Performing Arts

2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts: Actors Theatre

As a lifelong theater participant and fan, it was exciting to have the opportunity to visit Actors Theatre of Louisville and talk one-on-one with Managing Director Jennifer Bielstein. If you’re not especially familiar with the theater world, let me just say Actors Theatre is the gold standard in the world of regional theater.

As a former theater student, I can say with certainty the majority of young people who want to work professionally in theater rank Actors Theatre high on their lists of places they hope to someday work. One of the things I think is really superb is that the theater has a well-respected intern and apprentice company that helps train the next generation of theater professionals. And, of course, I have to give a shoutout to ATL for employing graduates of my former theater program at Morehead State University. It’s worth recognizing when regional theaters with presence on the national scene employ people from their own states. Kudos to ATL for recognizing quality talent in the Commonwealth.

This year marks ATL’s 50th anniversary of producing professional theater in Kentucky. While the theater has changed through the years, and continues to evolve, it remains one of the top theaters in the nation and is dedicated to keeping the spotlight on the Commonwealth for years to come. Congratulations to Actors Theatre of Louisville, the 2013 National Award recipient in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts.

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Give me the rundown of the work and programming produced by Actors Theatre each year.

We have multiple streams of programming. We want to, and feel we have a responsibility, to serve a broad range of people in this community. We have our main stage series which is sponsored by Brown Forman. That is a range of plays that are comedies, dramas, sometimes musicals, sometimes classics, sometimes contemporary. We also have some annual shows which are great holiday traditions for people. They bring their friends and families and they come year after year. We do Dracula, which is unusual in regional theater. This is our 19th year of running Dracula. People love it. We do A Christmas Carol and this will be our 38th season of producing A Christmas Carol. That’s a great entry point, often for children, whose families bring them. We see and have heard many stories from people who remember coming here as a kid and now they’re bringing their own children.

We do the Humana Festival, and that’s how we’re known nationally and internationally. The Humana Festival is like the Sundance of new plays. We produce six to 10 new plays each year during the Humana Festival. It takes place in March and people come from all over the country and all around the world to see it. This past year we had visitors from almost 10 different countries and from more than 30 different states.

How long have you produced the Humana Festival?

In 2014, our current season, we’ll present our 38th Humana Festival. One of the reasons we are so honored to receive the National Award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts is, over our long history of 50 years, we’ve really been a pioneer. We continue to be a leader in our national field of theater. The Humana Festival was the first new play festival that existed amongst regional theaters in this country. Actors Theatre made a bold commitment and has really stood by that commitment and continued to invest in new play development. And that is to impact the canon of American theater that exists, to continue to feed new work into the American theater. We were a pioneer in creating the business models that exist today for theaters and for many arts organizations, the subscription model that really helps to sustain what we do because people commit to a full season and it allows us to produce a range of programming. Whereas, if we were to sell single tickets to each show, it would be a much bigger and challenging marketing investment.

How has the theater been a leader on the national scene among regional theaters?

Actors Theatre has been a leader over our history and today amongst regional theaters in new play development. We have hundreds and hundreds of theaters and individuals who come to the Humana Festival each year to see the work we are premiering and to either commit to produce it at their organization, to sign on as an agent for one of the playwrights, or to publish the work. We have produced more than 450 new plays for the American theater. One of our big goals each year is to insure they receive subsequent productions. Our current statistic on that is about 80 percent of them go on to subsequent productions. We think that is very strong.

We were actually early in terms of giving access to patrons and donors to our artistic process. We have an open rehearsal process. People can come in and watch rehearsals, whereas many theaters protect that and don’t allow people into the room. We give them access to reading scripts early on in the process.

I would say today we are doing some innovative things in terms of technology. One of the things I’m really excited about we started this past year is a series called The Balcony. For people who are really attached to their phones and need to be on Facebook and Twitter, we have opened it up on certain nights where any seat in the balcony you can Tweet and post to Facebook and interact during the whole show. One of the things I thought was so fascinating and delightful about it is that people who have come there to be on social media and interact with the show have said after intermission, “I want to put my phone away because I just want to watch the show.” We’re really willing to test new media, new technology, in terms of what we do.

Les Waters, who is our current artistic director, is renowned in the world of theater and is a hugely sought after director, one of the top directors working in the states right now. We’re really excited he is here and working with us.

How has Actors Theatre’s location kept Kentucky in the national spotlight over the years and why has that been important to the state?

We are thrilled that we are located in Louisville and in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We get tremendous support in terms of people valuing what we bring to the quality of life and in terms of economic impact to this region. Through the Humana Festival, especially, but through other work, too. We bring great positive attention to the state of Kentucky in terms of truly being one of the best in the country and a leader in the arts in the nation. We also are bringing in the 150 artists we work with each year and employing them in the state. I think they learn a lot about Louisville and Kentucky, and they become ambassadors for this area when they return to their homes.

I’m a big believer that if any of the arts organizations thrive, it helps to elevate the entire sector. I do think because of the great support of this community and the state of Kentucky, Actors Theatre has been able to thrive and to remain strong. That helps the entire arts ecology in the state. We do have strong organizations and artists throughout the state. If we all can remain strong it helps the others as well.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

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2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts: Ed White

Meeting River City Drum Corps Founder Ed White, of Louisville, was one of the best experiences I had while interviewing the 2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts recipients. I was energized for weeks after my conversation with Ed and kept referring back to my interview with him to reread some of the wisdom he shared with me.

Ed grew up in Louisville’s west end. As a child he was drawn to the arts but did not have ample opportunity for participation. Due to his involvement with a local Boys Club, he was naturally exposed to sports and played for years, even though his heart wasn’t in it. Ed eventually ended up being a director at a Boys Club and found it was still a sports-focused atmosphere. He decided it was time to incorporate the arts into the system, making art available at the same level as sports. During the next few years, with opportunities to learn through programs like Arts Reach Kentucky, Ed developed the tools he needed to start the River City Drum Corps.

I talked to Ed for more than two hours the day we met. I think if he hadn’t had other things to do, I’d still be there talking with him. What you will read in this interview about the drum corp barely makes a dent in Ed’s personal story and experiences. It is without pretense I say: Ed White, the 2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts Folk Heritage Award recipient, makes me proud to be a Kentuckian.

What is the process like when kids sign up for the River City Drum Corps? What do they learn?

The first thing they learn is discipline. The first thing I have to do is get them to be able to stand still before I can teach them anything. After they get over that learning curve, we deal in drum making. Usually you have to be in drum corps a year before you get to make your drum. Then we start talking about African history and culture. We have a culture class every other Saturday, which is mandatory for them to come and to learn history, to learn culture, to learn games to let them understand the value of the team concept. It’s not a team concept where we have super stars, where everybody doesn’t get to play. It’s a concept where everybody is a part of the process and you rise through grasping the process. Our method is, we use the students as teachers. So we’re constantly teaching, I call it teaching down. As you teach down, the children grow up. And as they grow up, they’re continually teaching down. So the process keeps continually revolving around the idea, so that each child has ownership. It’s leadership development. It’s a leadership development program using arts and culture. They become the show managers, they become the booking agents – it’s the process of teaching them how the drum corps works. Basically, all I do now is just drive them – some shows I don’t even go in the building – so that they understand and they grasp the concept of the energy and power they have within themselves.

Why is it important to make your own drums instead of purchase drums?

It connects you to the culture. The drum in Africa is the foundation of culture. Celebrations, births, deaths, weddings, war, planting, harvest season. The drum is the foundation of life, ceremonies and culture. When I was in Ghana, I went to Tamale to meet with this group called the Tamale Youth Group. They do the same thing I do with the drums. They use it to teach children as a foundation, so their culture doesn’t get lost because of the influences of Western society. So they teach children to make drums, but also they teach them the purpose of the drum – they teach them to make fabric, to tie-dye – the whole thing about their culture, with the drum as the foundation of it. When you make things you tap into the creative spirit. So when a child takes raw materials and fashions this drum, then their spirit is connected to it. Again, that’s the power of art. The power of art is the connection of your spirit to whatever image you create. That’s what that’s about; that’s the reasoning, why. Once they do it, ownership is created.

Tell me a little about the kids who are in the drum corps.

I have children from all over the city, from all socioeconomic backgrounds. You know you hear people say ‘at-risk.’ But everybody’s at-risk, because all of us are one or two paychecks away from being out on the street. The gamut runs large and very diverse on the backgrounds of children that I get. Everybody’s looking for something and this is something that they find.

Because they are able to participate in the River City Drum Corps, what opportunities are available to them that weren’t available to you? You talked earlier about how the emphasis was on sports, but your heart was in the arts. Was it important to you to create those opportunities you didn’t have?

Yes. See, I couldn’t afford drumming. That was something I knew I couldn’t do, but it was easy for sports. Buying instruments was something that would not happen. But my mother could take her children to the Boys Club and everybody would get something.

There are so many things we do that get our children out of our community, so they see different things, they see different people. They understand it’s a different world out here.

Can you reflect on how the River City Drum Corps has been important to you personally? What personal achievements have you experienced?

When children that the world said “they can’t make it,” make it.

I look at my children who are first-generation college graduates. I look at them who have gone to school for free. I look at a young man who was from a family of superstar athletes. I see families who understand the power of education and drive their children to succeed, to grab it.

I’m glad that I met Bob Gates (former state folklorist). Bob Gates was one of the few people that I know who understands the power of culture. And he understands it. If we could get more people to understand the power of culture we could solve a whole lot of problems.

This work for me is my purpose. I’ve done a whole lot of things. I was a welder. I rebuilt cars. I worked in the atomic energy plant reprocessing uranium to build bombs. I’ve done several other little loose jobs. All of the rest of them, with the exception of maybe photography, was without purpose. This is my purpose.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

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2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts: Lexington Children’s Theatre

I first became acquainted with Lexington Children’s Theatre when I was a teenager and attended the theater’s week-long Youth Theatre Arts camp at Midway College. It was there I met people who were very different from me but who I also easily related to because of our shared interest in theater and performance. I also met people who would influence my life for years to come.

Let me be clear without being too personal: My involvement with theater as a young person probably saved my life. I really hated being a teenager — not because I was bullied or had problems at school or negative experiences with friends. I just did not enjoy adolescence one iota. But being involved with theater, through two summers of camps with LCT and then being invited to participate in a youth theater through an instructor I met at the camp, gave me an outlet into which I could generate my terribly frustrating teenage angst. I also made a ton of new friends, and many of them I am still in touch with to this day.

All of the above to say: The arts are more important to young people than we can possibly comprehend. There are a million stories like mine, and there will continue to be children whose lives are made better through the arts as long as there are organizations like Lexington Children’s Theatre. I was very excited to conduct this interview with Larry Snipes, the theater’s producing director since 1979. I also think I should point out that it was important to Larry to recognize the entire staff of the theater and the work they do for Kentucky’s children when discussing receiving the Governor’s Awards in the Arts 2013 Education Award.

Talk a little bit about the theater when you started and how things have changed over the years.

When I came, it was a transition time for the theater. It was kind of a difficult time because, the children’s theater — for all of its life up until 1979 — had been a youth theater, a theater of young people performing for young people.

The board had decided we were going to work more toward becoming a professional theater, and that was something I was very excited about when I came. One of the things about the Discovery shows we do now, they give young people the same performance opportunities, but they are supported by a professional staff.

Our goal when I came in was to try to move the theater to a more professional company so that we could actually serve more young people. When you’re doing just the youth theater performance, you’re really focused on what those young people are getting out of the experience, not necessarily what the audience is getting out of the experience.

When I came in, the idea was really to broaden that experience so the audience was getting as good of a product as we could actually provide. That was really the driving force behind what we’ve been doing the last 34 years — to do the best quality work we can possibly do, and share it with as many young people as we can. That’s kind of what pushed us into a lot of different areas. We still do the youth theater component. We do three shows a year, plus the summer family musical where we try to encourage families to do shows together — parents and young people to participate in the shows as one. We didn’t abandon that hands-on experience for a young person in performance. What we did was enhance it and try to give them the support they needed to succeed.

Tell me a little more specifically about the work you do when you go into schools and the experiences the kids have and why they’re important for children in Kentucky.

For a lot of young people we reach we’re the first experience they have in live performance theater. To see a full production within their school and within their community, that’s the most valuable thing we provide. We provide that final product a young person sees for the first time — where they see an actor, a live person performing before them, in the same room. It’s different from watching on television and different from watching a movie. That immediate connection they get with an artist, that’s what’s important for us. In addition to the performances we provide, we offer residencies and workshops with young people, and with teachers so they can get professional development workshops. Our education department has really come a long way the last several years in arts integration, using the arts to teach other subject matter and to integrate the arts across the curriculum. All of these things we do to try to provide a complete experience. It’s not just the performance; it’s not just the residency. It takes all of it to get there.

We want to give children an opportunity to explore their creative side and to be creative. And hopefully, through this exposure and through this experience in participating in theater or seeing theater, they can look at the world a different way. They can look at themselves a different way, and they can become a more complete person by doing that. And that’s what our goal is.

Why is your work important to the children and their parents, the people of Kentucky?

The thing about what we do is, we tell stories. Throughout history, for as long as man has communicated, we’ve learned and told stories, and we’ve told stories to teach and help us learn. That’s the most important aspect of what we do, the storytelling. By participating in the storytelling as a performer or as an audience member — our audience members participate — it broadens your view of the world. I think that’s what we can do. We can give a young person a chance to look at what it was like to be a holocaust victim, or a king or a fairy or a princess. It gives them a chance to identify with someone in this theater, or the character or the story, and learn as that character learns. That works on every single level, whether you’re a child or someone that’s my age, or a grandparent. It works on so many levels, that experience of watching a performance or participating in a performance, or seeing something that makes you … not necessarily question, but understand something, a concept that you didn’t fully comprehend. I think that’s what storytelling has done for mankind through our history. That’s how we learn. That’s what we offer young people in Kentucky — a different way of learning, a different way of looking at things.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

 

Categories: Arts Education, Arts Organizations, Performing Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

2013 Governor’s Awards in the Arts: International Bluegrass Music Museum

When I went to interview Gabrielle Gray, executive director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, I had not visited Owensboro, Ky., for at least 20 years. Wow, was I blown away. I can tell you honestly that if I were looking for a place to make a new home at this point in time, I would give serious consideration to Owensboro. The city is alive with the arts. Much of this links back to the enthusiasm for bluegrass music that the museum has created through its numerous programs since it opened its doors in 1991.

Bluegrass has become part of the city’s brand, and its citizens embrace the genre as part of their culture. The International Bluegrass Music Museum will receive this year’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts Community Arts Award. Read excerpts of my interview with Gabrielle below to find out more about what’s happening in Owensboro.

Tell me about the programming you provide in the community.

Just to give you an example, ROMP (IBMM’s annual bluegrass festival) has grown to 20,000 visitors a year, which is a very nice-sized festival. We just had our 10th anniversary. The first one was in 2004. It was held in Peter English Park down the river. We had Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, Sam Bush. It was a great event, but it only drew a few thousand people. That’s how ROMP was for the next seven years in a row; it was an intriguing but small festival. We invited the pioneers of bluegrass to play. Because bluegrass is a pretty new genre as genres go, most of the founders of it, the early practitioners, were still alive when I came here. Now it’s been 10 years, a very vital 10 years in that echelon. So many of them are not alive now. But we have filmed them. First person, in-depth, professional interviews with professional interviewers; we’ve done 268 of these. We’re developing them each into an individual documentary. We’ve got the history. Lock stock and barrel, we have captured it. There is no music genre in America that has been able to do that except bluegrass. So it’s a really astonishing archive, and it really tells the story, especially of the southeastern quadrant of the United States, but also all over the country.

The bluegrass in the schools project is ginormous. We’re in year 11 of that. We’re in all of the elementary schools. In order to preserve and sustain bluegrass music, and to grow it here in the home state — this is Kentucky’s official state music and it’s this area’s indigenous music — in order to preserve that culture and further it and put it to work for us both educationally and in tourism, you have to grow it. You have to sustain it. Everybody in your community needs to know about it, be aware of it, embrace it and be part of the process. And so, in order to get all that done you have to start at the beginning, start when they’re growing up.

We have this sustained program where we spend eight days in each elementary school. And all of the kids have an instrument — we’ve had to buy hundreds of instruments — so everybody is holding an instrument, the same instrument at the same time. You’ll have a whole sea of violins or fiddles and they’re all learning at the same time. They learn the history of bluegrass, its importance to the state, and then they learn about the fiddle, the mandolin, the banjo and the guitar, those four instruments.

That’s the first thing we do. Then the second thing we do is we hire a national act that performs in every one of these schools. They put on a concert. And that happens every year. The parents are invited and the teachers come and the administrators come and it’s always a very big deal because a band is here in town for two or three weeks. They’re in all of these schools and then do a concert for the general public. So after that, if you want to, if you have been turned on by that and trust me they are, big time, then you can come down here (to the museum) and take lessons on Saturdays. We provide the instruments on loan; you take them home and keep them with you as long as you’re in the music program. These are group music lessons and right now we have 414 students and it’s people of all ages. There’s a tiny tuition. If you don’t have that money, you just write an essay about why you want to take lessons and you’re included for free. It’s gigantic. You can’t believe what it looks like here on a Saturday. It’s a small museum and there are back-to-back people.

What is it about bluegrass music that transcends cultures?

Well, it’s an amalgamation of so many genres to start with. If you look at the Scots-Irish, the Celtic music, the African — I’m a classical musician, I definitely see Vivaldi and Bach in there — it’s black gospel, it’s white gospel, it’s blues, it’s jazz, it’s Cajun. It’s friendly; it doesn’t put on airs. And yet, it is the most virtuosic of all the genres because the musicianship in a premium bluegrass band is higher than, or as high as, you will find anywhere on Earth. Not only are they playing to the top skills of all other musicians, and in most cases far better, they’re also composing on the spot just like jazz. Bluegrass is incredible. But it puts on no airs. That’s why it has become a worldwide genre. It’s like a musical exchange program.

How has the community embraced and supported the museum?

Well, I think what happened is that ROMP turned the lake over, putting the programming in there that was broader than traditional bluegrass and opening it up to more people. One thing we did, anyone who was involved in a college bluegrass program throughout the country was invited to come for free, provided they brought their instrument and jammed, and stayed all three days. So, we were changing the atmosphere of the festival, making it into a jam session of really good musicians from all over. It’s creating a culture and creating a milieu and a place where everybody is comfortable. The festival is green. It’s well organized, the food is excellent. There’s a wonderful arts and crafts fair. We have tremendous arts all over the place.

So when the population of ROMP exploded like it did overnight, the city took notice and said “Wow.” What you’ve been saying to us all along, that this could be like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is to Cleveland, like the Country Music Hall of Fame is to Nashville, this could be an international center. This could be the biggest thing in Kentucky. They saw it.

How has the community supported the museum?

There is bluegrass being played everywhere now. It’s for weddings, it’s for funerals — it’s everywhere you go. It has changed the entire cultural landscape of this community.

The ROMP budget has grown to over a half a million dollars. With the exception of ticket sales and earned income, all of that money comes from support. Think of that. It’s enormous. We have close to $200,000 donated by businesses. Everybody’s coming. We’re in a $10 million capital campaign. We haven’t even gone to the bluegrass community yet. This has all been raised out of Owensboro, $8 million already. That’s gigantic. The city pledged $3 million to the new museum. How many cities do that?

Let’s get down to the grass roots level. Every single music teacher in the city and county and in the parochial school systems here, every single one helps us with the bluegrass in the schools program. We bought a set of instruments for every school. They teach them. They have after-school programs set-up. They’re teaching the kids how to play the instruments; they’re working with us, all of them. They all come and perform at ROMP.

And they’re part of it. That’s the key to everything — inclusivity. Making people part of a project, then it belongs to them. Then its success becomes integral to their being.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

Categories: Performing Arts | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Kentucky On Stage 2013 with Dale Pyatt

The Kentucky Arts Council will present Kentucky On Stage, a mini booking conference for presenters and afternoon of live performance free and open to the public, from 1 – 5 p.m. Aug. 22, in the William Stamps Farish Theater at the Lexington Public Library

Kentucky On Stage features a slate of artists from the arts council’s Performing Arts Directory, including new acts recently added to the online roster of adjudicated artists. Twelve acts will perform for 15 minutes each during the showcase.

One of those performers, singer-songwriter Dale Pyatt, was just adjudicated into the Performing Arts Directory and will perform at Kentucky On Stage for the first time. An award winning songwriter, Pyatt has penned songs that cross many music genres including Americana, bluegrass, new and classic country, roots, and even island-style music. Pyatt recently answered a few questions for us about the directory and what people can expect from his performance at Kentucky On Stage.

KAC: Why did you want to be part of the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts Directory?

PYATT: I wanted to be a part of the directory because I’m trying to take my music to a professional level. Being in the directory will allow me to work more professional shows. I would like to be a full-time artist, and I need all the help and support I can get.

KAC: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe it?

PYATT: My music is original, fun to listen to, and has been nicknamed “BuffettGrass” by some of my friends.

KAC: What can the presenters and audience look forward to during your performance at Kentucky On Stage?

Presenters can look forward to the “Dale Pyatt experience,” and to hearing some of the stories behind my songs. I will also be discussing my singer/songwriter workshop for beginners.

Learn more about Pyatt on his website at http://dalepyatt.com/.

Other showcase performers are:

  • Bob & Susie Hutchison, music, traditional Appalachian and Celtic
  • Hong Shao, music, traditional Chinese
  • Joe Hudson, music, thumbpicking guitar
  • Lexington Children’s Theatre, theater
  • TDH4, music, jazz-blues-originals
  • Squallis Puppeteers, theater
  • Octavia Sexton, storytelling
  • A Girl Named Earl, music, singer-songwriter
  • Diana Dinicola, dance, flamenco
  • Art Mize, music, string band-jazz-bluegrass
  • The Mark Whitley Band, music, Americana

As you can see, we’ve got a great lineup for this year’s showcase, and we hope you’ll consider joining us for the main event next Thursday afternoon. To see a schedule of the day’s events or for more information, visit http://artscouncil.ky.gov/KentuckyArt/KOS13.htm.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

Categories: Performing Arts | Tags: , , ,

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