The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The Lexington Philharmonic and conductor Scott Terrell launch the orchestra’s 50th season tonight (Sept. 30, 2011) with one of the biggest names in classical music: Midori.
In three decades, she has gone from wunderkind to marquee solo artist and esteemed educator at the University of Southern California. We had a chance to conduct an email interview with Midori and ran a portion of it in today’s Weekender section of the Herald-Leader. But here, where we don’t have the length limitations of a printed page, is a full transcript of our exchange.
Rich Copley: Considering you are widely regarded as one of the top names in the world in classical music, it’s a bit striking that the second paragraph of your Aug. 15 letter on your website goes on at length about the coming school year. Most would assume Midori does not have to teach, so why do you teach?
Midori: I am passionate about teaching, and I think that is the main reason why I do teach. My work with my students has provided some of the most important moments that I’ve known. For me, teaching is always a two-way street. I learn an incredible amount from my students’ ideas and aspirations. Working with committed, intelligent musicians challenges me to constantly reevaluate my own music-making. And, of course, it’s a wonderful joy to see my students set and achieve goals for themselves, both musical and personal.
Q: It’s a already pretty intimidating for a student to audition for a collegiate strings program. Auditioning for Midori has to raise the stakes even more. Have your students ever talked to you about what it was like to play for you the first time?
A: All our prospective string applicants to our department must audition for the faculty, and I am always there at the auditions, regardless of the instrument. I think playing for a prospective new teacher is always nerve-wrecking, and I hear students telling me this all the time. Some of my students have shared with me what it was like the first time we met, but they are usually not so related to the actual playing. It’s interesting what they remember, however.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the Jascha Heifetz chair of the department of strings at USC?
A: It’s a privilege to be associated with the great violinist and teacher in such a way through my position at USC. It’s also a fun “fact” that I get to think about as I pay some of the repertoire. I am also the Chair of the Strings Department, however, and that is the title, role, and responsibility I live with everyday, trying to hold the integrity of the department together.
Q: You will be presenting a master class here (Thursday). Please tell us a little bit about how you approach master classes and working with students outside of USC.
A: A masterclass at the University of Kentucky has been requested from the Orchestra’s Education Department, so I am indeed looking forward to meeting with some of the younger players in Lexington.
Because each masterclass is a part of a unique situation, I approach every one of these experiences in a slightly different way. Regardless of the age or experience level of the students, the repertoire, or any of the other factors that may set any particular masterclass apart from others, I feel that it is always important to focus on whatever is happening at that moment.
RICHMOND – It just kept getting better for Amy Tate and Ann Tate of Danville and Blake Alvey, who brought them to the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts Saturday night.
Amy, who is confined to a wheelchair, was given free tickets to the Wynonna Judd concert that opened the brand-new center. Soon after they arrived, they were being escorted into the theater by Center Director Debra Hoskins. Entering the 2,100-seat theatre brought a set of oohs and ahhs from the trio. Then they were taken on a small elevator down to the floor and their seats in the front row, to a new round of excited gasps.
They were three of 1,752 people who attended the center’s first public performance Saturday night.
Gone was the long line at will call that made the lobby impassible at the mostly invitation-only event that served as a “soft opening” two weeks ago. Modest will-call lines were quickly dispatched by the center’s box office staff. Gone was any confusion about how to dress for the occasion, as this was definitely a casual night with a long established country star. There were hiccups, including confusion over the existence of some seats. But by all appearances, the show went off with no big hitches, Wy strutting onto the stage shortly after 8 p.m. and mugging for the crowd before launching into the blues and country classic If the House is Rockin’.
Wynonna followed it up with her own hit, No One Else on Earth, which seemed appropriate as it became hard to imagine anyone else opening Richmond’s new crown jewel.
Wynonna lived in Richmond for a few years during her childhood with her mother Naomi and sister Ashley, who she mentioned early in the show.
“Mom’s at home tonight, Ashley’s off making a movie somewhere, and tonight’s my party,” she said during a set that included a lot of stage patter and a wide variety of cover tunes – Merle Haggard to Bill Withers to MercyMe to Foreigner.
There were numerous riffs on being the parent of two teenagers – “Here, I’m a diva. At home, I’m a short-order cook and a driver. That’s why it’s nice to come here and hear people shout, ‘I love you!’” she said to more “I love you” shouts and knowing applause.
Wynonna looked spry and at numerous times unleashed her soaring voice, which showed off the center’s acoustics.
While there were no appearances by famous relatives – though a 2-year-old in the front row who had charmed Wynonna got on stage for a minute – the Judd girl did encore with two of her and her mom’s big hits, regular concert closer Love Can Build a Bridge and Grandpa (Tell Me ’bout the Good Old Days).
Wynonna left the opening night crowd hoping this was the start of good new days for Central Kentucky arts and entertainment.
We thought this might be the news we were getting almost 14 years ago, when I was the entertainment editor at the Athens Daily News and Banner-Herald.
Oct. 29, 1997, I received a call from Bertis Downs, the attorney for R.E.M., to come to their offices for a meeting with the band at 1 p.m. the next day. He did not say what the news was, and band break up seemed a bit unlikely since they were in the midst of what was reported to be the richest recording contract ever with Warner Bros. Records.
Still, the band must’ve been announcing something big, because getting an audience with one member of the band could be a trial, even for those of us at the hometown paper, just a short walk from R.E.M. headquarters.
So, photographer Todd Bennett and I took that short walk to those offices to learn that drummer Bill Berry, he of the unibrow and recent brush with death, was leaving the group.
“I think I’m just kind of ready to not be a pop star anymore,” Berry told us.
Wednesday, the remaining trio – Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck – announced they’re kind of ready to not be a band anymore.
“We have always been a band in the truest sense of the word. Brothers who truly love, and respect, each other,” said Mike Mills, bassist and the best backing vocalist in rock ‘n’ roll history, on the band’s website. “We feel kind of like pioneers in this – there’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We’ve made this decision together, amicably and with each other’s best interests at heart. The time just feels right.”
For many of us students in the 1980s, they made us feel like pioneers, unearthing this exotic sound from this mysterious Southern college town, a sound at once invigorating and ethereal – rock scribes called it jangly. It was music that respected the basics of rock with a confidence to paint it with the musicians’ own brushes. They were in a hotbed of Southern pop that gave us everything from gritty, countrified rock to Muscle Shoals soul, but they were going to define their own brand of Dixie music, with a keen intelligence and world awareness.
And as much as any arena rock act in the late 20th Century, they did it on their own terms – this, as much as anything, is why the band has a strident throng of envious haters. They kept their home base in Athens, rather than moving to the coasts or hubs like Nashville and Atlanta, and turned it into a hotbed in its own right. Everything was a product of Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe, including the murky album art and often indiscernible lyrics. In the process, they made underground college rock mainstream, for better or worse.
There are those who think that this should have happened 14 years ago, that R.E.M. should have ceased to be a band when Berry left so as to make good on a youthful promise to break up if one member left. I struggle with this question now much less than I did in 1997. People say a lot of things when they’re in the teens and 20s. I am not saying you loose your ideals, but as you grow up, you gain a greater perspective on the implications of what you said. If Berry – who was recovering from a brain aneurysm that nearly killed him – wanted to leave, why should he have to carry the burden that he broke up the band? And if Stipe, Buck and Mills wanted to carry on, why should they stop? They went on to work with some fine drummers but never named a permanent replacement, which was the right thing to do.
Some also say they should have stopped because they didn’t like the music of the last 14 years. R.E.M. did grow up, it did experiment, it did explore with some inconsistent results. There were great songs like Daysleeper and The Great Beyond, the surprisingly wonderful sequel to Man on the Moon, and great albums like 2008′s Accelerate. Then there was the vital performance for Austin City Limits in 2009 that felt like a time capsule.
R.E.M. may not have loomed as large in the first decade of the 21st Century as they had from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, but it was good to have them there. If they say its time to call it a day, I think most fans trust them with a deep appreciation of the last 31 years.
This is where we walked,
hunted, danced and sang
Take a picture here
take a souvenir
~ Cuyahoga from Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986
How’s this for a year?: Graduate from college, go to work near beautiful Jackson Hole, Wy., with your cousin and wind up as extras on the season premiere of TV’s hottest comedy just three days after it swept the Emmy Awards.
That’s sort of how it’s worked out for Lexingtonians Laura Beth Rider, 23, and McKenzie Doss, 22. After graduating from the University of Mississippi and University of Georgia, respectively, they went off to work at Lost Creek Ranch in Moose, Wy., this summer where Modern Family came to film its season premiere.
According to their proud aunt, Lexington real estate broker Carol Bryant, the ladies expect to be in two scenes: “In the first scene, the family is at the top of a mountain and Laura Beth is serving them lunch and McKenzie is pouring their water. In the next scene, the family is riding horses and Laura Beth and McKenzie are sitting on a fence in the background.” Bryant said the ladies are not certain their scenes made the cut, but they did get paid. Either way, they had the fun of hanging out with the Modern Family folks.
Doss is a graduate of Lexington Catholic High School and Rider graduated from Henry Clay High School.
The season premiere of Modern Family is at 9 p.m. Sept. 21 on ABC.
Thanks to Margo Martindale, we can now call Kentucky-set Justified an Emmy-winning drama.
From the first episode of the show’s second season she caught our eye with her extra-creepy performance mothering a man to the great beyond after giving him a presumably peacemaking drink of her lethal Apple Pie. Up until the end, when she served herself the deadly drink, Martindale created a complicated woman in Mags Bennett who clearly didn’t relish the life that she had made for herself and her family but was determined to do whatever she had to in order to preserve it.
Emmy week was a great chance to remember that performance including the church meeting speech and rough discipline she meted out to her screw-up son Coover.
Unfortunately, since she did drink the Apple Pie at the end of this season, it’s a one-and-done for Mags and Martindale, whose next gig is the CBS drama, A Gifted Man, which premiers Friday.
But thanks to her, Justified is now on Emmy’s radar and stands a good chance to pick up a few more trophies with a strong season three. Two words: Walton Goggins.
A few other Emmy notes:
Surfing around, two things I am not seeing mentioned much:
~ I love Lonely Island, but is 3-Way and I Just Had Sex really prime time award show fare? Maybe I’m being a prude, but I appreciated Jon Stewart’s line about it.
~ How did movies and mini-series get slotted for the 10 o’clock hour? As TV critic Alan Sepinwall said in a Twitter hashtag, #nobodywatchesthose. Maybe its because they attract movie talent like Kate Winslet, but that’s a bit of an odd move after you’ve just spent a couple hours celebrating the outstanding talent on TV.
Overall, it was a pretty good show. Maybe it wasn’t as good as last year’s Jimmy Fallon-led affair, but Jane Lynch was enjoyable out of the Sue Sylvester persona and the show had good momentum – until the TV movie/miniseries categories. I may be the only person who liked the Emmytones. How could you not like the drama lead in, sung as if it were the opening to a 1950s variety show?
That’s what its all about
Sorrow and sadness
Murder and madness
Lust and lechery
Treason and treachery
Physical pain and endless emotional trama
That’s drama – yeah!
Come to think of it, all of those elements were in Justified.
Framing this year’s 2011-12 arts guide, which is out on newsstands across Central Kentucky Sunday, we were inspired by the idea that this year, there will probably be people who will see events listed in our guide that will inspire them to pursue a life in art.
That led us to ask area arts leaders what their transformational moments were, what “experience – be it a performance, exhibit, recording, film, participation or something else – that made them decide, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to have a life in the arts.’”
We received a variety of responses, many of which were excerpted in my column in the preview. But here, where space isn’t at such a premium, I wanted to share the responses in their entirety. Some had that ba-da-bing moment at an event while others found inspiration in making art, or doing something from such a young age, it became a part of them.
Adalhi Aranda Corn, Director and Founder, Bluegrass Youth Ballet
Perhaps my love for the arts started when my parents took me to see the ballet Coppelia,
performed by the Compañía Nacional de México, back when I was about 7 or 8 in my native
León, México. My parents had played the music by Leo Delibes, so I was familiar with it. After that day, a dream of becoming a ballerina started, perhaps just as it does with thousands of little girls in the world. I had no idea what it would take, or how I would achieve such a dream. What moved me and enticed me was definitely the music, depicting a story and enriched by strong, colorful visual of movement and costumes. It is such a complete experience. The ability
to transport yourself to another world, in a matter of minutes, such fulfilling escapade. No words needed!
I don’t think the answer of “how to” become a dancer came clear to me for years. Even though I took lessons in ballet, it was unknown to me how to you go from here to there! I had two video tapes, one was Coppelia performed by the Royal Ballet (Saddler Wells at that time) and the other was American Ballet Theatre performing Giselle. I have watched these two so much that I knew the entire choreography. Yet, I had no idea how those marvelous dancers got to be the ones in there. Perhaps it was a normal, organic development such as moving up to the next grade in school.
There wasn’t a lot of performing arts support or opportunities in the city I lived in Mexico, so it took me until I was in college to make the decision to leave León and move to Guadalajara. I mainly had to find out if perhaps I had a chance in the world of dance. I came to find out that it was a lot more difficult than I had ever imagined. The hard work, sweat, pain, tears and even blood didn’t stop me from being willing to see how far I could take it. Not knowing, and always wanting to find more answers, took me to the USA.
After making my way through the impossible, I eventually discovered to my dismay that I was indeed making a living as a dancer. I danced proud and this adventure enhanced my life in many levels.
Then one day, I decided that it was time for me to stop focusing on me, and to give “it” back to the next generation. I shifted my interest from performing to teaching. I have learned so much throughout the years, I wanted to share this experience with children who have the same dream as I once had.
The circle becomes closed, when I am able to see my students and audience being moved by music, enriched by movement, colors and a great story.
I believe my work in an art related field is a direct result of the many powerful experiences I have had through my lifelong study of the Arts. In my youth I found great comfort and a sense of belonging through my studies and for me this was the only place where things made sense and I could accomplish successfully the goals that I set for myself. Through this experience I found inspiration, and a place of belonging. My earliest memory of having an overwhelming need to be in Arts was when I was performing at The Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield Ohio. This is a very grand space and I can remember feeling so fortunate to have the opportunity to perform on stage in such a beautiful theatre- under that warmth of the lights with the electricity and excitement that a live performance provides. I also recall my first experience with a major work of art in a museum and how I was in absolute awe at its majestic quality, and I recall an overwhelming feeling of disbelief that we are fortunate enough to share the same space with work that was made by the hands of masters in another time, and how that almost seemed impossible.
Dance was my natural talent and I am blessed to continue my work as a choreographer, teacher and performer to this day. I am honored to serve as an Executive Director of an arts organization and I cannot think of a job that would be better suited to my skills and interests as well as my passions and life experience. These organizations are so important to the health and well being of our society, and it means a great deal to me to have the opportunity to nurture and care for such a valuable community resource. I am thankful to the Arts for giving me a life that is full of endless things to examine and experience and I am inspired daily by the things I have the opportunity to see and do.
Chase Martin, Director, Institute 193
When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Strasbourg, France. There are several interesting museums in the city, but my favorite was a small one devoted to the work of illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who was born in Strasbourg. Ungerer’s interests are wide ranging: he’s created children’s books, satirical political illustrations, clever graphic designs, and even some pretty outrageous erotic drawings over the course of his career. The museum is as quirky as the man—a large room is devoted to his toy collection—but it succeeds in displaying Ungerer’s work beautifully and succinctly explaining and contextualizing it. The fact that it exists at all is a testament to that community’s pride in the artistic achievement of its native son.
I think visiting the Tomi Ungerer Museum was what made me want to pursue a career in the arts. Looking at the life’s work of someone like Ungerer can make you realize the relevance and wide-
ranging power art can have, and the integral role it can play in building communities.
Scott Terrell, Music Director, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra
I began viola in 5th grade, played for years, and many times thought about quitting. My parents dabbled in music, and really encouraged the kids to take part. We were fortunate to have a very strong public school music program, and very dedicated music teachers. When I was a sophomore in high school, my orchestra director gave me the opportunity to conduct the orchestra during class. It is an experience I have never forgotten, because I realized that I heard the music differently, had a different relationship with it than I did when playing my viola. I was hooked. I knew after that, I wanted to be in music, around music, and bring music to others.
While that singular experience forever cemented my life’s pursuit, I was unaware where it might lead. While working at the Minnesota Orchestra, I was the assistant conductor for many projects, including Britten’s War Requiem, lead by the late Robert Shaw. For an entire week, I watched this master conductor work with this incredible score. He was not feeling well all week yet he drew strength and resolve from this music – and spent countless hours with me, sharing his thoughts about this meaningful work. He was very philosophical in character, and was intent on sharing Britten’s caution to war with everyone. It was a transformational week, and an experience and man I cherish. He died just a few months later.
I think that experience with Mr. Shaw certainly comes to mind when I decided to program the Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem. Vaughan Williams drew inspiration from Britten’s War Requiem, he was very troubled by the impending World War. It was his goal with this work to encourage good will, rather than discord. The experience with Mr. Shaw spoke to me profoundly, presenting the mission of music makers to challenge through works that raise the intellectual and spiritual discussion of a culture.
I have experienced first-hand the potential of the arts curriculum in higher education to make a difference in people’s lives. I am, in a very real sense, an example of the potential of UK’s outreach. Although I am trained as an art historian, my first real exposure to the fine arts was facilitated by the UK School of Music, through their sponsorships of summer music camps and placement of student teachers in my rural school system. Twice selected to participate in the Kentucky All-State band (playing the tuba), I continued to perform and enroll in music theory and music history classes throughout my undergraduate education. The visual arts are another matter; growing up in a poor, rural area of Kentucky (Berry), I had only a few chances to visit museum before I went to college. I had the opportunity to go out-of-state for college, to a small college in Minnesota (Carleton College, Northfield). The first class that I enrolled in college was a general survey of western art. This one class literally opened doors to a world of cultural diversity unavailable and unimaginable to me in high school. This new world was incredibly attractive, yet also daunting and frightening, especially because other students in the class came from backgrounds that permitted them a broader experience of the visual arts than I did. At the end of the course, our instructors arranged for us to take a class trip to the Minneapolis Museum of Art. I remember feeling apprehensive as we walked through the galleries toward the portions of the museum that held material from the areas we studied. I remember, too, the feeling of pride and accomplishment when I realized that I could look at a sculpture and tell whether it was Greek or Egyptian, and date its creation within a few decades. It turns out that looking at art was not all that different from the ability to look at a stalk of tobacco and grade it into grades of bright or red leaf……
Summer Gossett, Marketing and Ticketing Director, Singletary Center for the Arts
“As an undergraduate at UK, I must have changed my major four or five times. Late in my third year of college I signed up for an Art History class with Professor Alice Christ because I needed to fulfill an elective and I was immediately hooked. I do not know if it was the images she projected on the screen that grabbed me or just the history behind them, but I decided to make my final major change to Art History. For the past 12 years I have always worked in thearts – whether it was visual or performing. I have had the great fortune to work for such organizations as the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, the Lexington Art League, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Union Theatre. I cannot imagine a day where I am not able to walk by a photograph, hear a vocal student warming up in the hallway, catch a glimpse of an orchestra tuning on stage, or see a concert hall filled with patrons giving a standing ovation. And I owe it all to a single slide projected on a wall when I was 19 years old.”
Luis Dominguez, Artistic Director, Lexington Ballet
Life changing experiences are not an uncommon thing, particularly in the arts.
My case was no exception.
I am not sure how or why I found myself at the Roosevelt library in Mexico city where they showed a PBS special about the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the company was performing Dougla a very acrobatic Ballet over the projection screen.
After I saw it, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
It took a lot of determination to get to New York and even more to get accepted in the company.
My dream came through, I was doing what I wanted to do.
The price to pay, as it is with most worth things in life, was time, effort and passion.
If you want something bad enough you will find a way to create an opportunity for it to happen.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem gave me a life changing opportunity.
Jennifer Scianterelli, Communications Director, UK College of Fine Arts
There wasn’t one pivotal moment in my life that made me decide to pursue the arts. Rather, it has simply been a matter of fact since I stepped into my first pair of ballet slippers at age 3. I’m not sure I’ve ever really wanted anything else. Through myself and through those around me I continually see the power of the arts to educate, to inspire, to heal, to transform.
Tanya Harper, Production Director, Singletary Center for the Arts
“My life in the arts began like many others – in high school. Soon, it grew into a career choice for me when I saw the power that the arts have to move, to inspire, to educate, to heal, and to unite. I was recently reminded of a concert at Singletary Center not too long after 9/11 – Bela Fleck. He sat alone on stage and played our national anthem on the banjo. It was one of the most moving performances I have ever personally witnessed in all the years I have worked in the arts. You could hear a pin drop as he played, and see such a range of emotions on the faces in the crowd. There is nothing I love more than to stand in the back of a theatre and watch hundreds of people losing themselves in a performance. Two hours later, they transition out of this experience and back to the real world, but for those two hours, they have forgotten their troubles and immersed themselves in the art. And we, as artists, designers, technicians, production staff… we slip out the back stage door and eagerly wait for the opportunity to do it all over again.”
If the Ichthus Festival was going to go on, it had to go on.
Back in August, when we sat down with festival president and chief executive Mark Vermilion to talk about the financial difficulties that had put Ichthus in jeopardy, one of the possibilities he mentioned was Ichthus skipping its 2012 edition and coming back, “bigger and better in 2013.”
At the end of this year’s festival, Ichthus leaders announced the festival was in severe financial difficulties. They put the festival property, known as Ichthus Farm, up for sale with hopes to find a buyer who would lease it back to them for the annual Christian music event held each June but relieve Ichthus of the overhead costs of maintaining the 111-acre site in Wilmore.
If there was no sale, Vermilion said there was a good chance Ichthus 2012 wouldn’t happen.
Tuesday, Ichthus announced the festival would go on despite not selling the farm, citing positive momentum in fund-raising and belief that the property will be sold sometime soon. Vermilion had a much more frank view of that take-a-year off option.
“We were concerned that if we took a year off, some of those things that were moving in a positive direction might have to curtail, because there’s no fuel to drive them,” he said. “We were also concerned that if we took year 43 off that there would even be a year 44, because who knows if those folks who have been so loyal to the festival would take a year off and come back for year 44. Those are some unknowns that were concerns of ours.”
And he’s right. My colleagues and I struggled to conjure up any memories of entertainment organizations that closed down for significant periods of time and then actually came back “bigger and better than ever,” as is typically promised.
It can feel like a good thing to say, particularly if you’re looking at shutting down a major regional event that has been running more than four decades and was tremendous meaningful to a lot of people. It’s sort of like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and saying, “Oh, maybe we’ll get back together someday.” Actually, that probably has a better record of success than major arts and entertainment events trying to shut down and come back.
Closing down for a year is like putting a pin to the balloon of your event. It completely takes the air out of it, and try as you might, it is really hard to pump it back up.
Just think about this: Right now, the next Ichthus is nine months away. Not imminent, but close enough that die-hard fans can be a little excited and contributors can feel like they’ll see the results of their efforts soon.
The 39 Steps opens with our hero, Richard Hannay, bemoaning his idle status and concluding he wants to do something “mindless and trivial, utterly pointless.”
Then he exclaims, “I’ll go to the theater,” to knowing laughs from the audience.
You couldn’t back up his characterization of theater with other offerings on Lexington stages this month. The 2011-12 theater season opened with a pair of plays, Project SEE Theatre’s boom and Balagula Theatre’s One Flea Spare that had laughs but presented weighty themes that stayed with us long after the final bows.
But there is nothing wrong with the escapist fare Hannay seeks, and Studio Players offers us some pure comic relief with this delightful confection of a play.
The conceit of Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation of The 39 Steps is that Alfred Hitchcock’s sprawling 1935 movie is recreated onstage with only four actors. Tim Hull delivers matinee-idol charm playing Richard, Sharon Sikorski is his three flames, and Randy Hall and Graeme Hart are billed as “Everyone Else” — seriously, everyone else: spies, police, underwear salespeople, hotel proprietors, schlocky theater acts, train conductors, maniacal criminal masterminds and scores of other characters, sometimes in the same scene.
The scenes move fast, with actors constantly changing props and set pieces and costumes with the help of the show’s hard-working running crew, Katee Holznagel, Rob Maddox and Tonya Spears.
Unlike most theatrical endeavors, there is no effort here to make this look easy. A big part of the fun of the play is watching the actors exhaust themselves to keep the show going.
This is especially true with Hart and Hall, who bring their own distinct talents to their roles. Hall is a master of voices, distinguishing his characters with a wide array of inflections, including a hilarious barely audible speaker at a campaign rally. Hart nails his numerous opportunities to play more than one character at a time, clearly putting tremendous effort into flipping back and forth, but also making it work.
What makes the production succeed is that director Ross Carter does not let this show devolve into only a theatrical stunt. There is a story here about a man falsely accused of a crime who is on the run trying to clear his name, save his country and get the girl.
Richard is a chance for Hull to show yet another side of his theatrical persona, adding dashing leading man to his long list of character credits. Sikorski is an engaging leading lady(ies?) whether she’s the German spy Annabella Schmidt, the farmer’s wife who longs to be part of Richard’s world of intrigue, or Pamela, who is unwittingly drawn into the chase and eventually falls in love with Richard. Hull and Sikorski keep us involved and rooting for them.
The 39 Steps is essentially brain candy, but the other major element in making it work is that Carter, stage manager Reinee Dunn and the rest of the crew hardly took a mindless and pointless approach to presenting the show. There is clearly an elaborate game plan at work to make the show go on. Thursday’s opening-night performance revealed a few holes and slips, but you sense that as the four-week run goes on, the production will get tighter, quicker and even more fun.
Stage manager Natalie Nicole had the bad news.
For weeks, the cast of Balagula Theatre‘s production of Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare had been hopeful the playwright, a Prospect native who spends her summers in Kentucky, might visit a performance. But before the final performance, the cast was told, she wasn’t coming.
“I didn’t believe it for a second,” said actor Pete Sears, who played Kabe, the heart of the dark comedy.
And as it turned out, his mistrust was well placed, for indeed, sitting in the front row for Wednesday night’s performance was Wallace, who is in Lexington for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.
The theater was trying not to tell the cast so the players would not be nervous, though her appearance was a fairly poorly kept secret as Wednesday’s audience was loaded with Lexington cultural notables, including leaders from LexArts.
For Balagula Theatre, based at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, it was the first time a playwright had ever visited a production of one its plays.
“It’s really wonderful to see that really good theater is being done in Kentucky outside of Louisville,” said Wallace, whose normal Kentucky venue is Actors Theatre of Louisville, where several of her works have had their world or North American premieres at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Flea, which looks at class struggles in the context of the plague in 17th Century England, went on to great success after its 1996 Humana debut, winning the 1997 Obie Award for best play and being selected in 2009 for the permanent repertory of Comedie-Francaise, the French national theater.
Wallace said she has seen numerous productions of the play, though hardly all of them.
The Ichthus Festival has not sold the farm, but it will continue with a full-fledged 2012 edition.
On the closing night of the 42nd annual Ichthus Festival in June, festival president and chief executive Mark Vermilion told the crowd that Ichthus Ministries was in financial straits that could force cancellation of future events. Two days later, the festival site in Wilmore known as Ichthus Farm was put up for sale, with organizers hoping to find a buyer who would lease the property back to Ichthus each June for the festival. The asking price began at $900,000, well below offers that the festival says it received from developers in the middle of the past decade.
On Tuesday afternoon, after a Monday meeting of Ichthus’ board, Vermilion said that the site has not been sold, but “there have been enough positive things happening in the last few months that we really felt like we could do a 43rd edition of the Ichthus Festival and do it with the same level of quality that we’ve always had at the festival. Once we knew we could do that, we were ready to pull the trigger.”
Vermilion said Ichthus is not out of the woods financially. He said the organization has radically reshaped its financial model, downsizing from five full-time staffers a few years ago to three part-timers now. They also have put a heavier emphasis on fund-raising. As for the property sale, Vermilion said, there have been discussions with a few potential buyers and there are hopes that a sale will be completed in four to six months.
“That would really reduce our overhead,” said Vermilion, who also teaches at Asbury University and is helping to launch its new center for cultural engagement.
Ichthus, which started at Asbury Seminary in 1970, moved to its current 111-acre home off U.S. 68 in Wilmore in 1999. At that time, the festival attracted 20,000 people a year. Recently, after moving the event from late April to June after repeated bouts with inclement early spring weather, crowds have been more modest, about 15,000. That’s due to the schedule change and to the changing dynamics of the Christian concert market, organizers said. The 2011 festival, Vermilion said, was the first edition in more than five years not to lose money.
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