The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Trish Clark, former drama teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and former artistic director of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, has been named as the interim artistic and executive director of Woodford Theatre.
Clark steps in for Steve Arnold, who left the theater in October after just over a year in the post. He had succeeded longtime director Beth Kirchner, who made the Versailles theater one of the region’s premier community theaters during her 16-year tenure.
Clark, 59, said the opportunity came along at a good time after her position with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s educational outreach programs was eliminated in a widespread round of layoffs earlier this year. She says she has not decided whether she will apply for the permanent director job at Woodford.
“They needed some immediate care, and that’s what I can do,” Clark said, taking a break from watching rehearsals of The Christmas Foundling, which opens Friday and runs three weekends. “Being around so long, I knew I could get people together, and they’ve been really good about stepping up.”
In two weeks, Clark has retained directors for the three remaining shows on the season after The Christmas Foundling, including bringing Kirchner back to direct Driving Miss Daisy, Feb. 1 to 17. She changed the April production of Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite to Simon’s The Odd Couple, because she said the cost of the set for the originally scheduled play would be prohibitive. Tonda-Leah Fields will direct Odd Couple and retired University of Kentucky Theatre professor James W. Rodgers will direct the season finale, The Secret Garden, May 31 to June 16.
Clark said she does not know what role she will play in selecting a 2013-14 season for Woodford Theatre.
Clark’s daughter, Ellie Clark, is one of three co-directors of Lexington-based Project SEE Theatre, so there are now two theaters in the family.
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 Woodford Theatre has announced it’s 2012-13 season, which is a significant milestone as it’s the first season selected by new artistic director Steven J. Arnold. When Arnold took the reigns of the theater last summer, following the retirement of longtime director Beth Kirchner, the current season had already been selected.
In an email, Arnold said the season, “will not only be a highly entertaining one for our audience, it will also allow us to continue to define ourselves through ambitious design and performance opportunities.”
When choosing a season, Arnold said, “I attempt to put together a healthy balance of comedy and drama, musical and non-musical, contemporary and classic (or “classic feeling”), available male roles versus available female roles, and titles that will be of interest to both our audiences and our community of artists in the region. I also want to give audiences the opportunity to enjoy things they already know, in some form or another … while allowing them to discover something new or not well known.”
The season is:
Sept. 29-Oct. 14: Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music). The duo whose credits include Seussical and Ragtime got their start marrying the musical form with this good ol’ English door-slamming farce about missing millions and a corpse in a wheelchair.
Nov. 30-Dec. 16: The Christmas Foundling by Norman Allen, based on the stories of Bret Harte. A group of gold miners in the 1850s Sierras become surrogate parents of a baby boy when his mother dies at Christmastime and a decade later have to fight to keep a meddling aunt from taking him away.
Feb. 1-17: Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry. You may know the Academy Award-winning 1989 movie. This is the play that came first.
April 5-21: God’s Favorite by Neil Simon. The 1974 play, which Arnold says has been enjoying a community theater renaissance, tells the story of a modern-day Job, whose faith is tested by misfortune.
May 31-June 16: The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) and Lucy Simon (music), based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Arnold says the Tony Award-winning musical about a magical garden, “feels like it literally fell off the page of the book and onto the stage, and it easily has one of the most moving and lush scores of the Broadway stage. It also has really terrific actor/singer opportunities that will be of great interest to the region’s talent base.”
The Woodford Theatre’s 2011-12 season concludes this weekend with the final performances of Smoke on the Mountain.
Jim and Melissa Wilkeson are doing something this weekend they have not done in 16 years of marriage: they’re performing opposite each other in a play.
Both Wilkesons are familiar to Lexington theatergoers. Jim has played roles such as Dub in Dearly Departed and Christmas Belles and the title role in Fortinbras at Studio Players. Melissa played Patsy Cline’s biggest fan in Studio’s blockbuster production of Always … Patsy Cline and recently had multiple roles in Balagula Theatre’s The Book of Liz.
They have been in the same shows a couple of times recently — as in Christmas Belles — and in the Midway 10-Minute Play Festival.
But no show has brought them together on stage until The Woodford Theatre’s production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, which opens Friday (Jan. 27, 2012) and runs through Feb. 12 at the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in Versailles.
“Our dogs aren’t very happy,” Melissa says. Jim adds, “Our dogs hate us right now. They’re like, ‘Are you ever going to be home again, ever again?’”
Aside from the canine conundrum, Jim says, “It’s great to finally be in something together and see how it works, see how we look on stage. We looked pretty good on the altar.”
While the Wilkesons have not shared the stage much since tying the knot, their union was born of nine intense months at the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theatre Training in Jupiter, Fla., where they were both students and company members. There, they worked long hours, sometimes performing in a children’s theater show, a black-box show, a mainstage dinner theater show and in lessons with Reynolds — all in one day.
“We were together all the time,” Wilkeson recalls. “We did nothing but theater from the time we woke up until, literally, sometimes Burt Reynolds would come in and say he wanted to have a class at midnight.”
Their relationship grew quickly as they started dating in November 1993 and got engaged soon after, on Christmas Eve. But they had a long engagement.
“There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to marry him after not living in the real world for nine months,” Melissa says of the institute.
They tied the knot Oct. 21, 1995, at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington. Four days later, they moved to New York — “pursuing our theater dream,” Melissa says.
Oct9Filed under: Studio Players, SummerFest, Theater, Transylvania University, UK, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Almost, August: Osage County, Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theater, Joe Ferrell, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, Maine, Project SEE Theatre, SummerFest, The Rocky Horror Show, Transylvania University, University of Kentucky Theatre, Vic Chaney
When I heard that Central Kentucky was going to get a production of Tracy Letts’ 2008 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County in the 2011-12 arts season, I was excited … the first time it was announced.
That was the University of Kentucky Theatre’s production, scheduled for February and directed by former Actors Guild of Lexington artistic chief Vic Chaney.
Then, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre/SummerFest announced it was going to mount its first indoor, school-year performance … of August: Osage County.
I am by no means suggesting that this production, which opens Thursday, will be a letdown. It is being directed by the dean of Lexington theater directors, Joe Ferrell, features an all-star cast of Lexington actors and an innovative set design. On paper, this is a great production.
And I am not trying to suggest that anyone was trying to bigfoot anyone with these productions – when this happens, it’s not always clear who had dibs on the show.
But I will say without reservation that it is indicative of a tiresome trend: multiple theaters in Central Kentucky putting up productions of the same show within a relatively short period.
Earlier this year, we had Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theater and Actors Guild of Lexington co-producing The Rocky Horror Show, closely followed by SummerFest presenting The Rocky Horror Show. A little later this fall, Project SEE Theatre and Transylvania University will present John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, a show The Woodford Theatre already has scheduled for early next year.
Seeing so much duplication makes me ask: Are there so few published plays available that theaters think they have no choice but to program the same show another company is already presenting?
The Woodford Theatre has named Steven J. Arnold as its new executive and artistic director, succeeding its longtime leader, Beth Kirchner.
For the past four years, Arnold has been executive producing director of the Church Hill Theatre in Church Hill, Md. He has worked as a professional producer, director, designer, playwright and actor, and he has amassed more than 80 production credits in the past 30 years, the theater said in a press release.
A graduate of Ohio State University, he also has worked as a freelance director and designer in central Ohio and eastern Maryland; was the artistic director of The Mansfield Playhouse in Mansfield, Ohio; and was a founder of the improv comedy group Under the Influence.
The theater says Arnold was selected from more than 70 candidates from across the country.
Brett Butler, chairman of the theater’s search committee and incoming president of its board of directors, said, “Beth Kirchner has built an incredibly solid foundation of artistic excellence, business acumen and educational commitment over the past 16 years. … It is now up to Steve to advance The Woodford Theatre from best in the Bluegrass to best in the Southeast, to our eventual goal of being the best community theater in the nation.”
- This comes from the desk of Herald-Leader arts and entertainment editor Scott Shive, who penned a couple of our ArtyFacts briefs at the end this busy week.
VERSAILLES — Beth Kirchner was at a get-to-know-you cookout shortly after moving to Woodford County with her husband. She mentioned to one of the guests that she had a degree in theater.
“She said, ‘Oh, theater? We have a theater and need a director,’” Kirchner says.
Kirchner ended up directing a children’s play and eventually signing on to run the theater.
“They really needed some help, so I said, ‘We’ll give it two years,’” says Kirchner, who at the time was working primarily as a free-lance writer and video producer.
That was 16 years ago.
In those years, Kirchner has taken the barely operational Woodford County Theatrical Arts Association and turned it into The Woodford Theatre, the envy of community theaters around the region.
The Versailles troupe attracts audiences and participants from around the Bluegrass to perform in its 300-seat theater in Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, which opened in 2002.
And that status is part of why Kirchner has decided it’s time for her to step down.
This month’s production of the musical 1776 will be Kirchner’s swan song as artistic and executive director of the company.
“For several years, I have started the season thinking, ‘Oh, this will be my last season,’” Kirchner said, sitting in the theater’s green room, which is decorated with the signatures of actors who have appeared in its many hit shows. “But then something would come up that made me think it wasn’t the right time to step down.
“Then I realized, there never is a good time to step down, because there will always be something left to accomplish, something you want to do. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar29Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Theater, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Alan Bailey, Almost Maine, Beth Kirchner, Blithe Spirit, Charles Morey, Connie May, John Cariani, Leslie Bricusse, Noel Coward, Scrooge: The Musical, Smoke on the Mountain, The Three Musketeers, The Woodford Theatre
Beth Kirchner has resigned her post as artistic/executive director of The Woodford Theatre.
In a news release, Kirchner said that with the theater in sound fiscal and artistic shape, it is time for her to hand the reigns to a new director and pursue some of her other interests, including writing.
” Our theatre business has never been stronger,” she wrote. “We continue to attract dedicated and talented volunteers with our growing reputation for quality and excellence. Our financial picture is stable and secure thanks to the support of our patrons, sponsors and local government. Our operational systems, policies and procedures are well defined and functioning effectively. In short, the goals we set for the theatre have been achieved. What better time to turn the reins over to a successor than when the business is poised for continued success. I’m very proud to have been a part of creating what has become one of the best community theatres in the region.”
During Kirchner’s 16 years on the job, the theater moved into the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center and staged ambitions seasons that have attracted performers from around the region.
The theater has already announced the shows in its 2011-12 season: Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge: The Musical, John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, Charles Morey’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers and Connie May and Alan Bailey’s Smoke on the Mountain.
Woodford Theatre has announced a four-show 2010-11 season that will include the first local production of a recent Broadway hit and three American classics.
The season is:
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Sept 17-Oct. 3. The show, which ran nearly three years from 2005 to 2008, centers on the anxieties of students (played by adults) participating in the school spelling bee.
It’s a Wonderful Life, Dec. 3-19. This is retired University of Kentucky theater professor and Versailles resident James Rodgers’ stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic film about a distressed man who finds out what life would have been like for his loved ones if he had never been born.
Crimes of the Heart, Feb. 11-27. Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize for drama with her play, which had its world premier at Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays, about three women struggling with their problems as they reunite during what they expect are the family patriarch’s final hours.
1776, May 13-29. The Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical follows several founding fathers as they struggle with declaring the United States’ independence from England.
Season subscriptions are $57.60 adults and $36 students. Call (859) 873-0648 or visit www.woodfordtheatre.com for more information.
Dec26Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Current Affairs, dance, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, LexPhil conductor search, Music, Opera, Singletary Center for the Arts, Studio Players, Theater, UK, Visual arts, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: A Bluegrass Tapestry, Actors Guild of Lexington, Always Patsy Cline, Balagula Theatre, Bob Edwards, Heather Parrish, James Archambeault, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kentucky Humanities Council, Kim Shaw, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Long Time Travelling, Lorne Dechtenberg, Luis Dominguez, Norton Center for the Arts, Our Lincoln, Paragon Musisc Theatre, Richard St. Peter, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Scott Terrell, Studio Players, The Christmas Presence, The Infamous Ephraim, The Koln Concert, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, The Magical Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Woodford Theatre, Token of Affection, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
New Year’s Day 2009, I assumed by New Year’s Eve I would have written about at least one Lexington arts group closing its doors. The economy was buried nose-first in the ground and theaters and other arts organizations were closing their doors around the county. While Actors Guild of Lexington did give us plenty of offstage drama, there actually were no fatalities here as far as arts groups go, and some even thrived despite the nation’s foundering fortunes.
The poster child for doing quite well, thank you very much, was Studio Players. In the depths of our national despair, Studio put up a winter show about Mary Todd Lincoln it thought would probably have limited appeal. And “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” was a sold out hit that had to add performances to accommodate the audiences.
And that’s pretty much how 2009 went for Studio, the pinnacle of the year being the summer production of “Always, Patsy Cline” that added numerous performances including unprecedented, for Studio, Wednesday shows.
Studio was not alone in bucking trends. The Lexington Ballet went out and hired a new company of professional dancers, the ballet’s first pro troupe since the early part of this decade. Paragon Music Theatre presented its first two productions directed by new artistic director Robyn Peterman Zahn at the Lexington Opera House.
Now Lexington and Central Kentucky were not immune to economic challenges. Donations to campaigns cooled a bit and the Kentucky Arts Council has had to endure several cuts due to state cuts. But, everyone came out alive.
Of course, there were other big arts stories this year:
A new maestro: After two years of searching, the Lexington Philharmonic named Scott Terrell its new music director. He succeeded George Zack, who held the Philharmonic’s baton for more than three decades, and so far, it seems the change has done the orchestra good.
“This orchestra is coming alive,” Herald-Leader critic Loren Tice wrote, reviewing November’s MasterClassics concert. “There is a sense of cohesion, of belief that there is first-rate music being made here.”
The new face has given the Philharmonic a chance to rebrand itself with a more youthful profile, helped by a group of hip, young soloists to start Terrell’s debut season. In all, it has been a profound change for Lexington’s flagship arts group.
Actors Guild melts down: Lexington’s one-time flagship theater had a very different year. Actors Guild of Lexington has long been angling to become the area’s fully-professional theater for adult audiences — Lexington Children’s Theatre has been a professional house for years. In May, it announced plans to make that move, but less than a month later, the bottom fell out. LexArts, exasperated after years of AGL’s financial roller coaster, withdrew annual general-operating funding from the theater. That nearly-$70,000 hit sent the theater into a tailspin, with both artistic director Richard St. Peter and managing director Kimberly Shaw eventually leaving to pursue other opportunities.
This fall, AGL has presented an abbreviated and altered schedule from what was announced in the spring. The December production of “The SantaLand Diaries” was reportedly sold out, and Actors Guild says it is making plans for 2010. But none have been announced.
It should be noted that at the same time this story has played out, other area theaters including the ones mentioned above plus The Woodford Theatre, Balagula Theatre and Children’s Theatre have thrived.
“Our Lincoln” in Washington: Many Lexington artists and groups go to perform in other areas on celebrated stages such as Carnegie Hall and even Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But taking 375 performers from a diverse ensemble of groups to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington was a whole new level of ambition.
The Kentucky Humanities Council pulled it off, traveling – despite the epic ice storm that befell Central Kentucky – on the first days of February to put on a show for 1,463 people. The performance, narrated by Bob Edwards and including the Lexington Singers and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, is now available on DVD from the Humanities Council Web site.
Film incentives pass: In June, the state General Assembly passed a bill providing financial incentives to filmmakers who shoot in Central Kentucky. The incentives – a 20 percent refundable tax credit for production and post-production expenses for feature filmmakers who spend at least $500,000 in Kentucky – are seen as essential to attract filmmakers. An immediate result was Disney’s “Secretariat” chose to come to Kentucky for filming in October.
New works: It’s always important to remember new performing arts works, because they help keep the disciplines vital and relevant.
This year started with the Lexington Ballet’s production of artistic director Luis Dominguez’s “The Magical Tales of Beatrix Potter” in March and concluded with The Woodford Theatre’s original holiday show, “The Christmas Presence.” In between, Actors Guild launched Silas House’s second work for the stage, “Long Time Travelling;” Pioneer Playhouse director Holly Henson presented “The Infamous Ephraim,” about Danville physician Ephraim McDowell’s historic abdominal surgery; the UK Opera Theatre premiered composer Joseph Baber and librettist James W. Rodgers’ opera “River of Time,” about young Abraham Lincoln; the Lexington Singers premiered “A Bluegrass Tapestry,” which was 11 songs accompanying the photography of Scott County’s James Archambeault; the Lexington Ballet presented “The Koln Concert,” set to Keith Jarrett’s iconic jazz concert album and the UK Symphony premiered Lorne Dechtenberg’s “Token of Affection.”
Lexington’s Michael Shannon was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for “Revolutionary Road.” … Lexington musical theater artist Christopher Tolliver was fatally shot at Lexington Green. … The New York Philharmonic played a sold-out show at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts. … Lexington Children’s Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary. … The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras named Kayoko Dan its new music director. … Former UK Opera star Reshma Shetty landed role on the USA TV network’s series “Royal Pains.” … LexArts announced Horse Mania will return in 2010. … UK’s Cliff Jackson was named “coach of the year” by Classical Singer magazine. … Winchester’s Jason Epperson, runner-up on Fox’s “On the Lot” film-director reality series, shot his feature film debut, “Unrequited,” in Central Kentucky. … Norton Center completed a $3 million rennovation. … The Men of Note big band played its last gig. … Former Kentucky State University drama teacher and area director Jack Parrish died. … Norton Center director George Foreman announced he is leaving for a University of Georgia job. … The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes came to Rupp Arena for the first time with the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”
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