The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Vic Chaney says he was joking when he sent the email.
University of Kentucky Theatre had announced a 2011-12 season, and he saw that it had Tracy Letts’ Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County on it. Chaney had seen the show a couple of times on Broadway and loved it, so he sent UK theater department chair Nancy Jones a message.
“I said, as a joke, ‘Who’s directing it, and if they happen to go missing, don’t blame me — ha, ha,’” Chaney says. “And she said as a matter of fact, they needed somebody.”
He could have the gig if he wanted it.
Initially, he thought there was no way he could do it. First off, he lives almost 2,500 miles away, in San Francisco.
Chaney, 51, has deep roots in Lexington theater. He’s a graduate of the UK theater department and was a founding member of Actors Guild of Lexington, where he was the artistic director until a 1998 financial upheaval prompted the board to clean house. Chaney, who directed many of Actors Guild’s triumphs, including the 1997 production of Angels in America, moved to San Francisco in 1999 with his partner, DeWayne Spalding, himself a veteran of Lexington theater. Both men also are former Herald-Leader staff members.
Despite the unpleasant circumstances of his departure from Actors Guild, Chaney has maintained close contact with friends and family in Lexington and a respected position in the theater community.
But was he going to have time to come home to direct his first show here since he worked with the School for Creative and Performing Arts during the 1998-99 school year?
“It’s worked out really well,” says Chaney, who decided he could make room on his free-lance schedule to direct August: Osage County and re-enter some of the stages and corridors he walked as a student.
“It was strange the first few days here, but now it’s totally fun,” Chaney says. “The weirdest thing is that when I was here before directing, I knew most of the people. There might be one or two people I didn’t know, who were new.”
Now, he is working with a mostly student cast to bring to the stage a play that is widely considered a modern American classic.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a play that made me laugh and moved me and just seemed so big, so epic and personal all at the same time,” Chaney says of August: Osage County. “Most plays that are being written today are small, simple set, a few characters. It just seemed to defy everything that is being done in contemporary theater — and I see a lot of contemporary theater. It seems like something Tennessee Williams would have written or Eugene O’Neill would have written if they were writing today.”
Erin Chandler, granddaughter of two-time Kentucky Governor Albert B. Chandler and cousin of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), is playing Violet Weston in the University of Kentucky Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County.
Chandler is currently finishing up a master’s degree in theater at UK after years working in stage and film in Los Angeles. Her film credits include Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (2000) and Dead Husbands (1998), and her memoir is the basis for writer and director Nick Cassavetes’ Kentucky Rhapsody, which is currently listed as in “pre-production” on the Internet Movie Database. After finishing her masters at UK, Chandler is set to pursue a master’s in creative writing at Spalding University.
“She’s a phenomenal actor, and she’s going to knock this role right out of the park,” UK Theatre Department chair Nancy Jones says.
Violet is the pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family, who watches the family fall apart during a fateful summer. The role earned Deanna Dunagan a Tony Award for best actress in a play in 2008. The show itself has earned the Tony Award for best play and Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The UK production, Feb. 23 to 26 and March 1 to 4, is being directed by former Actors Guild of Lexington artistic director Vic Chaney, who is now based in San Francisco. It also features UK Theatre alums Teresa Willis and Brad Wills.
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?
Two of Kentucky’s longstanding summer theaters have announced plans to expand their offerings around the calendar.
In Lexington, SummerFest will produce its first indoor, school-year show with a production of Tracy Letts’ Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County, Oct. 13-23 at the Downtown Arts Center. Sumerfest and its predecessor, the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, have produced indoor shows in the past, close to the time of the outdoor festival in July at the Arboretum. The most recent was June’s presentation of Spencer Christensen’s The Impersonation of Being Earnest by SummerFest’s parent group, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, at the Downtown Arts Center. And there have been talks of year-round offerings in the past, but this will be the first venture outside the summer months.
The University of Kentucky Theatre has previously announced a production of August: Osage County at the Guignol Theatre Feb. 23 to March 4. It will be directed by former Actors Guild of Lexington director Vic Chaney.
There’s a Lexington connection to Letts as one of his frequent collaborators is one-time Lexington resident and Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon.
In Pikeville, Jenny Wiley Theatre has some huge ambitions, signing an agreement with the city to build a new space in downtown Pikeville that will offer productions in the fall, winter and spring. According to a news release, the fare will include, “musicals, comedies, children’s theatre and educational programs, as well lunch/dinner performances. The indoor facility will also be available for area meetings and conferences. The new facility will also house a box office, gift shop, rehearsal space, and the possibility of a café.”
It is billed as a mutually-beneficial move, expanding cultural offerings in Pikeville and giving the theater, based at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, a chance to expand its year-round offerings. It has been offering some school productions and educational programs.
“Jenny Wiley Theatre has been an important contributor to the culture, tourism and economics of Eastern Kentucky for almost fifty years,” Executive Director Martin Childers said in a news release. “We want to ensure that we continue to adapt to the needs and circumstances so that we are here for another fifty. The ability to produce shows all year long is an important step in that direction.”
The Pikeville space, a 300-seat theater, is slated to begin construction in January and be completed by December 2012.
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