordable,” Baun says.
In addition to the Children’s Theatre, Baun says, other Lexington theaters and entities such as UK and the Convention and Visitors Bureau have also been instrumental in smoothing SETC’s road to Lexington.
“I don’t know what is prompting it, but despite the economy, our pre-registration is up overall,” she says.
People who have not registered can still get in on the convention starting with registration at noon Wednesday at Lexington Center.
For local theater folks, SETC offers a chance to enjoy the convention in a familiar environment, particularly for people who will present shows at the conference.
“Being the home team at this prestigious competition takes the significance of our participation beyond the limits of just theatre industry,” says Ryan Case, director of Balagula Theatre, which will present productions of Samuel Beckett’s Play and Not I in the community theater festival. “We are representing our city’s ‘state of the arts.'”