The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
It occurred to me Tuesday watching the final dress rehearsal of SummerFest’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire that this is the first time in 14 years covering theater in Lexington I have seen the same show presented two times by the same director.
Joe Ferrell directed Actors Guild of Lexington’s production of Streetcar in 2003 at the Downtown Arts Center’s black box theater, and he is directing the production that is trying mightily to get going in the Arboretum – the first two attempts at an opening night, Wednesday and Thursday, have been scuttled due to rain and lightning.
Rehearsals are not performances and this is not a review, but looking at this production, it was striking how similar yet different this show was from 2003.
There certainly was that signature Joe Ferrell style — a reverence for the playwright’s words and eye on crisp storytelling. You always know with a Ferrell show that everyone onstage will know what they are saying and why, and interesting interpretations will come out of that.
Contrasting the productions speaks to the impact casting and venue have on a play.
Ferrell noted in an interview earlier this summer that as big a title as Streetcar is, it is something of a small, intimate show for the vast Arboretum stage. The essential drama plays out between four people — Blanche, Stella, Stanley and Mitch — and there are just a few other ancillary characters. The setting of a modest New Orleans apartment is also fairly low-key for SummerFest.
But Tuesday, lead actors Evan Bergman as Stanley and Bess Morgan as Blanche (photo, above) were crafting big performances that filled the space and maximized the drama. Nine years ago, Kevin Hardesty and Lisa Thomas were giving decidedly different interpretations of the same characters. Hardesty’s Stanley was more arrogant than primal, making Blanche’s characterizations of him seem to be part of her fantasy. Thomas’ portrayal was less demonstrative and she and Hardesty seemed to be engaged in more of a psychological struggle.
And that really worked for the black box, a a venue that seats a couple hundred at most and fewer, I believe, for the Streetcar production. That take may have been lost in the Arboretum, but that is where venue comes into play. And good actors know where they are playing and make adjustments accordingly — both Thomas and Hardesty have brilliantly led productions in the Arboretum, as have Bergman and Morgan in the Downtown Arts Center.
It really speaks to the elasticity of a script. It sets out the words and essentially the story and emotions, but it is when the director, actors and designers come together that the play really comes to life, and it is different every time, even when some of the same people are involved.
Project SEE Theatre, which presented a critically acclaimed production of Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet last fall, has announced a full season of shows. And it is not a long wait until the first production, which opens in just over three weeks. Here’s the lineup:
boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Sept. 1-4, 8-11 at the Downtown Arts Center – A three-person play exploring randomness in life, it was the most-produced play in regional theater last year
Almost, Maine by John Cariani, Oct. 27-30, Nov. 3-5 at Transylvania University – A four-person play of vignettes that look at the impact and aftermath of love; a co-production with Transylvania University Theatre
12 Dates of Christmas by Ginna Hoben, Dec. 8-11, 15-18, location TBA – A one-woman show about a woman who catches her boyfriend cheating right before Christmas and embarks on a lonely search for love in New York City
The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, March 1-4, 8-11 at the Downtown Arts Center – First selection in a Springtime tribute to the late Lanford Wilson, considered one of the founders of Off-Off-Broadway Theatre; a play about the residents of the Hotel Baltimore facing eviction when the hotel is condemed
Burn This by Lanford Wilson, May 31-June 3, June 7-10 – A group of friends tries to regroup after a friend’s tragic death
Project SEE is a collaboration between Lexington-based theater artists Ellie Clark and Evan Bergman, who have been active with SummerFest and Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, and Sully White, who is on the theater faculty at Transylvania University.
Jun4Filed under: dance, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Photography, Visual arts; Tagged as: Amy San Pedro, Casey Gregory, Contemporary Dance Collective, Downtown Arts Center, Emily Hagihara, Jason Thompson, Kurt Gohde, Marcel Cabrera, Mary Carothers, Matt Dooley, Robin Burke, Stephanie Pevec, Theo Edmonds, Lennon Michalski
When Stephanie Pevec arrived in Lexington, she saw a glaring hole in its arts offerings: modern dance.
It wasn’t a complete surprise to her; she says the form is much more prevalent in big cities.
“You go to Chicago, and you can find a modern class just about anywhere, and you can take an amazing class,” Pevec says. “One and a half to two hours of technique, which is mostly what you’ll find in a professional college program. But when you graduate with a performance degree, and you go to a city the size of Lexington, there isn’t an outlet. There isn’t a system set up to study technique in a way that you know you need to. So you find ways to adapt.”
Some dancers take hip-hop, yoga or other forms of dance and physical training, even adult ballet. Pevec and other modern dancers in the area have done all of those.
But she’s now involved in a much more overt form of adaptation. Pevec has formed the Contemporary Dance Collective, which will have its second performance Friday and Saturday at the Downtown Arts Center. She had worked on the project for the past couple of years while devoting herself to her day job as executive director of the Lexington Art League.
And the word dance is in the group’s name, but like Pevec’s life, the collective is a multidisciplinary presentation.
“It was the perfect compliment to this process of talking to artists that I know and respect about their work and saying, do you want to make something original together?” Pevec says. “So, there’s a variety of visual artists working on this concert. … Over the last four weeks, we’ve brought in our musician, Emily Hagihara, who plays with Chico Fellini and studied percussion at UK, and she’s been in with her percussion set. She wrote three pieces for this concert.
“Really, honestly, every work in this show is a combination of several artists working together.”
Jun2Filed under: Downtown Arts Center, SummerFest, Theater; Tagged as: Charlie Sheen, Downtown Arts Center, Ellie Clark, Henry Layton, James Bond, Jesse Hungerford, Ke$ha, Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, Nick Vannoy, Osama bin Laden, Oscar Wilde, Spencer Christensen, The Importance of Being Earnest, YouTube
It started with a fight.
Last summer at the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, fight director Henry Layton choreographed a fight to a scene from the Oscar Wilde classic The Importance of Being Earnest.
“It was really exciting to everyone involved, and they had some idea how they could mount that show and turn it into something else,” writer and director Spencer Christensen says
It turned into something else entirely. Exhausting action is at the center of The Impersonation of Being Ernest. But it is also a big pop culture commentary combining Wilde’s words with James Bond’s sensibility spiked with lyrics from Ke$ha, videos from YouTube, references to Osama bin Laden and Charlie Sheen, all set in Orange County, Calif. – identified here, of course, as The OC.
“We played on every sort of spoof that we can,” Christensen says. “We’re spoofing a lot. And because The Importance of Being Earnest is sort of a social commentary on Wilde’s time, that’s what we’re doing. So we’ve got YouTube videos here left and right. … It’s very up-to-date. And then we’ve got sword fighting in the show and dancing. I mean you watch these people do this for 83 minutes and wonder, ‘How do they survive it?’”
The show, which plays through Sunday at the Downtown Arts Center, is in part a recruitment tool for the conservatory, now renamed Kentucky Conservatory Theatre.
“Trish wanted to mount a show to really showcase the people who have worked in KCT, who have taught in it, who were in the program and have left it and are still working, and that was the idea,” Christensen said, referring to KCT director Trish Clark.
They include Christensen, who actually helped create an early education arm of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, the event that preceded KCT’s SummerFest as the July theater festival in The Arboretum. (He will also play Victor Frankenstein in SummerFest’s production of Frankenstein.)
Other distinguished faculty and alumni include Ellie Clark, who starred in last summer’s production of Pride and Prejudice and is alumna of the apprentice program at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Nick Vannoy, who played Collins in last summer’s production of Rent and will play the creature in this summer’s Frankenstein before heading off to the ATL apprentice program. Ernest also stars Layton, the event’s longtime fight coordinator, and Jesse Hungerford, who played Romeo in SummerFest’s age-appropriate production of Romeo & Juliet in 2007.
“It’s done to showcase whatever their talent is, whatever their strength is,” Christensen says. “As I started to know who was in this show, I started to write for them.”
If the show sets a goal of creating physical comedy, rehearsals demonstrate what a hard bar that is to reacg. Before the final dress rehearsal, Christensen and his actors run and rerun scenes trying to nail the timing on lines and actions for maximum comic effect.
“For a long time, I thought about writing sketch comedy, et cetera,” Christensen says, “so there’s a lot of that in here.
“When you create something like this, there are times that you ask, ‘Am I pushing it too far?’ But you have to trust your gut, and I feel like people will want to come because there’s so much in there.”
Mar23Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Lexington Philharmonic, Singletary Center for the Arts; Tagged as: Awadagin Pratt, Downtown Arts Center, George Gershwin, Kevin Cole, Kicked-Back Classics, Lexington Philharmonic, Scott Terrell, Singletary Center for the Arts
The Lexington Philharmonic has announced that there will be a change in soloists for this week’s nearly sold-out concerts.
Awadagin Pratt, originally scheduled to perform music by George Gershwin at Thursday’s Kicked Back Classics concert at the Downtown Arts Center and Friday night’s Classics concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts, has had to bow out due to a family emergency. Taking his place at the keyboard and playing the same program will be Kevin Cole, a critically acclaimed pianist who specializes in 20th century American repertoire.
In a news release, Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell said, ”we are so fortunate to be able to engage Kevin Cole, especially at this late juncture. I have no doubt he will thrill our Gershwin fans and bring a contagious excitement to the performances.”
Mar16Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Downtown Arts Center, Lexington Opera House, Music, Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, Theater; Tagged as: Berea College, Diana Evans Pulliam, Downtown Arts Center, Gypsy, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Michael Friedman, Paragon Music Theatre, Rent, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Ryan Shirar, She Loves Me, Sound of Music, Tracey Bonner, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, University of Kentucky
Paragon Music Theatre has announced that founder Ryan Shirar will step down as the company’s music director and executive director after its May production of Gypsy to accept a full scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Shirar founded Paragon in 2004 with stage director Tracey Bonner, who departed after the inaugural production of State Fair at the Lexington Opera House (She returned to Lexington last year to direct SummerFest’s production of Rent). He then led the company, for a few years with stage director Michael Friedman until 2009 when current dramatic chief Robyn Peterman-Zahn joined the leadership team that includes choregorapher Diana Evans Pulliam. Under Shirar’s direction, the company has presented musicals big, like last summer’s Sound of Music at the Lexington Opera House, and small, like a charming 2007 production of She Loves Me at the Downtown Arts Center.
The theater filled a huge void in the Lexington arts scene, which had not had a group dedicated to musical theater since Lexington Musical Theatre closed in 1996.
Shirar has worked extensively outside of Paragon as a pianist, conductor and arranger with groups including the Lexington Philharmonic and teaching at Berea College and the University of Kentucky.
Though he has seemed very comfortable in his multiple local roles, Shirar did allow in a 2005 interview that, “I don’t want to wake up someday and regret not having tried something bigger.”
Gypsy will be presented May 13 to 15 at the Lexington Opera House. The Paragon press releases states that after Gypsy, “future plans for Paragon are uncertain.”
Jan2Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Balagula Theatre, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University, LexArts, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater, Transylvania University, UK; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Aloha, Boston Pops Orchestra, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University performing arts center, Eric Seale, Everett McCorvey, Itzhak Perlman, Joe Cannon Artz, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lyric Theatre, Naomi Iizuka, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, ProjectSEE Theatre, Rupp Arena, Say the Pretty Girls, Scott Terrell, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steven A. Hoffman, Transylvania University Theatre, UK Symphony Orchestra, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
Nov19Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Downtown Arts Center, LexArts; Tagged as: Downtown Arts Center, Joe Cannon Artz, Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, Leslie Beatty, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater, SummerFest, University of Kentucky
Joe Cannon Artz has been named the new general manager of the Downtown Arts Center.
Artz, 40, was the executive director of the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory/SummerFest for the past two years after a two-year stint as president of its board. He holds a bachelor’s degree in theater and communications from the University of Kentucky and has worked extensively in theater and non-profit management, including more than 35 touring Broadway productions. When he returned to Lexington, he worked as the director of marketing and development for the Lexington Art League before working with KCTC.
In his new role, Artz will manage the Downtown Arts Center, including its black box theater, and other venues under LexArts’ management including the Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater in Beaumont.
Artz starts work at the DAC Monday.
Nov19Filed under: Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Lexington Philharmonic, Music; Tagged as: Antonio Salieri, Downtown Arts Center, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Inon Barnatan, Jupiter Symphony, Kicked-Back Classics, Lexington Philharmonic, Piano Concerto No. 22, Scott Terrell, twitter, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Lexington Philharmonic‘s inaugural Kicked Back Classics event started with a scene from the movie that has arguably done more for classical music than anything else in the the last quarter century (give a couple years): Amadeus.
It’s the scene where Antonio Salieri plays several of his own selections for Father Vogler, who doesn’t recognize a note of it. Then Salieri plays him some of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik which Vogler recognizes and exclaims, “That’s charming!”
At the Kicked Back classics event, conductor Scott Terrell, pianist Inon Barnatan and the Philharmonic took Wolfie’s music beyond charming to really interesting, like “I may come to your concert with my ear tuned completely differently” interesting.
The event was designed as an outreach program to appeal to new audiences who may find devoting more than two hours and several dozen bucks to a a full blown orchestra concert like Friday night’s Phil show a bit daunting. In a little over an hour, the artists explored portions of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 and Jupiter Symphony in the Downtown Arts Center.
The venue was a twist for the Philharmonic, which in previous incarnations probably would have defaulted to the Singletary Center for the Arts recital hall or a similar venue for a show like this. But the last couple years the Phil had gotten out of default mode. The recital hall would have still created a barrier between the audience and orchestra, whereas in the DAC, the audience flowed into the orchestra, enough so that Terrell joked a few patrons had joined the violin section.
It was that kind of atmosphere, generally loose and congenial, even allowing Terrell to do a play-by-play with all five themes from the Jupiter Symphony. In a fairly easygoing monologue, Terrell took the audience through the complexities of portions of the works, highlighting themes, showing how Mozart wove them together, even having the audience hum the violin part of a portion of the Piano Concerto. The performers did offer full performances of a movement from each work.
There were a few bugs, like Terrell’s body microphone appeared to be left on during most of the performance, so those of us seated under speakers could hear him breathe as he conducted. But for a premiere effort, this show went fairly smoothly.
Only two Kicked Back classics events are scheduled this year, and Terrell says that feels right. But from an audience standpoint, it was a successful format that could probably stand being presented more than twice a season. A bit more repetition might help it get the audience it was going for.
Walking in, I heard a guy behind me say to his date, “Do you like classical piano? I think that’s what we’re going to be hearing tonight.” But for the most part, the nearly 100-person crowd appeared to be mostly Philharmonic and Lexington arts regulars. And despite numerous invitations to tweet and blog at will, the event’s Twitter hashtag went mostly unused and I couldn’t see much cell phone usage at all from my top-row perch.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything was not meant to be tweeted, and maybe the best review of all is that what was happening in the room was so interesting (and charming) we all didn’t feel a need to go to the World Wide Web for an hour.
Note: Rich Copley once worked at a video store where a customer asked him if Amadeus was about space aliens. Seriously, that happened.
Kentucky author Silas House has found a new academic home, as the National Endowment of the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. He will begin his work there in August.
The hire is part of an effort to put Berea at the center of an Appalachian literary renaissance, said Loyal Jones Appalachian Center director Chad Berry.
“I’m so glad that Berea will have a central place in that renaissance with a major writer being on faculty,” he said in a news release.
The chair is a three-year post funded by the NEH. House succeeds sociologist William H. Turner, whose term is ending this year, though he will stay on faculty at least two more years as a distinguished professor in Appalachian studies.
House will teach Appalachian literature and creative writing at Berea. His novels include Clay’s Quilt and The Coal Tattoo. His latest novel is Eli the Good, published in 2009, and he has also written two plays that have premiered in Lexington.
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