The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Actors Guild of Lexington has designated associate artistic director Eric Ryan Seale as its interim artistic director.
Seale said Tuesday afternoon that his charge is to complete the 2009-10 season and begin planning for the 2010-11 season while the Actors Guild board considers its next moves.
“I’m looking at bringing on some staff so we can get back to work,:” said Seale, who is also readying Studio Players’ production of Sam Shepherd’s “True West” to open next week. “We hope to mount new shows pretty quickly.”
Actors Guild had a season set by former artistic director Richard St. Peter last spring. But those plans were abandoned as the theater became embroiled in a financial crisis and St. Peter and managing director Kimberly Shaw left to pursue other opportunities.
Seale said December’s hit production of David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” and a $32,000 grant from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation for community outreach and partnership have reinvigorated the theater. He said he expects to announce productions for the rest of this season soon.
“We’re going to finish the season for our subscribers,” Seale said. “That’s our obligation.”
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.”
The managing director of Actors Guild of Lexington, Kimberly Shaw, is leaving the theater to become the stage manager of a production that will tour Europe through 2010.
Her departure leaves the embattled troupe with its top two management posts vacant and only one full-time employee remaining.
Although her departure comes at the end of a summer that saw the theater tumble into financial turmoil, the Lexington native says her resignation is not because of Actors Guild’s troubles.
“I had a meeting with the board’s executive committee Friday afternoon that was very productive and we were excited about some of the plans we were making,” said Shaw, who came to the theater in Sept. 2008 and had previously worked for the theater at Princeton University, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the New York International Fringe festival. “Then, out of the blue, I got this offer and it was personally and financially hard to turn down.”
Shaw said she is joining a show called India. It is a production of Franco Dragone Entertainment, which has produced shows such as Celine Dion in Las Vegas.
“It’s a sad loss for AGL,” said board president Jennifer Miller. “But I cannot say enough good things about Kim, and we could not possibly resent her for taking this amazing opportunity.”
With Shaw’s leaving and the departure of artistic director Richard St. Peter in August, Actors Guild now has only one full-time staffer left: associate artistic director Eric Ryan Seale.
Actors Guild produced a season-opening production — the Rodgers and Hart revue Beguiled Again, which closed earlier this month — but the theater has not announced any further productions.
Miller said the theater will be making some announcements about its future, including upcoming productions, soon.
Shaw said she is confident “the theater is poised to make it.
“The board is ready to answer the tough questions. It’s been a rough summer for AGL, but through that process, people have come on board and the staff is committed to work.”
Oct20Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Central Kentucky Arts News, Television, Theater; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Art, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Gravedigger, Hamlet, Jack Parrish, Kentucky State University, Merry Wives of Windsor, Polonius, Richard St. Peter, Richmomd Va., Shakespeare at Equus Run, Tim X. Davis, Yasmina Reza
Jack Parrish, a mostly Richmond, Va.-based actor and director who spent the last few years of his life enriching the Central Kentucky theater scene, died Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.
Mr. Parrish was born in Richmond and got into theater while he was in high school. His theater and film career included the roles of Brad Garrick on Another World and Brian Collier on All My Children, as well as stage work in New York and regional stages around the country, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In 2004, Actors Guild of Lexington’s then-new artistic director Richard St. Peter hired Mr. Parrish to direct the first production under his watch: Yasmina Reza’s play Art.
Mr. Parrish eventually moved to Central Kentucky, where he directed the drama department at Kentucky State University in Frankfort and continued to be active in area theater.
“Watching him act was like watching a master class in the craft,” said Tim X. Davis, Mr. Parrish’s predecessor at KSU and one of the actors in that 2004 production of Art. “I was proud to have Jack take my place at Kentucky State and continue to improve upon the program we had built there. His colleagues and students from KSU, many of whom I’m still in contact with, have nothing but the most positive things to say about him and his work. His work onstage here in Lexington, brief though it was, was simply stunning.”
Mr. Parrish’s roles in Lexington included Polonius and the Gravedigger in Actors Guild’s 2007 production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He was set to take center stage as Falstaff in Actors Guild’s summer 2008 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor for Shakespeare at Equus Run but had to bow out because of his cancer treatments.
“It breaks my heart that the community never got to see his Falstaff … as it would have blown people out of their seats,” said Davis, who now directs the theater and film program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Mr. Parrish eventually returned to Richmond with his wife, Kathy Ann Parrish. He was in hospice care when he died.
“I feel like I have lost a family member and one of my best friends all rolled into one,” said St. Peter, who resigned his post at Actors Guild in August. “He was an extraordinary actor, a brilliant interpreter of Shakespeare, a terrific director and a true ‘man of the theater.’”
Among the numerous questions Actors Guild of Lexington has to ask as it attempts to rebuild are: Does it want to be a professional theater? If so, what does that mean?
For years, Actors Guild has billed itself as Lexington’s professional theater for adult audiences. In recent years, it has been taking greater strides toward affiliating itself with Actors Equity, the stage actors union, by regularly booking Equity talent for its shows.
In May, the theater announced, among several other things, that it would be entering into a small professional theater contract with Equity.
Then, the bottom fell out.
A festering financial crisis was amplified in June, when LexArts decided not to give the AGL an allocation for general operating support – a contribution that had been around $70,000 in recent years – citing years of concerns about its fiscal management. In August, artistic director Richard St. Peter announced that he was leaving to pursue a doctorate in theater.
As the theater prepares to begin searching for a new artistic chief, it is going to work with a consultant and is holding a series of public meetings to get a feeling for what the arts community and the community in general want from the theater.
Reaching out is in part recognition that the theater has become estranged from parts of the theater community as its leadership, location and mission have changed over the years. But in conversations over the summer, ”professional theater” has been a hot-button issue.
Some of this stems from how that goal was first pursued. When St. Peter arrived at Actors Guild, with a charge to make its a professional theater company, he brought in several Equity actors from out- of- town. That produced some successful performances, but it alienated a lot of local actors, who said they felt unwelcome at AGL and that parts were going to visitors, some of whom were no better than local talent.
More recently, Equity roles have gone to local actors who are Equity members including Leslie Beatty and Walter May, and Actors Guild has emphasized Equity affiliation as a way for local Equity talent to work and area actors who want to join Equity a path to earning their membership at home.
The problem is, if an actor becomes Equity, it limits the stages on which he or she can perform on, and if there’s only one Equity house in town, there could be months or years between roles.
Equity is not the only way to be professional, as Lexington Children’s Theatre proves. It is not an Equity theater but it does pay a staff of actors and other artists. In LCT, could there be a model for a professional theater for adult audiences?
Aside from the Equity question, AGL has billed itself as a professional theater though a lot of its artists also work at area community theaters. So, some have asked, what makes it professional, aside from a small stipend?
One commenter on the blog version of this column asked a few weeks ago, “Is a person professional for one show and then drop to amateur, only to recover and become professional again just a few months later? Lather, rinse, repeat?”
Then again, is professionalism the only way for Actors Guild to distinguish itself? Is it a goal the Lexington audience will sustain? Could AGL’s identity be in the type of productions it presents or the way it presents them? Does it have to be a flagship theater for the city? Can the Lexington audience sustain a pro theater?
They’re big questions for the theater to answer if it’s to focus on a successful future.
. . . to tell it what you want from local theater.
Actors Guild of Lexington has undertaken a set of public meetings to get input from members of the arts community and the community in general as it moves forward from several crises.
The meetings started Monday and will continue from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 2) in conference room B on the fourth floor of the Central Branch of the Lexington Public Library. The other two meetings are at 6-7:30 p.m. Sept. 8 and 10 at a location yet to be announced.
Each meeting will be attended by AGL managing director Kimberly Shaw, associate artistic director Eric Seale and board president Jennifer Miller. They are trying to limit the guests to 10 each meeting to give everyone a chance to talk and be heard. That’s probably a good idea as larger gatherings in the wakes of other theater crises the in the past decade or so have resulted in fairly pointless excercises. According to at least one account, the initial meeting on Monday night went well.
Actors Guild is in the midst of a turbulent time. In June, LexArts announced it would not extend the theater an allocation for general operating funds — a contribution that has been around $70,000 the past several years — and the theater was already struggling with a significant financial crisis. Then, in August, the theater’s artistic director, Richard St. Peter, announced he was leaving to pursue a doctorate in theater.
So, AGL is trying to dig out of a hole and start the search for a new AD. But, before getting too far down that road, the theater leadership wants to get a handle on how the community is feeling, hear what it wants out of one of Lexington’s leading theaters, and even get some ideas.
If you want to get in on a chat, contact Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Miller has also said she and the staff are open to private conversations and meetings.
Meanwhile, St. Peter has started a blog. The stated purposed of the journal is to discuss the 127 plays he says he needs to read in pursuing his Ph.D. He seems to be a speedy reader and writer already on play 2: David Mamet’s Oleanna.
In his intro, he briefly discusses his experiences as, “Artistic Director of a small pseudo-professional theatre in a town that didn’t really want or need professional theatre.”
Richard St. Peter is no longer working as the artistic director of Actors Guild of Lexington.
Two weeks ago, St. Peter had announced he was resigning and would leave by the end of the forthcoming season to work on a doctorate in theater. But Friday afternoon, St. Peter said that the financial strain of working without pay and the prospect of being a lame-duck director prompted him to go ahead and leave the organization.
He also said he believed removing his approximately $45,000 annual salary from the theater’s financial picture might help it recover from a loss of funding from LexArts. In June, the united arts fund declined to give the theater an annual allocation for general operating funds, citing concerns about the theater’s ongoing financial difficulties.
“I’ve got kids, and I need to find work,” said St. Peter, who said he has only received one partial paycheck since July 1.
Actors Guild board president Jennifer Miller said two weeks ago that theater employees had been working without pay so the theater could concentrate on settling accounts with outside vendors and other creditors.
In addition to St. Peter’s departure, which St. Peter said the board approved Monday, Actors Guild also lost Bo List as the director of its season-opening production, Beguiled Again, a show based on the music of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. List said in an e-mail, “the agreed-upon terms of my employment were changed dramatically after I began my work in a manner that was unsatisfactory.”
List has been replaced by Stephen Currens, a Lexingtonian who enjoyed Off-Broadway success with Gorey Stories, a musical based on the illustrations of Edward Gorey. He appeared in last season’s AGL production of The Fantasticks.
Beguiled Again has been moved back to Sept. 24-Oct. 11, and AGL associate artistic director Eric Ryan Seale said he is looking at how the date change will affect the remainder of AGL’s season. Seale said that the original dates had been set to accommodate an out-of-town director who had to bow out before List took on the show, and that the date change was partially responsible for List having to bow out.
List said, “I hope that Beguiled Again is the success that AGL needs right now and my best wishes are with the company.”
St. Peter is scheduled to direct Actors Guild’s second production, David Hare’s The Vertical Hour, and he said he still plans to do that.
St. Peter’s departure leaves Seale and AGL managing director Kim Shaw running the company. Despite the challenging nature of the theater, both said they were upbeat.
“Everybody has been picking up the slack,” Shaw said Friday afternoon. “Our first priority is to get Beguiled Again up.”
Seale said, “This is probably going to sound crazy, but I feel pretty good. I’m used to the catastrophe curve of theater, and I have a new office here on Manchester Street, and I like coming in to work every day.
“If people are willing to bear with this initial season postponement and any other season adjustments, we’re going to be fine.”
Over the weekend we found out that Actors Guild of Lexington artistic director Richard St. Peter will be leaving at the end of this season, at the latest, to pursue a doctorate degree in theater.
AGL board chair Jennifer Miller said the theater would not be in a rush to name a successor, as the theater has other immediate issues to deal with and initiatives to embark on such as working with a consultant to help right the theater’s financial ship and point it in the right direction.
But, just like when the Cats make a coaching change, you mention a theater is changing its artistic chief, and interested parties cannot help thinking about who or what type of person that next director may be?
The last time AGL made a change at the top, the theater took the unprecedented step of conducting a nationwide search, which resulted in St. Peter’s hire. Should it do the same thing this time, or maybe look for a more familiar face to area theater fans and practitioners? Late in the spring, Actors Guild announced plans to expand its offerings and become a more professional theater by signing a small professional theater contact with Actors Equity. Good moves, or maybe over-reaching?
I want to hear what you think. Actors Guild of Lexington is undeniably a theater at a crossroads. What directions do you think it should steer into?
Hit the comment button, below, and let’s talk about it.
Aug8Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, LexArts, Theater; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Barksdale Theatre, Brian Hampton, Charles Edward Pogue, Checking In, Christopher Newport University, Hamlet, Jennifer Miller, Kevin Hardesty, LexArts, Long Time Traveling, Richard St. Peter, Silas House, Tartuffe, TheatreVirginia, Virginia Commonwealth University
Actors Guild of Lexington Artistic Director Richard St. Peter has told the theater’s board that he will be leaving by the end of the 2009-10 season to pursue a doctorate degree in theater.
St. Peter declined to say where he will be going to graduate school, as he has not finalized those plans with the school. He did say that his departure is not a reaction to Actors Guild’s recent financial troubles which came to a head in June when LexArts declined to grant the theater an allocation for general operating funds.
“I want to stress as much as I can that this is not a bad thing, not death or disaster,” St. Peter said Saturday night. “It’s just the next thing.”
St. Peter said he is not leaving immediately and expects to negotiate a departure time with the theater’s board, when a succession plan is in place.
Actors Guild board president Jennifer Miller said that St. Peter’s decision was of his own volition. She said she had been aware he was contemplating pursuing a doctorate, but was still surprised when he informed her of his plans this weekend.
She said the theater’s board has not had a chance to meet and discuss searching for a successor, but she expected it would be a little while before that effort starts.
“We don’t want to make rapid decisions, we want to make the right decisions,” Miller said.
UPDATED 9 p.m. June 20.
LexArts released the list of allocations from its 2009-10 Campaign for the Arts late Friday and left out one of Lexington’s top theaters.
Actors Guild of Lexington, which last year received $72,500 from the campaign, received nothing in this year’s allocations.
“While no arts group is prepared to be cut from a major funding source, it is not as if this came from out of the blue,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of LexArts. “There have been ongoing conversations, and this is not a knee-jerk reaction. This is a cumulative result of the last four years and was not taken lightly.”
Clark said the past four years, LexArts, Lexington’s united arts fund, has worked with Actors Guild to address an accumulated deficit of $83,000 and a current debt of “approximately $40,000,” Clark said.
Actors Guild’s board president, Jim Dickinson, said he and other AGL leaders were taken by surprise, though, when they learned of the de-funding late Friday.
The executive committee of Actors Guild’s board met Saturday afternoon to discuss the de-funding and drafted a statement:
“The Actors Guild of Lexington Executive Committee will submit a comprehensive letter to LexArts addressing the decision to discontinue funding AGL, as well as the inaccurate statements made to board members and the media. We will make our letter public after LexArts board members have had an opportunity to read it.”
Dickinson said Actors Guild will appeal LexArts’ decision.
LexArts’ funding accounts for about 15 percent of Actors’ Guild’s annual budget, Dickinson said.
This move comes shortly after the 26-year-old Actors Guild, one of two professional theater groups in Lexington (Lexington Children’s Theatre is the other), announced plans to move its offices from the Downtown Arts Center to a building in the Distillery District, on Manchester Street; move forward with a contract with Actors Equity, the stage actors union; and expand its programming to include a second stage series in the Distillery District and a cabaret series at Central Kentucky restaurants.
At the time, Clark, of Lexarts, called the move a “calculated risk” for the theater.
The de-funding also came after an up-and-down season for Actors Guild. In December, Actors Guild’s artistic director, Richard St. Peter, said he was concerned about the theater’s survival in the economic downturn and after a few shows did not perform as well as expected at the box office. The theater modified its schedule for the last three shows of the 2008-09 season, reducing the runs for two shows and completely changing one to save money on cast and crew.
But Actors Guild ended the season with two bona fide hits: the one-woman show Bad Dates, which it revived this month, and the April world premiere of Kentucky writer Silas House’s Long Time Traveling.
Ultimately, Clark said Saturday afternoon that although Actors Guild was trying to attract new audiences and generate more income, the plan the theater presented to the allocations committee was insufficient to address the ongoing deficits.
Asked if the theater could survive the $72,500 funding cut, Clark said that was “doubtful.”
But Dickinson, the Actors Guild board president, said, “We can survive without it.”
Arts organizations that did receive allocations from LexArts’ 2009-10 Campaign for the Arts and the amounts they received are:
- Lexington Philharmonic, $165,000.
- Lexington Children’s Theatre, $120,000.
- Living Arts and Science Center, $101,250.
- Lexington Art League, $62,000.
- Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, $20,000.
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