The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
Chautauqua performers put together presentations of approximately 45 minutes portraying characters from Kentucky history, and they need to be well-versed in their characters so they can conduct question-and-answer sessions of up to 30 minutes after the presentation. The characters don’t have to be famous, but according to the Humanities Council, they do need to have statewide appeal and illuminate some aspect of Kentucky history. And they must be deceased – no sense in working up a presentation on someone who can still speak for his or herself.
In July, the Humanities Council will select five new performers to join its roster of more than 20 characters.
Chautauqua performers receive $1,000 for script development and drama, costume and scholarly consultants paid for by the Humanities Council, to ensure historical accuracy. Performers are paid $350 per performance, plus lodging. They must be available for at least 45 performances between Aug. 1, 2011, and July 31, 2013.
Applications must be postmarked by May 7 and include contact information, a resume, three references, and a two-to-three page description of the proposed character along with a bibliography of sources — i.e., a job application. Mail your application to:
Kentucky Humanities Council
206 E. Maxwell St.
Lexington, KY 40508-2613
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.”
Oct10Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Music, Opera, Reviews, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Alan Gershwin, American Spiritual Ensemble, Angela Brown, Angelique Clay, Everett McCorvey, Gregory Turay, Jane Gentry Vance, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jonathan Palmer, Kentucky Chautauqua, Kentucky Humanities Council, Lexington Singers, Lexington Vintage Dance Society, Margaret Garner, Mark O'Connor, Michael Breeding, Nick Clooney, Our Lincoln, Peter Thomas, Richard Danielpour, River of Time, UK Chorale, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
The presentation of Our Lincoln at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in February was undeniably a big deal for Kentucky arts and humanities.
Artists who live and work here were presented on one of the nation’s most prestigious stages along with hometown kids who have made good and a few international stars, such as violinist Mark O’Connor. A production conceived and produced in Central Kentucky went to an international arts showplace and acquitted itself admirably.
I sat with a Washington cameraman who went on at length about how great the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is. It was one of numerous anecdotes about seasoned Washington arts observers who were impressed with Our Lincoln.
But it is understandable that this might be lost on people who weren’t among the 1,463 people who saw the performance, given while the state was in the throes of an ice storm. Overseeing recovery efforts forced Gov. Steve Beshear to cancel his plans to attend.
But now Beshear and anyone else who would like to see the show can catch it in Michael Breeding’s PBS-quality DVD, which has just been released.
After raising the money to get the program to Washington, the Kentucky Humanities Council had to go back to the well for an additional $6,500 to produce the DVD, with the total costs to be recouped through sales.
What we can now see is that Breeding and his crew captured the proceedings in stunning detail, with shots that take the viewer onto the stage with the performers and also relay the grandeur of the occasion.
Oct9Filed under: Classical Music, Lexington Opera House, Music, Opera, Reviews; Tagged as: Abraham Lincoln, Amanda Balltrip, Christopher Baker, Dione Johnson, Everett McCorvey, Henry Layton, Jim Rodgers, Joe Baber, Julie LaDouceur, Kentucky Humanities Council, Mark Elliott Golson II, Megan McCauley, Nick Provenzale, Nick Vannoy, Our Lincoln, River of Time, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Note: Space is finite in newspapers, really more finite than ever. This being a new opera, I wrote a bit longer than a usual review, and a little bit longer than the printed page in Saturday’s paper will hold. This posting of our River of Time review contains portions that will not be in the print edition.
No one in Abraham Lincoln’s home state has celebrated the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth as well as the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
At the start of the celebration in 2008, the Opera Theatre teamed with the Kentucky Humanities Council to present Our Lincoln, a multi-faceted tribute to the Hodgenville native that eventually traveled to Washington, D.C.
Before that show was even conceived, UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey had commissioned an opera about Lincoln from composer Joe Baber and librettist Jim Rodgers.
That opera, River of Time, had its world premiere Thursday night at the Lexington Opera House. It’s not the unqualified success of Our Lincoln, but there is much to like and even potential for Baber’s opera to endure as a portrait of the president before he was presidential.
River of Time’s story takes Lincoln from birth through the death of his first true love, Ann Rutledge. Along the way, he fights with his dad, becomes a bookworm, grieves the deaths of the three most important women in his life and even wrestles.
That story makes for some great moments, including a slave auction in New Orleans where Lincoln declares that if he gets a chance to fight slavery, “I’m gonna hit it hard.” The scene, with a heavy dose of spirituals, is the grand opera spectacle of the show.
But for the most part, this opera strives for a soothing — sometimes too soothing — Midwestern feel, in the spirit of Aaron Copland or Samuel Barber. That’s exemplified in a small-town dance scene in which Lincoln and Ann realize that regardless of whether she is engaged to another guy, they are in love. Read the rest of this entry »
Click here for a look at all five new characters for Kentucky Chautauqua’s 2009-10 season.
If you call the Smiths in Cynthiana asking for a Chautauqua performer, you’ll have to be more specific.
Are you calling for Edward Smith, who plays Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan and former University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp in the Kentucky Humanities Council‘s living-history program?
Or do you want his wife, Betsy B. Smith, who plays Emilie Todd Helm, Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister and the wife of Confederate Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm?
Maybe you want their oldest son, Ethan Smith, who plays Johnny Green, one of the few survivors of the Confederate Orphan Brigade, and Price Hollowell, a key figure in Western Kentucky’s Black Patch War.
“Chautauqua is just kind of our thing,” says Edward, an associate theater professor at Georgetown College.
Chautauqua performers present significant characters from Kentucky’s history in 45-minute presentations. The roster includes Abraham Lincoln and Grandpa Jones.
George McGee, a Georgetown College theater professor who has played Henry Clay in Kentucky Chautauqua for years, brought the Smiths into the program.
“Betsy and I actually met in his drama class,” Edward says . “So when I came back to teach at Georgetown, I knew he (McGee) was playing Henry Clay, and he said, ‘Whenever they do a call for characters, you should audition.’”
It was a good way for the professor to keep his acting chops sharp. Smith developed the Rupp character, which he has played since 2001.
Ethan noticed what Dad was doing and decided he wanted to get in on the act. But he was 13 at the time. Chautauqua characters are people who have had a significant impact on Kentucky history. Not many young teens fit that description.
But Ethan found one in Price Hollowell, a boy who testified against the infamous Night Riders who attacked Western Kentucky farmers who did not participate in a tobacco-company boycott.
“It started as a summer project,” says Ethan, now 18. “Being a Chautauqua performer is a lot of responsibility because you represent the Humanities Council and all the other performers. So I would have understood if I wasn’t even picked to audition. But it was still a good research project, because Price Hollowell’s story is not known to many Kentuckians.”
Then, Mom got in on the acting.
“I had a V8 moment,” Becky says. “I was the history major with the communications degree who was so immersed in Civil War history as a kid. If you had told me at 9 or 10 I could have a job wearing a long dress, talking about Abe Lincoln, I’m in.”
Betsy took on Helm, the “rebel in the White House,” according to her Chautauqua billing. The character has taken her all the way to the stage of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where she and several other Chautauqua performers were part of the Our Lincoln presentation Feb. 2.
Chautauqua usually doesn’t have the actors performing that far away.
As a historian, Betsy has enjoyed the chance to help her husband and son develop their pieces. Ethan says that in developing Hollowell, he used books from his mom’s shelf that he couldn’t find anywhere else. When he decided to develop another character, she pointed him to Johnny Green’s Journal, which “you can’t just find in bookstores,” Ethan says. “It’s not Harry Potter.” He also devoured a 1,200-page history of the Orphan Brigade.
Ethan as Green and Edward as Harlan debuted their new characters Monday at the Lexington History Center before a panel that included history and theater experts.
A big part of the job, the Smiths say, is figuring out how to tell their characters’ stories in 45 minutes.
Ethan’s Green comes off as a war-weary adventurer, describing some of the hardships of the Civil War and relaying what kept him going, from dedication to the Confederate cause to a deep desire to get home to Kentucky.
Edward was intrigued by Harlan’s status as a former slave owner who was the only dissenting vote in the high court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which upheld segregation, and other 19th-century civil rights cases.
“It intrigued me to see how he could go from this to this, to truly be a guy who changed his mind,” Edward says.
In addition to building a 45-minute monologue, the actors have to be pretty sharp on their characters’ history and the times they lived in, because people in the audience can toss in questions.
In the Smith home, that leads to lots of chatter and work as the actors read up and talk about their subjects. And that’s not lost on the younger Smiths: Harry, 13, and Ross, 11.
Edward proudly touts their success in speech competitions and says Harry has started to ask when he’ll get to do a character.
“We do have to tell him, ‘Harry, it’s not really a birthright,’” he says.
But don’t be surprised if this trio of Chautauqua performers eventually grows into a quintet.
Later this summer, we’ll catch up with Bet Stewart as Rosemary Clooney.
A video production of Our Lincoln is still up in the air, but Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding has posted a short preview on his website that gives you an idea what the show looked like. Breeding oversaw a video crew in Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts when Our Lincoln, a co-production of the Kentucky Humanities Council and University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, was presented there Feb. 2. But additional money will be needed before the footage can be produced into a DVD and/or broadcast.
The performance of Our Lincoln on Monday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was filmed, but the Kentucky Humanities Council needs a little more money to get it ready for DVD or TV.
Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding was on hand to capture the concert featuring the Lexington Singers and Children’s Choir, the University of Kentucky Chorale and Symphony Orchestra, and individual performers including Nick Clooney, actor Robert Brock, tenor Gregory Turay and soprano Angela Brown.
Humanities Council Executive Director Virginia Carter said $30,000 is needed to green-light production of that footage into a DVD. She said she had paid the necessary fee to the Kennedy Center to produce as many as 5,000 DVD copies. As for television broadcast, Carter says, an additional $20,000 would have to be paid to the Kennedy Center for rights to broadcast Our Lincoln.
The original performance of Our Lincoln at the Singletary Center for the Arts in February 2008 was not filmed because money was not available to pay a film crew. Carter says she hopes that now that there is a film, the money can be secured to at least produce a DVD. She says that last year’s performance sold out with many still wanting tickets, and some people who wanted to go to Washington for the performance Monday weren’t able to because of the winter storms the previous week.
“The performers deserve a record of their appearance at the Kennedy Center,” Smith said. “And there are many others who really deserve the opportunity to enjoy the show.”
Feb3Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Music, Opera, Theater, UK; Tagged as: American Spiritual Ensemble, Bob Edwards, Kennedy Center, Kentucky Humanities Council, Kentucky Repertory Theatre, Lexington Singers, Nick Clooney, Our Lincoln, Robert Brock, UK Symphony Orchestra, University of Kentucky
WASHINGTON – Last February, the Kentucky Humanities Council and the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre claimed Abraham Lincoln as the Bluegrass State’s own through music and words in the Our Lincoln concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
Monday night, the same artists staked that claim on a national stage: the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
The performance of Our Lincoln at the Kennedy Center was a chance for the artists involved, including the Lexington Singers and the UK Symphony Orchestra, to play on the stage of one of the most prestigious arts venues in America. It was also a chance for Kentucky to show off.
“When I heard about this, I said, in one fell swoop, you could change a lot of people’s minds about our state,” Robert Brock, artistic director of Kentucky Repertory Theatre, said, recalling receiving his invitation to portray Lincoln’s law partner, Billy Herndon, in the show.
Brock’s performance was one of numerous pieces meant to portray the 16th President, usually associated with Illinois, from a distinctly Kentucky perspective. The performance was created as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in Hodgenville.
Our Lincoln included Augusta’s Nick Clooney narrating Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, UK alum and Metropolitan Opera tenor Gregory Turay singing a new musical setting of The Gettysburg Address, Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane Gentry reading her poem about a Lincoln portrait in her house, and excerpts from River of Time, a forthcoming opera about Abraham Lincoln by UK composer Joseph Baber.
The program was narrated by national radio host and Louisville native Bob Edwards, and it was attended by a who’s who of Central Kentuckians including Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, and U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler and Hal Rodgers.
“This is a proud night for the State of Kentucky because of what we are about to show the nation,” University of Kentucky President Lee Todd said to about 400 people at a pre-show reception in the Kennedy Center.
The crowd included Kentuckians who made the trip to Washington, expatriate Kentuckians living in Washington, people invited by their Kentucky friends and pure concertgoers.
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