The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Sep9Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, LexArts, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Opera, Studio Players, SummerFest, The Rep, Theater, Visual arts, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Ann Tower, Everett McCorvey, Jefferson Johnson, Larry Snipes, Robert Morgan, Robert Parks Johnson
In my column in the 2012-13 Arts Preview section of the Sept. 9 Lexington Herald-Leader, a handful of Lexington arts leaders who have been serving 15 years or more offered their opinions on how the arts have changed in the area over the last decade and a half and the current state of the arts. Of course, the print edition offered limited space for responses, but as we have said before, the web is a different story. So here are the unedited replies.
I am going to start with University of Kentucky voice professor and director of the UK Opera Theatre Everett McCorvey, because he answered in the body of the questions I posed, so it will let you know what everyone was responding to.
Q: This year, I was interested in hearing from folks who have been active here for a long time to get your impressions of how the arts in Central Kentucky have changed and stayed the same.
A: I love Kentucky and the appreciation for the arts. There are so many talented artists in our midst and it’s great to be in a city that supports artists and their work.
Q: What sorts of things have happened you never thought you’d see, or maybe you wish you’d never seen?
A: For me the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games were amazing. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to serve as the Executive Producer of a world event. I was very honored to have been asked. I was equally as proud of the local artists, technicians, businesses and volunteers who we were able to engage to perform and participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Everyone stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. It was a memorable event.
Q: What has been most surprising, affirming or disturbing?
A: When I arrived in Lexington, I was told by someone … “Everett this town will never support opera! Go somewhere while you are still young that will support opera.” I’m happy to say that this person was wrong! Lexington truly is an opera town. UK Opera Theatre was recently recognized by the Richard Tucker Foundation of New York as one of the top twenty opera training programs in the country for young singers. Pretty amazing!
Q: What is the state of the arts in the Lexington area, from your perspective?
A: We must guard very carefully our love and participation for the arts and not let the economy, video games and decreased legislative funding dim the importance of the arts in a community. Lexington is the community that it is because of the arts. The arts bring a vibrancy, an excitement, a sense of life and happiness to a community. The arts bring people together and they help us grow as human beings. I have long thought of doing research on towns that have high crime rates to try to discover how much hands-on art that particular city might have. I’ll bet the lower the participation in the arts, the higher the crime rate. The higher the participation in the arts, the lower the crime rate. When you take arts out of the schools, you take the reason that some students get out of bed in the morning to get to school. I was in the band when I was in elementary school. It was the excitement about being in the band that got me up every day and got me to school. It was music that carried me through my classes and helped me to appreciate the importance of discipline and responsibility so that I could practice my art. It is proven that children in the arts do better academically and are more successful in their chosen field, even if they choose to pursue other careers. The quality of life is improved by a community actively engaged in the arts. An active arts community draws more creative, fun and intellectual people to the city. Great cities also have great art. I think that’s been proven over and over. Please Lexington, don’t change. Don’t lose your fantastic appreciation and support of the arts. The arts make Lexington special.
Jefferson Johnson, director of choirs at the University of Kentucky and music director of the Lexington Singers
From my perspective I am really proud of the “choral culture” that has developed in central KY. Since I came to Lexington in 1993 (this is my 20th year as Director of Choral Activities at UK) I have witnessed a proliferation of strong choirs at every level. The high school choirs in this region have gotten stronger–several of them are conducted by former students (I’m proud to say).
The community choruses are thriving as well: the Lexington Bach Choir is a fabulous new group, and the Lexington Chamber Choir is doing extremely well, as are community choruses in Georgetown, Winchester, and Richmond, to name a few. The Kentuckians barbershop chorus is thriving.
Of course I’m most proud to be only the third director in the 55-year history of the Lexington Singers. We have grown from 110 to 180 voices over the past 15 years and have performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cathedral of Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City while taking concert tours to Europe, South America, and within the U.S. We started the Lexington Singers Children’s Choirs (under the Artistic Direction of Dr. Lori Hetzel) in 2004. That organization has grown to include four choruses, touring annually.
Our choral program at UK has grown from 2 choirs (65 voices total) to 7 choirs with over 200 students involved each year.
When we started the acoUstiKats in 1993 there were no other male a cappella groups in central Kentucky that I could find. Now they are a feature of many high school choral programs and nearly every area college. Our choral music education graduates, expertly shepherded by Lori Hetzel, are teaching throughout the state and running many of the best choral programs.
The level of music in area church choirs is also very high, and these church music programs frequently serve the area with gracious use of their facilities.
It would be interesting to see how many people in Lexington are singing in some kind of a choir. I would guess over 5,000 easily.
Outside of choral music, I have noticed a flourishing of musical theater groups. Paragon, the Rep, Grand Night, and other groups and events have put on high quality shows (including the Lexington Singers annual Pops concerts). SCAPA and other schools are doing amazing things with musicals.
The UK Orchestra, under John Nardolillo, has become a major player in the arts scene. John’s ability to attract internationally acclaimed artists to play with the UKSO has transformed the local arts culture. Chamber music is also making a statement in central Kentucky with two annual festivals.
In summary, I am very proud (and somewhat surprised) that a city with the population of Lexington has been able to foster and grow so many high quality arts groups–especially in light of the cuts in state and federal funding. Its a tribute to the hard working artists but also to the philanthropic individuals who have supported these artistic endeavors. The financial support of the arts by corporations and individuals has long been a hallmark of strong artistic societies. I think we have one here in Lexington.
Robert Parks Johnson, actor and contributing Herald-Leader arts writer
Since our arrival in Lexington in 1995, I don’t remember there being as many really fine companies doing consistently good work. Our community was once dominated by a handful of personality cults. You were loyal to this director or that one, this company or another. Actors are much more willing to go where the work is exciting, and right now, that’s just about everywhere.
Casting is still much too white. The theatre community has failed to encourage and develop African American and Latino artists. There is still a sense of novelty and tokenism when we see anything other than Caucasian faces in lead roles.
LexARTS has grown into an expensive organization whose contribution to the community seems disproportionately modest. I’m sure they do more than this, but their most visible activities seem to center around raising money and being landlords. Companies like Actors’ Guild and Balagula are proving that theatre can work in non-traditional spaces, but much of that effort is made necessary by the prohibitive costs and burdensome rules of producing at the Downtown Arts Center. I don’t know the numbers, but it seems to me that an awful lot of pennies go to overhead for each dollar that LexARTS raises.
I am delighted to have witnessed the resurrection and renaissance of the two companies that are dearest to my heart. A nearly terminal case of mission creep brought Actors’Guild to the brink, but thanks to the vision and seemingly inexhaustible energy of Eric Seale, the company is back at work making good theatre and developing a new generation of artists. The Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s demise was short lived, thanks to a group of veterans who stepped into the void when that fine company closed for the last time. SummerFest at the Arboretum is more successful than ever, and continues to be the most unique and festive theatre experience in the Bluegrass.
My greatest sadness about our theatre community is that we seem to have given up on Shakespeare. Actors and audiences who love the Bard have one chance a year to play together. There is no way to develop a corps of actors with the skills and experience to play the classics well when there are only a dozen opportunities to practice. The result is work that is frustrating for artists and audiences alike. I wish there were more chances for our artists to scale this pinnacle of our language’s contribution to the world theatre.
The best development in Lexington theatre has been the influx of new young talent. The “Old Guard” and the “Usual Suspects” are still around to share stories and what wisdom we may have collected over the years, but gifted, committed young artists are driving the bus now. That as much as anything makes me proud of my legacy and hopeful for the future of our art in this wonderful town.
Robert Morgan, artist and former gallery owner
I would like to celebrate all the little guys who take on the task of doing world class art and putting on truly creative projects in Lexington. We are the ones setting the bar for the community. We work without any money are support from arts organizations and produce far more excitement in the community. I am talking about the likes of Gallerie Soliel (Morgan’s former gallery) and Institute 193. We are and were working with a budget far less than most organizations postage budget for a yearly programming. When I meet young folks in the arts who seem blocked into a corner I tell them to just take control and make it happen without local resources. I tell them they are in many ways better off creating off the grid, there are no restrictions! One day I wish the local money bags would create a slush fund just to give to young and creative artists to do what they do best — light fires all over this town and shame us with what they can do with their spark and vision. Spark and vision are severely lacking in almost all of our art organizations and institutions.
Ann Tower, artist and owner of the Ann Tower Gallery
Over all, I think things have changed for the best in Lexington over the past 10 years. When I opened in April 2002, Main St was pretty bleak and empty. We had the new library and the new courthouses, but there was still a lot of construction obstructing sidewalks and roads, and there weren’t many restaurants, and it was difficult to get people to come downtown. Today, we have lots of restaurants, but I’d love to see more art galleries and more retail businesses in general on Main St.
21C opening here is the single most exciting thing that’s happened, or scheduled to happen, for the visual arts in Lexington. At last, an art hotel on Main St that celebrates the adventurous art collection built by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. It will be a magnet for art lovers, as well as the curious, and whether they like the art or not, there will be plenty to discuss and think about. I expect those same visitors will also venture out to see what else our city has to offer, and maybe, some will think about starting their own art collections, or at least a buying a painting or a photograph or something. Obviously, all the arts need patrons and benefactors to thrive, and I think having 21C here will set an example.
Larry Snipes, producing director of the Lexington Children’s Theatre
Since I arrived in Lexington about three years after the Opera House re-opened, much has changed some for the good, and some which causes me concern.
Obviously, I have to start with LCT, we have grown from a small community arts organization that produced only three shows and a few education programs to a professional theatre for youth that serves over hundreds of thousands of young people. Our budget was around $40,000 when I arrived as the only full time employee. Now our budget is over a million dollars and we employ 14 full time staff and 30 or 40 part-time artists and interns to produce over 300 performances of 11 shows each season.
As for impact on the community, I would have to say that a prime catalyst for the growth of LCT and many other organizations was the creation of the Fund for the Arts in the 1980s. The Fund provided a stable base of support for many organizations and allowed us to concentrate on what we do best, creating the art. In addition to funding, the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council as, LexArts was called then, also supported community arts organization with professional development and assistance with best practices in arts management. I know I learned a great deal about the business side of the arts with each of those early trips before the allocations committee. They made us better at the business side of the arts, which in turn freed us to take risks and be creative with our artistic endeavors. It wasn’t perfect and still isn’t today, but it works.
As for the current state of the arts, I would have to say we have a boatload of dedicated artists and organizations that are working day and night to bring the best work to Central Kentucky audiences. I am thrilled with the variety of theatre, dance, music and visual art offerings in Lexington. Just look at this arts calendar, I dare you to find a weekend where there is nothing going on in the arts. In the theatre world in addition to our work at LCT, we have solid long standing groups like Studio Players and Actors’ Guild as well as newer groups like Project See, The Rep, KCT and the innovative work and concept that is Balagula.
As for my concerns, I worry that we may have seen the last of arts philanthropists like Lucille Little and W. T. Young. Those two alone have had a tremendous effect on the art we see in Lexington today. Where are their successors?
I really worry about the state of arts education in Kentucky. Over the years I have seen things improve a bit and then have the rug pulled out from under them. When I came to Lexington the Fayette County Public Schools had the Arts in Basic Education Program that had specialists in all disciplines who worked in elementary schools to help teachers integrate the arts into their classroom. Sadly that program was phased out. Arts have gone from being four questions on a yearly test to merely an assessment of schools arts activities to “insure schools provide a vigorous arts and humanities program” and improve on it every year. Actually improving on it every year sounds good, but the thing is, in practice, if you start at zero, improvement each year is pretty easy. After the change to assessment only, art teachers were cut across the commonwealth. Arts were no longer on the test. Not on the test equals not important. I wonder if our young people will be provided opportunities to participate in and see arts performances or will we continue to chip away at the creative fabric of our society?
Rich’s P.S. Thanks to all the folks who repsonded to this request and those who chose to reply. If you would like to add to the conversation, please comment on this post.
The Kentucky Foundation for Women has awarded 10 Artist Enrichment Grants totaling more than $24,000 to “Central Kentucky feminist artists and arts organizations committed to creating positive social change throughout the state,” according to a news release. The release says the grants “provide opportunities for feminist artists and arts organizations to enhance their abilities and skills to create art that advances social justice in Kentucky. Applicants may request funds to develop their skills, participate in artist residencies, explore new areas or techniques, and/or build a body of work.”
The honorees are:
Philis Alvic, Lexington: $2,000 to create an exhibition titled Portals, exploring openings, transformations and passages in feminist weaving.
Arwen Donahue, Carlisle: $4,900 to create a book manuscript, with watercolor and ink illustrations, combining memoir, oral history interviews with artist-agrarian women.
Joanna Thornewill Hay, Frankfort: $3,500 to work with a mentor to write a book based on Stories From the Balcony, her oral history project with white and black people who attended the Grand Theatre in Frankfort during the era of segregation.
Rebecca Gayle Howell, Lexington: $3,000 to archive her recently completed body of feminist social change manuscripts, photographs and digital files, and use new and traditional media.
Chialing Hsieh, Mount Sterling: $3,500 to record and distribute a CD of works for viola and piano by contemporary American female composers.
Josephine Sculpture Park, Frankfort: $1,500 to support a feminist production of The Tempest, focusing on the female characters and led by female artists.
George Ella Lyon, Lexington: $1,000 to complete a CD of original songs in the folk tradition called Every Time You Speak the Truth (You’re Making Justice in the World).
Anna P. Murphy, Frankfort: $1,000 to create and exhibit a series of paintings depicting strong female figures juxtaposed with detailed lace and patterning.
Bianca Spriggs, Lexington: $2,043 to attend a national conference, participate in discussions and network with writers and literary organizations.
Doris Thurber, Frankfort: $2,000 to create batik wall hangings depicting myths and stories that show the roles women play in the physical and spiritual worlds.
Project descriptions were provided by the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
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.”
Apr25Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Opera, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: A.R. Gurney, Alicia Helm, College of Fine Arts, Dylan Dean, Everett McCorvey, Guignol Theatre, Louisiana State University, Love Letters, Michael Tick, Pulitzer Prize, Swine Palace, Tuska Center for Contemporary Art, UK School of Music, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Central Kentucky theater goers are used to University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey and his wife, soprano Alicia Helm, hitting high C’s and other skyscraping notes when they take the stage.
Friday and Saturday though, the drama will be more intimate, though still intense.
McCorvey and Helm, who are married, will perform in Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play that follows a couple from grade school to middle age through their letters to each other. The production in the Guignol Theatre will be the first show at UK directed by Michael Tick, the new dean of the College of Fine Arts. Tick came to UK last summer from Louisiana State University, where he was chair of the theater department and artistic director of Swine Palace, a professional theater affiliated with the LSU theater program.
The show will include musical interludes by students in the UK School of Music and it’s paired with UK graduate student Dylan Dean’s master of fine arts exhibit in the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art across the hall from the Guignol Theatre.
Performances will benefit faculty research at the UK College of Fine Arts.
Mar7Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, dance, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Frankin, rain, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, sellout, Singletary Center for the Arts, sold out, University of Kentucky basketball
Last week at le blog and in Sunday’s Herald-Leader, I wrote about the recent wave of sellouts at Lexington venues, including three shows over the weekend – Jason Aldean at Rupp Arena, Itzhak Perlman at the Singletary Center, and the Beatles show Rain at the Lexington Opera House.
That raised some questions in a couple different ways, in part because empty seats were spotted at some shows we mentioned, and because of disparities in the numbers of patrons at “sold out” shows, particularly in Rupp Arena.
So what constitutes a sell out, and does it necessarily mean absolutely no seats are left?
In the case of Perlman, it did mean all tickets were gone, but generally the answer depends on a number of things.
Obviously, the first reason why we sometimes see empty seats at sold out shows is people don’t show up. Yes, it seems bizarre that someone would pay significant money to see a show and then not attend, but it happens for a variety of reasons.
Second is that sellout does not necessarily mean every seat has been sold. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar3Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, Current Affairs, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater; Tagged as: 42nd Street, Carl Hall, Cats, Chris Isaak, Emmylou Harris, Gustavo Dudamel, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Aldean, Kathy Griffin, Lexington Opera House, Luanne Franklin, Michael Grice, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, Rascal Flatts, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steve Martin, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic
The afternoon of Feb. 6, I was standing in line at the Singletary Center for the Arts box office behind a handsomely dressed couple that looked like they had just come from church to see the final performance of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess.
When it was their turn to be served, the man held out his credit card, and the ticket agent said, “I’m sorry. This performance is sold out.”Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown as Bess in the sold-out Feb. 6 performance of the UK Opera Theatre production of “Porgy and Bess.” Photo by Tim Collins for UK Opera Theatre.
That’s become a more common occurrence at Lexington-area shows recently. Just this weekend, Rupp Arena presents a sold-out performance by country star Jason Aldean Friday night, the Lexington Opera House hosts two sold-out performances by theBeatles tribute show Rain and Saturday night’s concert by violin legend Itzhak Perlman and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is so sold out even people who know people couldn’t get tickets.
This follows recent sold-out or near sold-out shows at those venues by artists such as pop star Chris Isaak, comedian Kathy Griffin, the touring production of Spamalot! and country stars Rascal Flatts, Rupp’s first non-UK basketball sell-out of 2011.
So, is the sell out back? Is a recovering economy starting to show up at the box office?
Well yes and no, venue directors say.
Yes, things do seem to be better than they were in the depths of the great recession in 2008 and ‘09. They also see other factors from a string of very popular acts to a pure desire on consumers’ parts to go have fun to ticket prices coming back to earth.
The National Symphony Orchestra has made a lot of music in Kentucky since landing in Louisville Thursday. But Wednesday morning, executive director Rita Shapiro and Kentucky Residency conductor Hugh Wolff sat down behind microphones to discuss presenting orchestral music to changing audiences in economically challenging times.
“There aren’t any fat years,” Wolff said of arts funding, to knowing laughter from the audience, which included Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra music director Scott Terrell and LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark. “These are very lean years.”
Though the very real probability of deep cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts in the next federal budget was never directly addressed in their chat, the conversation was colored by the presumption that arts finances will not be improving anytime soon.
“Everybody is having a hard time, even big behemoths like the Kennedy Center,” Shapiro said, referring to the home base of the National Symphony.
That, she said, should prompt arts groups to get more aggressive, viewing advocacy as marketing, and trying to build partnerships both with influential donors, officials and celebrities and social services that benefit from outreach by the orchestra and its musicians.
“We feel as good community partners we need to get into neighborhoods where they do not have exposure to classical music and work with those communities,” Shapiro said, citing instances where donors to social service groups have seen the value of music programs in the programs they support and become orchestra donors as well.
Programming, Wolf and Shapiro acknowledged, has to reorient itself from being a top-down idea to a bottom-up approach, addressing community and educator needs.
Feb14Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Current Affairs; Tagged as: Americans for the Arts, Andres Serrano, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kentucky Humanities Council, KET, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Public Radio, NEA, NEH, PBS, Rand Paul, Robert Mapplethorpe, Shae Hopkins, Tea Party, Virginia G. Carter, WEKU, WUKY
The last decade, there was a piece of spam that would pop up in my email box every few months from various friends warning about proposed cuts to cultural funding – i.e., the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
It would usually be followed by a sheepish apology after the sender was notified the email was a hoax – to what purpose, I do not know – and there was really no serious discussion of eliminating cultural funding, because for more than a decade, there hasn’t been. After the early 1990s flare-ups over works by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe, federal cultural funding has stood relatively unchallenged except for economic adjustments.
And unlike the mid-’00s, when those spam notes seemed to come out of the blue, you could have seen some of the current proposals coming as Tea Party candidates won significant victories, including Rand Paul’s victory in the 2010 campaign for Kentucky’s open Senate seat. With promises of limited government and reduced government spending, cultural programs appear to be back on the chopping block.
To be exact, proposed GOP cuts, released Friday, would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS TV (KET in Kentucky) and National Public Radio (WUKY-FM 91.3 and WEKU-FM 88.9 are the primary outlets in Central Kentucky). It would also include heavy cuts to the NEA and NEH, amounts vary depending on what you read, and advocacy groups such as Americans for the Arts are sounding alarms that some proposals will call for total elimination of funding for those groups. (Update, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14: President Barack Obama’s budget also has significant cuts to the NEA and NEH but increases funding for public broacasting.)
Arts leaders in Kentucky are sounding alarms too.
KET’s website features a call to action from executive director Shae Hopkins, stating, “Federal funding provides nearly $2.9 million, or 14 percent of KET’s budget. That’s only $0.76 per Kentuckian.” The statewide network was also running spots over the weekend urging viewers to contact officials and protest the proposed cuts. The area public radio stations are also urging listeners to contact state congressional leaders through their websites.
In a message to supporters, Kentucky Humanities Council executive director Virginia G. Carter urged people to contract congressional leaders about a proposed $12 million cut to the NEH saying, “The Kentuckians who took the time to contact Congress about what the humanities meant to them and their communities helped save the NEH in the mid-1990s when it was threatened with elimination. This time, we need a similar outpouring of support, and fast!”
This time around, to cultural leaders, the threat seems real.
Full disclosure: Rich Copley provides regular commentary and occasional stories to WEKU-FM. He receives no financial compensation from the station.
There are a number of aspects to arts criticism, but one of them is certainly consumer journalism.
After months of pushback by producers of the new Broadway production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Broadway critics decided this week to put to the consumer first and review the troubled show.
Traditionally, critics allow a show to go through several weeks of “preview” performances during which it is still being tweaked before an official opening night, when the show locks into a form it will assume for the duration of its run. But after three opening nights were declared and scrapped for the $65 million behemoth, critics decided enough was enough and have rendered opinions on the show.
And it ain’t pretty.
Recounting a mishap during the performance he saw on Feb. 7 (opening night No. 3), The New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote, “only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right – if, by right, one means entertaining.”
The Washington Post’s Peter Marks wrote, “If you’re going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there’s a perverse distinction in being one of the worst.
“Mind you, I haven’t seen every stinker ever produced, so I can’t categorically confirm that ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ belongs in the dankest subbasement of the American musical theater. But its application certainly seems to be in order.”
And so it went from there. Some reviews were kinder, but uniformly they confirmed the buzz coming out of the Foxwoods Theatre and now-more-than-60 preview performances: “Spider-Man” is an artistic bomb.
So, what did the show’s spokesman, Rick Miramontez, do? Of course, he blamed the messengers.
“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for,” he said in what was billed as an exclusive statement to Entertainment Weekly. “Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”
No, Rick, here’s what’s uncalled for: Artists as talented as Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge – whose work I have admired in the past – opening the doors on a show that is so-not-ready for prime time that you have had to call off three opening nights and will have gone through more than three months of previews before opening night, IF it opens March 15.
And, while we have you, Rick, here’s what’s uncool: Charging up to $300 for seats and well over $100 for all but the nosebleed seats for a show you admit is still a work in progress. Not to mention that many people holding tickets for recent and upcoming performances bought them believing they were getting tickets to a completed product.
Granted, no one forced them to buy tickets. But when you are charging that kind of freight, it’s pretty disingenuous that your only excuse for a lousy show is those meanie critics shouldn’t have reviewed it.
The critics were fulfilling their responsibility to their readers. I have to think that in the Internet age, Broadway critics have to be frustrated with the preview process in general as bloggers, tweeters and others weigh in on preview shows while they accommodate producers by sitting on the sidelines until the officials say its time – especially when the show has been the top grossing production on Broadway for weeks. (Whenever I tell people unfamiliar with Broadway about the preview process, where consumers are charged top dollar for tickets to a show that’s supposedly incomplete, they think it’s really weird.)
Good for them for finally declaring the charade had gone on long enough, and it was time for “Spider-Man” to get an assessment from the professional critics.
Dec27Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Arts administration, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Christmas music, Classical Music, Country music, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Horsemania, Kentucky Theatre, Laura Bell Bundy, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Secretariat, Singletary Center for the Arts, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Allison Kaiser, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Balagula Theatre, Blake Shelton, Debra Hoskins, Eric Seale, Gustavo Dudamel, Haiti, Institute 193, John Lithgow, La Bohème, Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Art League, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Ouanamithe, Phillip March Jones, ProjectSEE Theartre, Rolling Stones, Scott Terrell, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Stephanie Pevec, Steven A. Hoffman, The Chieftains, Thoroughbred Community Theatre, Tony Bennett, Trombone Shorty, U2, UK Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Lexington’s 2010 year in arts could not have been weirder if you took the city and plopped it in the middle of Florida. Between some major changes at area arts institutions and the unprecedented wave of local and national arts activity prompted by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, it was a year unlike any we have had or will probably see again.
■ While we did not get U2 or the Rolling Stones as WEG organizers had originally hoped, the games did fill up theaters, and in many cases, theater seats during the two weeks and three weekends of the games. Topping the bill was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Norton Center for the Arts. It was a booking that was deemed impossible by New York agents and drew national attention, all made possible by the persistence of for Norton Center assistant managing director Debra Hoskins who smoothed the road with bourbon and chocolate.
The event itself was an unforgettable evening for the audience and a great experience for area musicians and others who got to interact with one of the world’s great orchestras and shining stars.
Other great performances brought in by the Games were an evening with Marvin Hamlisch and the UK Symphony Orchestra, which had a great fortnight playing for the opening ceremonies and a production of La Boheme as well; Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and Laura Bell Bundy at the Spotlight Lexington Festival downtown and performances by Tony Bennett, John Lithgow and the Chieftains.
There is talk of extending both the Spotlight and Alltech Fortnight festivals, which presented the bulk of the entertainment, into the future. But we probably won’t see this level of activity again unless the games come back.
The Games also brought a number of high profile art exhibits to the area including a retrospective of the horse in American art at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the Gift from the Desert look at Arabian horses at the International Museum of the Horse.
■ Scott Terrell was hired as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director in 2009, but this is the year we really started to see his vision for the orchestra unfold, and its reverberations in the community. Unveiling the orchestra’s 2010-11 season, he showed he was willing to break traditions and initiate new collaborations. He presented Messiah is a smaller format than years past and brought groups including local school and college choirs into the Philharmonic fold for performances that broke the orchestral concert mold. He also instituted a new style of concert preview with the Kicked Back Classics event at the Downtown Arts Center in November.
The moves have not come without some friction, which change often produces. There was unhappiness over the Lexington Singers not being part of the Messiah this year, as Terrell wanted to go with a smaller chorus and the Singers did not want to downsize. Enter the Lexington Chamber Chorale as a new collaborator and the Singers presenting their own Messiah in a holiday arts season whose calendar was largely rewritten this year. Precipitated by the changes, the Singers are asserting themselves more as an entity in their own right, un-tethered to the Philharmonic calendar.
How all of this will settle remains to be seen. But it is clear this will be a new Philharmonic under Terrell’s baton.
The orchestra also got a new executive director as Allison Kaiser came over from the same post at the Lexington Art League and Stephanie Pevec took over that post.
■ This was the year without Actors Guild of Lexington. Long regarded as Lexington’s flagship theater for adult audiences, financial troubles and management departures in 2009 all but shuttered the company this year except for one production, a concert version of The Who’s Tommy at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and the new Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater. That said, theater thrived in the area with first rate productions by the Lexington Children’s Theatre and area college and community groups and emergence of some new organizations such as ProjectSEE Theartre and productions out of the Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway. And there were successes such as Balagula Theatre’s strong showing in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention here in Lexington. Actors Guild has announced a lineup of shows for 2011 under the guidance of new artistic director Eric Seale, but the group will be joining an active theater scene.
Some other big stories of the year that is now almost done were:
■ Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts tapped Steven A. Hoffman as its new director, following the departure of longtime director George Foreman to the University of Georgia. With this month’s departure of assistant managing director Debra Hoskins, there has been a complete turnover in management at the Norton Center. This will be a story to watch in 2011.
■ Alltech launched a project sending University of Kentucky voice students to Ouanamithe, Haiti, to launch a music program and form a children’s choir. The choir came to Central Kentucky and made several appearances during the World Equestrian Games.
■ The Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nation’s largest regional theater convention, came to Lexington for the first time in more than 20 years, and by all accounts, it went wonderfully.
■ Secretariat brought some Hollywood glamour back to the Bluegrass, including a gala premier at the Kentucky Theatre attended by star Diane Lane and many others.
■ Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy launched a country music career with her Mercury Nashville debut Achin’ and Shakin’.
■ Horse Mania returned to the streets of Lexington, 10 years after the original edition in 2000.
■ Michael Tick was named the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts.
■ The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville suffered massive flooding during rainstorms in early May, but recovered and went on to a successful season thanks to an army of volunteers.
■ Phillip March Jones’ Institute 193 emerged as a major force in creating and presenting visual arts in Central Kentucky.
■ Among world premiers in Lexington this year were Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View and Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans, by UK Theatre, Beth Kander’s See Jane Quit by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre, Roger Zare’s Geometries by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Frank X Walker’s I Dedicate This Ride at Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the regional premier of Brian Hampton’s The Jungle Fun Room by Studio Players.
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