It has been nearly four decades since Kate Savage first arrived from England to take up residence in the Bluegrass State. The innovator behind Art Connects, Savage has made it her personal mission to help artists from all artistic disciplines to come together, collaborate, and discover more opportunities to share resources and expand artistic awareness.She has a passionate love for all art forms, and sees her role as one of a facilitator.
“My father worked for an American oil company back in the ‘50s and I grew up in the Middle East. When I was five, we moved to Bahrain which then was “home” for thirty years.I attended London University where I majored in English with a minor in Art History.I moved to Lexington in 1977, after marrying a Lexingtonian I had met and dated in London,” Savage recalled. “My love of different cultures, my admiration for anyone who could create anything, my curiosity about the ways to communicate through words, performance, visual expression, even silence that speaks volumes, has been a life-long fascination for me.”
It was not long after her move to Lexington that Kate opened her own catering company, Bleu Ribbon Hospitality.Over time an upscale gourmet food shop, Scarborough Fare, grew out of her catering business, and operated for many years on Romany Road. “The origins were in a commercial kitchen on Maxwell Street,” she recalled, “But as the business expanded we moved to the Romany Road location alongside Suggins and Wheeler’s Pharmacy, both iconic landmarks for serious Lexingtonians. For me, working with food became an outlet for creative expression”.
In 2008 she sold her food business to the owners of Suggins.Looking for other ways to stay involved Kate saw a community need and decided to invest her efforts in helping the many different artistic genres in new and creative ways. Thus, Art Connects was conceived.
“Art Connects started about a year-and-a-half ago by originally introducing the Talk and Tour Series.These were lectures that were paired with an exhibition within driving distance, be it at the Speed, Taft or Cincinnati Art Museum, that subsequently were followed up with tours.The next of this ongoing Talk and Tour Series: Talk a Walk on the Wild Side, will begin with the “Talk” segment on Nov. 15 at the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and continue with the follow-up Tour on the 17th of the Cincinnati Art Museum. This Talk and Tour Series will explore the current exhibition: Kentucky Renaissance: Lexington Camera Club and Its Community. 1954-1974that includes works by such well-known photo-artists as Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Guy Mendes and James Baker Hall as well as the concurrent exhibition: Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth, that opened on October 15th and will run until January 8th 2017. Guy Mendes, one of the youngest members of the Lexington Camera Club whose work is included in the photography exhibition, along with Ann Tower, the owner of Ann Tower Gallery who for many years was the art critic for the Lexington Herald-Leader, will be co-Talk and Tour hosts.
The next program that Art Connects introduced,Paint the Town,hasbecome an established annual event held in June. It is the revitalization of a similar but bygone event started by Gallery B. “This event is held for Plein Aire artists,” said Savage.“These are artists who work outside their studio in the ‘fresh air’, like van Gogh and Monet.For the last couple of years as many as 50 artists have participated, coming from as far afield as Bowling Green and Cincinnati.They set up their easels within an eight-block designated area of downtown and paint from 8am-2pm. Works are then turned in – often still wet – curated, hung and judged anonymously as Best in Show, 2nd and 3rd Place, as well as a People’s Choice.Cash prizes are awarded by the guest judge at the Opening Reception held that same evening. The works remain on exhibition through the July Gallery Hop and are for sale,” she said.
Paint the Town focuses on a particular group of painters and the community is encouraged to come to downtown Lexington, stroll the streets and observe as art is made. “It’s astonishing how much talent there is right here in our Bluegrass backyard, and I marvel at what can be produced in just six hours,” said Savage.
Also engaging Savage’s energy is the Art Connects Mobile Gallery. This is another mutually beneficial program that connects artists with opportunities to exhibit their work outside the mainstream venue of a gallery show.Savage takes original artwork by local artists into corporate spaces, and rotates the work every three months.Turning business and office walls into mini galleries and creating a curiosity and a conversation.This is a subscription service, but to date all participants have renewed their annual subscriptions.
“Meditation Meadow” by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons
“Work accumulating against a studio wall is of little benefit to the artist.” Kate said.“It’s so fun when I show up with replacement art to see the excitement and interest generated.This is a program that is really helping to stimulate an interest in art for people who previously probably didn’t bother notice or reflect on what was hanging on the walls.”
Collaborations and partnerships are key elements of Art Connects efforts.Through a sponsorship from Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, who expressed an interest in collaborating with a non-profit’s endeavor, Art Connects sent out a Call to Fayette Co. High School Artists. Students were invited to produce a “Kentucky December Holiday” themed artwork. More than 40 students representing every High School in Fayette County responded with Letters of Intent.Works have been submitted and will be evaluated anonymously by a seven-panel group. Cash prizes will be awarded to the three winners at the Wells Fargo Holiday Party in December.“This is philanthropy working” said Savage, “I give to you and you turn around and give to someone else.”
Savage’s efforts to facilitate networking among various artistic disciplines responded to an identified need. The Kentucky Arts Council’s extensive statewide 2014 Creative Industry Reportincluded data from a survey that asked individuals across Kentucky where they saw gaps and needs in services and support. Opportunities to network with other artists rated among the top five priorities. “So I started what are now the Art Connects Networking Lunches,” Savage said. “The initial series of three was this past Spring and we have just wrapped up the Series for this Fall.”
The Networking Luncheons ($25 including lunch) are open to the public. “Alice Gray Stites, the Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming forall 21c Museum Hotels, was the first guest speaker a week before the 21c Hotel Museum in Lexington opened. It was a sell out and set the bench-mark high,” Savage said. “Others have featuredJoel Pett and Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, Gregory Turay with Tedrin Blair Lindsay as piano accompanist were the November presenters and they, needless to say, ended the series on a high note!”
Savage’s work is driven by a desire to discover new ways to bring people – artists and communities – together in collaboration, corroboration and cooperation. “There’s no reason why we can’t work together and support each other across the artistic disciplines. It keeps me busy; I do my own website and social media, newsletters, solicitations and I love the all of it. My personal philosophy is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’”
(Featured image at top of page: “Gratz Park” by Heather Tackett)
If you are an avid reader and love good stories, especially those spun by Kentucky writers, the name Bobbie Ann Mason should be familiar. For over 35 years Mason has developed into a strong literary and cultural presence. Known for her ability to weave a strong tale and to accurately describe the characters and ways of the folk in the Bluegrass neck-of-the-woods, she has reached into imaginations, imprinting minds with indelible pictures that linger long after the last page.
We wondered to what sort of star Bobbie Ann Mason hitches her literary wagon. Every writer has their own writing process. For some, it’s always a matter of following a step-by-step guide. For others, the process is a routine that comes naturally.
“Writing for me,” said Mason, “is like solving a mystery, doing a puzzle and arranging all of the pieces together, finding and fitting the different parts.”
The ongoing themes of solving puzzles, intricate relationships, and war pervade her works. Originating ideas, cultivating them, and bringing them to a level that has proved worthy of her many awards is part of a process that has been developed and refined through many short stories, novels, a biography, an autobiography, and an upcoming novella.
Born May 1, 1940, close to Mayfield, Kentucky, Bobbie Ann spent much of her time on the family farm, reading. The tranquility and isolation of her parents’ dairy farm ignited a curiosity about lifestyles that seemed as though they must be happening in some parallel universe. “It was an isolated corner of Kentucky, far from any city. My parents encouraged me to read, but there were few books available, certainly nothing called literature,” she said in a recent interview with Transatlantica.
This began Mason’s adventures into the popular young adult literature of the time that eventually led her to all things literary: the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew mysteries, now-classics that were on the bedside table of every young girl in 1950s America.
It was perhaps her early experiences with mysteries and the awakening of her inquisitive nature that informed this ongoing theme in her work.
“A concrete detail will hit my imagination,” she said. “For instance, I may see a man wearing a carnation and wonder ‘why a carnation?’ Or perhaps the man appears drunk and I ask, ‘what is he drunk on?’ Maybe there’s something else going on. Once I have established that image, it seems to unfold from there. Sometimes it could be a word or a detail, maybe just a sound.”
As a student at the University of Kentucky Mason discovered Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald, delivering Bobbie Ann into a whole new world of literary possibilities.
Her process began to develop, always starting with key images that initially set it in motion, seemingly random pieces that eventually coalesce.. “Then the images start to get translated into words and the words lead me, often surprise me, with where they go and what they do. Very often it is an image of some sort that sparks the inspiration for a story. That stick of dynamite found in a box of letters may very well have been the trigger for a new yarn. In the opening of Shiloh, Norma Jean is lifting weights. The novel In Country was initially inspired by the sight of a couple of teenagers selling flowers on a street corner.”
“I’ve always been fascinated with mysteries,” she explained. “It was this, perhaps, that led me to Vladimir Nabokov, whose Ada was the subject of my dissertation. In graduate school I read quite a bit of him and was thrilled with the way he wrote. His life story was fascinating as well, being exiled from Russia and then becoming one of the foremost prose stylist in English.”
By her late-thirties, Bobbie Ann was writing short stories. The New Yorker published her first in 1980. “It took me a long time to discover my material,” she said. “It wasn’t a matter of developing writing skills, it was a matter of knowing how to see things. And it took me a very long time to grow up. I’d been writing for a long time, but was never able to see what there was to write about. I always aspired to things away from home, so it took me a long time to look back at home and realize that that’s where the center of my thought was.”
Mason doesn’t search for material. Instead, she relies on serendipity. ”It can be scary. A novel can bubble up in the space of a minute. It just kind of erupts. Then in five minutes you realize you’ve just committed the next five years of your life.”
At first, as she began writing In Country, Mason didn’t know that it would become a story about Viet Nam. “It backed into that eventually. It’s ultimately about Sam, the main character, not that particular war. It could have just as easily been set during World War II.”
The story found its way to the big screen in 1989 as a film produced and directed by Norman Jewison, starring Bruce Willis and Emily Lloyd. The screenplay by Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre was based on Mason’s novel.
Her biggest challenge? “The hardest part is the beginning. Working toward getting enough to go with. For example, writing a novel. It may take me a year to develop enough material to motivate me to go further. Then when I have a draft I’ve got something to work with. At that point it gets easier and it gets fun. The hardest part’s the blank page. The words reveal things. It’s all about language, which is music, the rhythm of it, the sound of it. The visual imagery: I try to find some way to put it all together, and then maybe I’ll have a story.”
Like many writers, Bobbie Ann goes through a lot of drafts, going back over the material, honing, shaping, reworking. “The coalescing doesn’t just come along. It’s hard work. It’s hard getting a perspective on it and being critical of what it means. I flash back and forth between a creative process of not thinking, just writing, and a critical process where I stand back and look and say ‘what have I done? Does this work?’ I may have more feeling for this passage with notes to myself for how I can improve it for the next draft.”
Mason said her stories are stitched together from the tiny details she has learned to look for in daily life. “I’m an observer of detail. I notice what people have in their shopping carts at the grocery, what they are saying when I overhear them, what they’re wearing, what kinds of jobs they have.”
And then it becomes a matter of allowing herself to be carried along by the momentum of the emerging story. “You’re absorbed in this thing you’re watching and writing about.”
Bobbie Ann’s other works include The Girl in the Blue Beret;Elvis Presley;Feather Crowns; and Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, the last two winners of the Southern Book Critics Circle Awards.
Among the finest contemporary Southern writers, Mason has been the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the National Endowment for the Arts grant. She is also a former writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky.
Check out Bobbie Ann’s website, where you will find a complete list of works, a wonderful video with Mason and Wendell Berry, and information about events.
Ben Lacy has for over three decades been a prominent musical artist on the local scene here in Lexington as well as the world stage. His highly-recognizable style and uncanny acumen for guitar have allowed him over the years to play with the likes of Al DiMeola and many other well-known guitar titans. Born to Alice and Terry Lacy here in Lexington on Christmas Day, 1970 (a birthday Ben shares with his Dad), he grew up first in the Wilson Downing area before his family moved across town to Chevy Chase. In a conversation with UM contributor Charles Sebastian, Ben opens up about his playing, his heroes, and what makes him tick.
UM: Tell me about your early influences musically.
BL: That would be mainly my dad, Terry.
UM: Also a musician?
BL: Oh, yes. He still plays with some fellas regularly. He would tinker a lot when I was little. There were instruments all over the house. He does a lot of Bluegrass. Dad was a big influence. He took me in for one lesson with a classical guy when I was a kid. That was the only proper lesson I’ve ever had.
UM: Surely there were other influences that helped you develop your chops, though.
BL: Sure. When Willis Music was in Fayette Mall, I saw Jeff Calhoun, who was in a few bands. He worked at Willis. I’d see him after school. I’d go in and not buy anything and be a bum. You know, just hang out and absorb the scene and the vibe. So, Eddie Van Halen first, then Steve Morse, who was with the Dixie Dregs, and later the Steve Morse Band. What Steve did for me was an appreciation for arranging and my picking level was raised.
UM: Was guitar your first choice as an instrument.
BL: I actually started with cello. I wasn’t totally feeling the vibe. I felt it was preparing me more to play with an orchestra and I was a lot more interested in rock and the hard stuff.
UM: So you switched to guitar. When was this?
BL: I would’ve still been in elementary school.
UM: So you got a taste of your first electric. What was it?
BL: It was a Hondo II, which looked a lot like a Les Paul.
Then I graduated to an Ibanez Roadstar, which was a bit more Strat-shaped.
UM: Were you going to see shows this early?
BL: My brother, John, and I went to see a lot of acts with Dad. Ricky Skaggs, Boone Creek, a lot of local stuff. We went to the state fair 35 years ago and I was blown away by “Moonlight” by Starbuck. That still sticks with me.
UM: That’s some softer stuff, though. You started getting more rockish after awhile, right?
BL: Absolutely. My best friend at the time showed me the Van Halen album,Women and Children First, around 1980. It transformed me.
UM: I think a lot of guitarists were opened up by Eddie Van Halen.
UM: Are you still as inspired by those bands today?
BL: Many of those still work for me. Van Halen, Stones, then it all progressed.
UM: Progressed to?
BL: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and others. I was constantly changing how I was listening to music and what I was listening to. I also felt I owed it to my audience. Any guitarist can just stand up and shred through scales; there’s not really a heavy art to that. To feel the groove of the song, though…
UM: To really get into the character of the music you’re playing, you mean?
BL: Yes, and to have a versatility and openness.
UM: Your song interpretations sound very different. Is that by design or just the style you fell into through years of playing and influence?
BL: Well, I do play a lot, usually over 100 gigs a year. And yes, my style has developed from all that stage time. Solo’s my bread and butter, but I do some duets and I have a vocalist, Corey Cross. Also Alan McKenzie, a drummer, we play a lot of old-school rock. The bass player who gigs with me a lot, Robert Scott Bryant, is more of a Jazz guy.
Performing at Lexington’s Parlay Social with bassist Robert Scott Bryant
UM: So, not as much studio work.
BL: I haven’t been in the studio in a long time, I’ve been gigging so much.
The last thing I submitted for a CD was a Steely Dan tribute album (Maestros of Cool), which they approved. It was released just in Europe and I did a cover of “Hey 19.”
UM: So gigging really just developed over the years, like building any clientele?
BL: Right. I was teaching a lot and I said “why am I teaching, when I’d rather be gigging?”
UM: It seems there are those musicians who would rather be recording than gigging, too. But the reverse seems true for you.
BL: Truthfully, the only thing I think about is “how can I get better?”
UM: That’s a great sentiment for anyone in any business.
BL: The trick is, I have to find that “shed-time,” where I’m able to cultivate and be creative. You have to keep a youthful exploration. I borrow from all of my influences, but I want to play like me. I want people to say “that’s definitely Ben.”
UM: What makes really good music for you?
BL: Something someone can connect with.
UM: A groove, something that speaks.
UM: You were married not too long ago. Did that change things for you?
BL: Most certainly. I married the most beautiful woman I ever met on Oct. 14, 2012. Erica. 2 step-kids. She’s definitely into music, 80s all the way.
UM: Congratulations! Do you feel the standard for music and what sells on the world market has lowered over the years?
UM: Who do you feel is out there keeping it real?
BL: Chris Stapleton and Adele come to mind. There are others, but a lot of them are still going and are from 70s-80s.
UM: Was there something considerably different about the artists coming from those decades than most today?
BL: I believe there was more appreciation for the craft. If you bought a vinyl or an 8-track, you knew the people involved actually took the time to learn their instruments. And that was all in an effort to connect to an audience.
UM: Even back then though, there were those artists that were sub-par and are now pretty much forgotten or remembered with a chuckle.
BL: Right, but the ones who really made a difference, the ones who really delved into the craft, that stuff holds up today. I can still go back to some of that early Van Halen stuff, Diver Down, etc. It’s still great.
UM: And a lot of the commercialized or commodities-posing-as-artists probably won’t be remembered in forty years, like Van Halen.
BL: I don’t believe so.
UM: When did your following really kick in?
BL: In 2000 I was still teaching at Willcutt Guitars. There would be these announcements for NAMM Shows. (The National Association of Music Merchants). That’s where my name started getting around. There are two per year, one in Anaheim, then one in Nashville. It’s the kind of thing where there are all kinds of players, albums for sale, new ideas. It’s great. I went to these for 12 years and my name just started getting out, mostly just by playing solo at the events.
UM: So people just started to slowly get word of Ben Lacy through the shows?
BL: Yes. I was endorsing Brian Moore Guitars, out of New York at the time. The people at Brian Moore were great and the guitar was great. I just love the way it feels. I’m still with them.
UM: Wonderful. So they would help set you up at the shows?
BL: Right. They’ve been flying me to shows and paying me. After years of doing these, all of a sudden, I had a hundred people around me playing. From there, things escalated and I started playing All-Star Guitar Night, which is part of the NAMM Show. I think there’s still some footage on YouTube of me playing “Kashmir,” by Zeppelin.
UM: I’ve noticed that you have a bunch of clips of other pieces on your Facebook page and YouTube.
BL: Yeah, I’ve been doing a fun little thing: posting 1-2 minute clips of well-known songs. Just me sitting and jamming it out. I don’t even play the whole thing, given everyone’s limited attention spans nowadays. I did the Bowie “Fame” recently, after he passed.
Check out Ben’s FB page to see some of the clips and to follow Ben and keep up with his gigs.
UM: Is there anything super-duper exciting coming up, besides the regular gigs?
BL: I have the Raleigh International Guitar Summit next month, which should be fun and informative.
UM: I like that your main focus is “to continue to get better.”
BL: I find myself onstage with a bunch of great players and am grateful. Continuing to get better, yes, that is the first thing on my mind.
UM: Ben, it’s been a real pleasure. We look forward to seeing you play again soon.
For you theatre buffs out there, the sold-out performances of 33 Variations have been generating a lot of buzz for Athens West, Lexington’s newest theatre company in the Downtown Arts Center. Bo List, the director of the show and a partner in the newly-formed group, has come a long way since his early days growing up in Lexington, where he first discovered and nurtured his love of the empty space. Here to talk with us about the new show, his influences, and the transformative possibilities of theatre, is Bo List.
UM: So, it all started here in Lexington for you?
BL: Yes, I grew up here in the Bluegrass.
UM: When did your life first start to turn toward theatre?
BL: I didn’t do any theatre in high school. I was a shy kid in grade school, so by the time I got to high school, I was happy to be quiet and left alone. I was grateful to be invisible. I didn’t pop out of my shell, but something said to me that I had something to say.
UM: This was at Henry Clay?
BL: Yes. I attended Henry Clay, then went on to UK for Theatre. I decided to take an acting class at UK and a teacher said they were going to do a directing class. I said I would like to be a part of it. A lot of my venturing into theatre was from the desire to not be shy anymore. Theatre has given me the skills to speak up.
UM: Was it then when you decided Theatre was the right major for you?
BL: Well, I realized I like to be near the center of attention, but not right at the center. When I was at UK, I started out thinking acting was the way to go. Not many people enter theatre thinking they want to write or direct. Once I directed and wrote a few things, I realized that’s where I needed to be. Some of the earliest shows I saw were from Joe Ferrell. The local pros inspired me. They made it this wondrous thing that I could never quite achieve. Equus. Debra Hensley and Debra Martin doing the Kathy and Mo Show. These got me off my butt and made me want to do what they were doing.
UM: But you were still dipping into acting, you were still in some performances.
BL: Sure, even nowadays. Every few years people will bully me into being in something. My last thing was a reality TV-host/judge. Every now and then you have to decide that you have to experience being told what to do. Actors have feelings and an ego and they don’t like to be bullied. It’s important to remember that if you spend most of your time writing and directing.
UM: Was it right after UK when you decided graduate work was the right direction?
BL: Yes. I moved to Memphis to pursue an MFA in Directing. They have a great program there. Memphis helped me to develop and make quality theatre. When I finished my undergrad, I felt like I could do this. In Grad school I realized there’s a world of possibilities, techniques and styles. I was improved as an artist in my training there.
UM: Was there something of getting away from the familiar?
BL: Perhaps. I had to go away to find people of like minds, as not many people in Lexington wanted to direct at the time.
UM: It seems people in theatre have to be willing to sacrifice.
BL: I’m fortunate, as I’m not financially motivated. By that I mean, I’m a smart guy. I probably could be president of a bank or something like that, but it simply holds no interest for me. So I feel content doing what I do, being motivated by theatre as I am.
UM: Being away must’ve had a strong impact on you. Not just from the grad school perspective, but you were in totally different environments from Lexington.
BL: I floated around Chicago, Memphis and here. I took advantage of the great Usher program at Steppenwolf in Chicago. I saw Lexington actor Michael Shannon play there. Probably the best acting I’ve ever seen, right in front of me. Really superlative theatre artists. You can see theatre in a huge space one night and you can see something in a room the size of a bathroom the next. The variety is immense. They can spend $5 on a set or a million on it and there’s always something enriching from the experience.
UM: What was it that made you move back to Lexington after these experiences?
BL: I had always wanted a strong theatre scene for Lexington and after years and years and years, I finally realized that if I ever wanted to have good theatre here, I would have to create it. I’d had a front-row seat in seeing how theatre improves the quality of people’s lives. I always had a notion that if something got off the ground and started moving up and kept moving up that you would see a lot of other things flourishing as well. I thought that if some of these companies could make a go of it, we’d see a lot more synergy in the area. Fortunately, Athens is already creating opportunities for actors and out-of-town artists to come in and add to the culture.
UM: Outside of Athens West, you’ve done quite a bit of writing. How did your adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN come about?
BL: When Trish Clark ran the Lexington Shakespeare Festival she used to ask what we should do for our seasons. This went on for years and Shakespeare came and went and then one year she asked me about it again when they were doing a Season of Monsters. We talked about Frankenstein. I said to Trish she should commission me to write it. She told me I’d have to start writing quickly as there wasn’t much time before the season. It’s a beautiful book. It pops right off the page.
UM: Did you find it was popular as a stage play before you got ahold of it?
BL: There were tons of adaptations and they were all terrible, in my opinion. So I started to think about what I was looking for in this adaptation. It needs to have heart with the creature being articulate.
UM: And after the season you were able to publish it?
BL: Yes. Every writer dreams of being published. Of course, publishers are not interested in your work unless it’s been produced or unless you’re famous. I started mailing it off to theaters and got them to produce it. A friend of mine in Chicago works at a theatre that only does literary adaptations; they produced it. So my time of networking and making connections helped a bit – friends who own theaters, etc. But even with knowing people, it’s really an issue of material being good. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter who you know or who produces work.
BL: Yes, I was commissioned to write the two Chautauqua pieces that Kevin is performing currently, one on Jefferson Davis and one on Daniel Boone.
UM: How did they develop?
BL: Trish once again. She had been performing the Mary Todd Lincoln piece for Humanities and they wanted to commission these other pieces. I really liked the idea of telling a story, especially historical pieces like these. When I got to know Jefferson Davis, I really began to like him and I wanted to tell his story in a very fair way. The Humanities Council owns the pieces while they’re under contract and there are a bunch of traveling performances yet to come. Kevin’s great in them.
Trish Clark as Mary Todd Lincoln
Kevin Hardesty as Jefferson Davis
UM: Did you feel the burden of the figures being so local and so historical?
BL: Yes. There was good and bad in both characters and it was really about getting honest impressions of them.
UM: People do tend to immediately go to the worst thing with characters, don’t they? Whether historical or not.
BL: Yes, and it’s more about giving the character a truthful and tasteful rendition.
UM: How did Athens get rolling?
BL: Myself, Mark Mozingo, Jeff Day, Kate Goodwin, and Meredith Nelson all got together and discussed our vision of how things could work. For us it involved many meetings in coffee shops with people to get our Equity status.
UM: What was that process like?
BL: We called Equity and they were delighted to have a presence in Lexington. There are not a lot of opportunities in Kentucky for Equity actors.
UM: Do you feel there’s a reason it’s been so seemingly difficult to develop Equity theaters in this region?
BL: Being able to identify the needs of the area is important. We announced ourselves as a company and there was never any intention of coming in to fill a niche that other companies were leaving behind. There were always things in the Lexington Theatre scene in the past that probably hampered progress. The undeniable cliquishness in the community in the past. We’re just trying to rise above whatever did or did not happen before and do the best work we can do. We want more good theatre in this town. If there are two professional theaters in town, there’s more for everybody.
UM: Do you feel the climate’s changed politically, socially, economically?
BL: Yes. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the arts community has improved under Jim Gray’s watch as mayor.
UM: There’s an issue of good theatre happening at the right time. A confluence of influences.
UM: Then there’s just the ability to deliver a sheer number of performances. You have, what, three this season?
BL: Yes. We’ll do three next season, too. We’re slated to do four shows the season after next, so we’re growing.
UM: Do all of the shows fit nicely into the Downtown Arts Center location, or is that a consideration?
BL: Athens has certain limitations. Where we are is limited for our purposes, as there are many other things going on there. We roundtable all of the shows and decide on what would be best, what fits for what is going on socially, politically, etc. In the future we’d like to have more of a unifying thread. The three pieces we have this season are rather disparate, though timely, each in its own way.
One reason we did To Kill a Mockingbird earlier this season is because it was timely for ongoing hot topics in the news and Harper Lee’s new book.
UM: How did the current production, 33 Variations come about?
BL: 33 was on Broadway back in 2009. Moisés Kaufman, who did The Laramie Project, wrote the piece. Laramie was a play near and dear to me, and this newer piece of Kaufman’s is fantastic in a different way. I missed seeing it on Broadway, which I regret deeply, as it would have been a unique experience I’m not going to get again. It’s a hard play to read and there’s a lot of music that coincides with the onstage performances.
UM: Janet Scott is in the fictional role of musicologist Katherine Brandt with Robert Parks Johnson as Beethoven. And Tedrin Blair is doing the music for the show?
BL: Yes! I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be wonderful if Tedrin could do it? It’s so theatrical, so vibrant when you’re in the room. I had no idea if he would step on board, but he did and it’s wonderful.
UM: How have audience responses been?
BL: We sold out opening night and almost sold out the following two performances. It’s a drama, a downer, very serious work, but compelling. I don’t know if it’s because of Mockingbird’s run, or Tedrin or whatever. I hope it’s because there’s an appetite for good, serious, new and interesting work. We’re inventing this as we go along.
UM: Surely you must need to unwind from the intensity of the work.
BL: I’ve been doing a lot of 30 Rock lately. I go to the Re-Store. I collect ugly old lamps. Being in a place where my brain is occupied with other stuff is essential at times.
Ugly old lamp
33 Variations finishes its run this week, running February 18th through the 21st, with evening shows at 8pm and a 2pm matinee on Sunday. Find out more about the show, tickets, and Athens West next season at: athenswest.org, or call (859)425-2550.
The high quality of the Lexington Philharmonic continues with the upcoming production of the oft-played Rimsky-Korsakov classic, Scheherazade. Unlike many productions of well-known works, however, Scheherazade is being given the full treatment as a “Beyond the ScoreⓇ” production. The Chicago Symphony gave birth to the “Beyond the Score” idea and it has seen much success with many symphonies across the country. Here to talk with us about Scheherazade, “Beyond the Score,” and the value of the arts community in general is LexPhil’s music director and conductor Scott Terrell.
UM: Scheherazade. Well-known piece. Rimsky-Korsakov. Tell us about the piece and how the performance on February 5th will be different from the usual fare.
ST: It’s a great orchestral piece on a lot of levels. The story, which is from 1001 Arabian Nights, is always interesting. It’s a piece we’ve done before, but we were looking for something different.
UM: How is this different?
ST: It was some time ago when Chicago created “Beyond the Score,” with standard and non-standard pieces. They wanted to bridge the gap between a veteran concert-goer and a novice concert-goer. It’s a combination of music, actors, video, multimedia. There’s imagery that matches the story and the idea of the piece. The images and the context are both elucidated at the beginning. Some of these standard pieces are done many times in the same way which, over time, can be comfortable, habitual, but not really exciting, new or deeply interesting.
UM: What will this do for the audience?
ST: It gives the musical context and illuminates the times that were going on to create such a piece. Many Russian composers were immersed in Arabian or Middle Eastern music at this time. Growing up in Russia at the time of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov meant being exposed to this other music that was coming in from far-away lands.
UM: What happens in the first part of the show?
ST: Two actors are involved. One is speaking the words of Rimsky-Korsakov, giving his influences and involvements, speaking in first person. The second actor has the storyteller role. This is the voice of Scheherazade, giving the four stories that eventually saved her life. These are 4-5 musical excerpts which last around 50 minutes, what I call a “dissection,” a piece of Scheherazade. After the intermission, we just play the piece and everyone has a context, an understanding of what made this piece come to be.
Scheherazade (view video) was the daughter of the Vizier of (second only to) the King of Persia. When the king’s wife was unfaithful to him, he had her killed. He vowed never to be cheated on again and decided to marry a virgin each day and behead her the next, thereby never giving any woman a chance to make a fool of him again. Many women had been killed in this way, and when the king met Scheherazade, she was to be another victim of this madness. Scheherazade began telling the king stories, always stopping at dawn, each of the 1,001 tales buying her another day of life. By the time she had no more stories to tell, the king had fallen in love with her and she became his reigning queen.
UM: Do you find telling these stories in new and exciting ways is inspiring to your regular patrons?
ST: Absolutely. This puts new eyes on a classic work. For some, it’s a re-discovery, for others it may be brand new, but they are getting the context of the piece, which is more than likely much different than what people received and understood the first time. Scheherazade is one of those story pieces which is very special. In terms of how we present, the first half excerpts are not only from Rimsky-Korsakov, but from other Russian composers, peers of the time, and one can hear the sounds that influenced him through their words as well. This gives immense perspective as to how great the score is. It’s a wonderful, conceptual piece, and people forget how programmatic, but colorful, it is.
UM: Is it a much different experience for the Philharmonic in rehearsals, doing a well-known piece in this “Beyond the Score” fashion?
ST: This will be a different concert piece than what we’re used to. For the members of LexPhil, they have had an experience of not finding his words boring as musicians. We’re all reading through it, saying “That makes a lot more sense now.” If you’re an arts or musical nerd, it’s fascinating to think of how someone comes up with this stuff and “Beyond the Score” has helped to shed light on that for the orchestra, as it will for the viewers.
UM: Is it important to stick with classics from an artistic perspective? I know financially it makes sense, but when preparing the season, and piecing things together?
ST: It’s important to combine the known with the unknown. Most people know this work, so it is known. Doing it the way we’re doing it, though, will be an unknown to everyone. To me, this is much more exciting. There’s always a deeper appreciation when a piece is juxtaposed against something else, particularly the history. “Beyond the Score” has allowed us to juxtapose the piece against itself, in a new and different way from the usual. It is also important to juxtapose one piece against another on a given evening. In April, for instance, we have the Dvorák Symphony No. 9, “New World”, which is a very well-known work. It will be contrasted that evening with the world premiere of Avner Dorman’s After Brahms, as well as Dorman’s Frozen in Time percussion concerto. This will make for a very interesting evening. Known and unknown. Part of the fun is the “I don’t know.” Like I said, the audience may love it or they may not. You have to take a calculated risk as an artist. One never grows through staying comfortable, staying status quo.
UM: What we’re talking about with “Beyond the Score,” putting together known works in as-yet-unknown ways: is this trending with other orchestras striving to be new and cutting edge?
ST: Yes. This is one of the things at which modern orchestras have become very adept, with Chicago leading the pack: a way to reach out and engage the audiences. How can we get more people into the hall? I’m very proud we’ve come along this path by responding to the audiences. How can we build and grow and give our audience something meaningful? Rather than orchestras reacting to a bad year or season of low attendance after the fact. It’s much better if we are proactive. Find out what people in 2016 are wanting out of their Philharmonic. This idea is being used all over the country with great success.
UM: Particular to Rimsky-Korsakov’s work in general, do orchestras look forward to doing it? Is it a favorite?
ST: From Rimsky-Korsakov’s perspective, this sound defines him. Most people will tell you he was one of the greatest orchestrators to ever live. He actually wrote books on orchestration. Because he really knew what he was doing, it always makes it a great pleasure and challenge for orchestras to come together on it. It’s good for the orchestra, too. They realize it’s a big chunk of music, not just this piece, but everything in the program. It’s always important that there’s perspective. As a conductor, I try to constantly listen with “new ears” and see the old and new influences and perspectives. What’s tricky about Scheherazade, mainly because it’s such a complex orchestral work, is that the brilliance of the piece begs the questions, “Why did it come about? What was going through the composer’s mind?” This is something the “Beyond the Score” process can answer and that informs the entire experience. We often take it for granted when we just hear the piece performed with nothing else. People will have a much deeper appreciation of the work when they hear it.
“1001 Arabian Nights” has its roots in the folklore of Persia and India, which scholars believe formed the early versions of the work. “Nights” was first published in the early 1700s, and it is believed by this time, having been translated into Arabic, many Arabic stories were added to the original list. These all culminated in the work we know today, which has influenced art, film, and of course, music. The most famous translation of the massive work was completed by Britain’s renowned Renaissance Man of the 19th century, Sir Richard Francis Burton.
UM: It seems LexPhil has really branched out in the last five years or so. I know the question is always there, but more recently it’s really been put to the Lexington community about the value of the arts in our lives. What’s your take on that?
ST: The arts are as important as they ever were. The various arts entities in this area work with each other to bring things to life. What is often the case in the arts is: “what do they bring to the economy of Lexington?”
UM: There’s always the issue of money.
ST: Yes. And it is simply not enough to walk on stage and leave. There has to be advocacy through education, outreach, etc. One sees a lot of fear when the arts are threatened, but also a lot of people have been standing up and saying we must have them. People know inherently that the arts are integral to who we are, what we do, where we come from.
UM: No matter how much one may deny that fact, it will always be there, won’t it?
ST: There has to be a lot work beyond our individual realms. It gets people reinvigorated, reinitiated to life.
For many years in the Lexington community the name Joe Ferrell and theatre have been synonymous. Joe has helmed many productions, ranging from Shakespeare to the modern classics, under a myriad of venues. The deep and abiding love Joe has for good theatre and artistic process is rivaled only by his love for family and the friendships he’s developed over a five-decade career. His wife, Sheila Omer Ferrell, is the Executive Director of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in Lexington. Their daughter, Hannah, has grown up in Lexington after her parents settled down here to start a family in the 80s. Joe speaks candidly with UnderMain contributor Charles Sebastian about family, theatre, and his newest project as director, the Woodford Theatre’s current production, Of Mice and Men.
UM: Let me start by saying I’m sorry the snow affected opening night for Of Mice and Men. The show’s slated to run three weeks, correct?
JF: Yes, the show runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at Woodford until February 7.
UM: How did the show take shape?
JF: I had directed the show at Actor’s Guild in the late 90s. I hadn’t directed it up to that point. I had played Lennie doing some scene work for some of my graduate courses. It’s a remarkable piece of work. I like to do so many different kinds of things as a director. That period of time was so difficult for people, especially in the mid-West and West Coast regions. There was a lot of difficulty just in staying alive.
UM: We’re talking 1930s, when Steinbeck was writing.
JF: Yes. Steinbeck talks so strongly in the play about loneliness and the difficulty of living. The loneliness, I feel, is a central theme of the work. The need for individuals to not just relate to one another, but to really be connected. The guys in the play were almost envious of their relationship between George and Lennie.
UM: Even though it is rocky and unpredictable at times.
JF: The relationship between the two has all of the ins and outs, ups and downs. It deals with, in 1936 terms, what was then called the American Dream. The two characters wanted to follow their own muse and not be under the thumb of a boss. The inherent failure of that for the characters is heart-breaking.
UM: There is something universal about the relationship, isn’t there?
JF: George and Lennie have their dream about where they’re going and what they’re trying to do, but Lennie’s unpredictable and essentially is just interested in petting things. George can’t let Curly just run off and assassinate Lennie, so he decides to put Lennie out of his misery.
UM: A mercy killing.
JF: Yes. There’s just no way George can protect Lennie after a time.
UM: There’s a sense of it being better being put out of your misery by someone you know, someone who cares about you, instead of some random executioner.
JF: And that makes for a very sad and touching situation.
UM: A lesser of two evils situation.
JF: Yes. Hard decisions. Life was a lot harder in Dust Bowl, 1930s America.
UM: It’s interesting that the play focuses so much on male relationships, though there is the one female character.
JF: There’s only one woman in the play, and she’s constantly referred to as the tart.
UM: Courtney Waltermire plays Curly’s wife.
JF: Yes. Courtney has the kinds of things that all of us who try to do good theatre are born with. Instincts. A lot of this is an openness to trying new things. Courtney could have a career, if that’s what she wanted. Curly’s wife is portrayed as a lot of women were at that time: not particularly smart and longing for somebody to talk to; she has her own version of the American Dream. She feels pretty and someone from Hollywood told her she was pretty, so she’s concocted her own dream of being found.
UM: The old Veronica Lake, discovered in a bar deal.
JF: Right. She’s sorry that she got married to Curly, and Curly isn’t a very nice guy.
UM: She’s looking to escape.
JF: All the men are living hand-to-mouth, living in a bunkhouse. Curly is one of the smallest of the men; one could say he has short man’s syndrome. He’s always uptight.
UM: Is research and dramaturgy a big deal on a play like this, one that has seen so many performances and is so well-known?
JF: Absolutely. I research the play and we have a rehearsal period, just talking about the play, including its historical significance. I’m always encouraging the actors to research and know the period and place on their own. Two people could come up with two different viewpoints on what the play is and how to manage it.
UM: You’ve worked with many of the actors in this production often over the years. Walter Tunis, Paul Thomas, Jeff Sherr, Kevin Hardesty. Does having a history with actors make the process easier?
JF: Absolutely. Trust is such a big issue with being able to play and explore. If you already have a relationship, it makes things move faster and makes getting to some truth much easier. Knowing a lot of these actors helps so much with trust. You have a good idea of where they can go. It doesn’t have to start from the ground up. You know where you are and how to work. You have a good idea of how they can move through process.
UM: How did you come to Lexington theatre, Joe? You’re originally from out west, right?
JF: I was born and raised in Montana and went to the University of Montana. I went on a football/academic scholarship and I came out of a town where all you did was play sports. The University of Montana was not all that big, but it had so many courses and areas for a kid like myself. No one in my family had been to college. I had an advisor in the English Department named Walter King, who was a Shakespeare scholar. I became an English major and Shakespeare was my focus then, with a minor in speech. We were on a quarter system, and the last quarter I had a speech teacher ask me to be in a play he was doing for the Theatre Department. I absolutely loved the experience and I felt like doors had been closed all my life and now they were somehow opened. I intuitively knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. I was sent to Korea during Viet Nam and made arrangements when I got back to go to do Masters work in Theatre; I saw the opportunity to plunge in and get involved as much as I wanted to. I hadn’t had that kind of experience or drive for anything up to that point. I had been in a class play in high school, but it was nothing compared to the experience that came later. I feel overall I’ve been very lucky with the course my life has taken.
UM: What prompted the move to this area?
JF: I came to Kentucky when I was in the first year of my doctoral program at the University of Iowa. I finished the doctorate at Indiana, as I wasn’t that happy with the program in Iowa. Georgetown College hired me. This was around 1971. They had an old theatre where the administration building is now. The Falling Springs Recreation Center. They had what were called “resistance dimmers” in the old theatre then. Sparks would fly out when you used them. Dangerous.
UM: Was the program progressive at the time?
JF: They had a small theatre curriculum at the time and wanted to expand. We developed a lot of great productions over those years. The kids who came were smart and ambitious. Some went on to do film, television, Broadway. J.C. Montgomery, who’s done a lot of Broadway and film work at this point, came out of that time.
UM: When did you make the transition to teaching at UK?
JF: I came to work at UK around 1979-80 from Georgetown, which gave me the opportunity to focus on acting and directing. I was doing a lot of other stuff at Georgetown. I was the only full time theatre guy at UK. It was my time to learn and develop ways of doing things that were essential. I didn’t have people looking over my shoulder and telling me I was doing everything wrong. It was good to be able to spend time at UK.
UM: You were at UK for awhile.
Sheila, Joe and Hannah Ferrell
JF: Yes. Then, around 1985, Sheila and I married and we went to New York for 5 or so years and I did a lot of off and off-off Broadway. I loved New York and going to the shows. I finally looked at where we were and what we were doing, and we thought the thing to do was come back here, as we wanted to have a baby.
UM: Your daughter, Hannah.
JF: Yes. We thought this would be a better location for family.
UM: That was around the time I met you.
JF: I got a call from the people in Lexington. They were asking me to come and do Shakespeare in the Park.
UM: 1989. You directed King Lear. My first show with you. Shakespeare in the Park at Woodland. Fred Foster as Lear. Joe Gatton. Roger Leasor.
JF: That was the first show I did after we moved back.
UM: Were you able to plug back into UK when you returned?
JF: Actually, Fort Knox had just built a huge program. Not many people know this, but there are some posts around the country that have Department of Defense Education Activities, and Fort Knox was one of them. Sheila and I were doing theatre in Louisville around this time, and she was also offered a job in the Fort Knox area.Later, somewhere in the 90s, I started the Phoenix Group Theatre with Kevin Hardesty, Sheila, Joe Gatton, Walter Tunis, and others at the downtown library. Sheila was pregnant with Hannah.
UM: You continued at Fort Knox for quite some time?
JF: Yes. I retired from Fort Knox around 2008 and essentially have been doing what I want to do – Woodford Theatre and other projects.
UM: Do you try to stay current with newer theatre trends?
JF: If you’re going to do this stuff, you have to be looking at what’s out there. Examine what’s going on in different theatre scenes.
UM: But do things change a great deal overall?
JF: As a director, I’m one who wants to explore, instead of coming in and just blocking it out. I believe just line interpretation winds up not coming across well. Creating a safe space to explore allows actors to build and be fearless when they see a new way of doing it.
UM: Do you find that shows that keep coming around, like Of Mice and Men, for instance, have a universality absent in many pieces?
JF: One of the things I’ve always liked about a good play and the people who write the good ones, is that the speeches are all words we recognize, but written in a very special way: the language in the play is created by dialogues and speeches that are designed to take you in a certain direction. We can have a random conversation any given day, but in a good play, the world is being built by these conversations.
UM: Are you pretty much keeping the same schedule you always have?
JF: I did three plays last years and Mice has been the only one this year. I would like to see something spring to life in Lexington again. Athens West could be the answer. It’s challenging being an Equity theatre, so it’s going to be great to see where they go. I loved teaching in college and loved teaching all of the stuff that I had learned. We have lots of serious theatre-goers who see what’s up on stage. I sometimes worry about where our audiences are going.
UM: Are you referring to the “dumbing down” that’s been happening gradually in the arts in general?
JF: Yes. Things are just different today. So many of the plays remain relevant, but it seems like audiences respond differently today to some things.
UM: Are there certain works you look to as seminal or influential on your life and career, Joe?
JF: The Empty Space by Peter Brook comes to mind. Uta Hagen’s work and a lot of the stuff that came out of the Group Theatre. Clurman. The Stanislavski stuff that eventually paved the way for the Actor’s Studio. Many books have been written on that, of course. A lot of those people wound up turning theatre on its edge.
UM: Roughly a hundred years ago. The “Russian Invasion.”
JF: Right. The end of the 1800s was so overblown in terms of acting.
UM: You’re speaking of the Declamatory style?
UM: Nowadays you just see it done for laughs, just for the sake of being stodgy.
JF: Getting past that and to a deeper truth makes for much better work.
UM: Are you excited by certain playwrights? Are there plays you would like to do that you haven’t yet?
JF: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was astonishing for its language at the time. Of course, that’s been awhile ago now. A Winter’s Tale would be interesting, and doesn’t get played often. Neil Simon hasn’t been done as much here as I would like to see. Williams is important. I’ve done Glass Menagerie three times, but that material can always be revisited. O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. The trend for heavier and longer plays doesn’t seem to be too much on the scene of late, though. It was wonderful we were able to do Venus and Fur at the Farish Theatre, through Balagula. That was one I had wanted to do for awhile.
UM: The theatre for you and the people you work with: it all seems to have a very family feel to it.
JF: You come out of these projects making close friends. Ultimately, good plays are about the relationships that drive us in life. Any of the good plays show how people interact, betray one another, love each other. There’s always the standard conflict stuff, that should be in any good play. I’m as fascinated today by what we can create onstage as I was all those years ago when I started. It’s just amazing what comes out of the rehearsals and what you wind up with as a final product. It affects people in so many ways and I’m affected by it.
UM: Sounds like it’s really about people for you.
JF: The important thing for me is always the people. Designers, actors, all of the making-of process, with so many wonderful talents: that’s what really drives me.
(Photo by Alberta Lanceta Labrillazo) Joe with Kevin Hardesty and Walter Tunis
Please visit either of the following sites for tickets or more info on Of Mice and Men:
If you’ve been a practitioner or spectator of Lexington theatre in the last 34 years, the name Kevin Hardesty has most likely not escaped you. Kevin has built a reputation as an actor of film, television, and stage during that time and has come to be known as a lead actor for a wide range of roles and abilities. He currently is starring in the Chautauqua series in dual roles: Jefferson Davis and Daniel Boone. In addition, the Woodford Theatre production of Of Mice and Men goes up January 22, in which Kevin reprises his role as George. Kevin was kind enough to take a few minutes with Under Main contributor and actor Charles Sebastian.
UM: I’d like to start with what you’re doing presently. Tell us about Chautauqua and your roles in the shows.
KH: The Chautauqua Program’s been around a long time, about 25 years. A few years ago, Trish Clark, who runs the Woodford Theatre, started doing Mary Todd Lincoln for them. She asked Bo List to write the script for her and he did. She told me it was a unique experience as an actor. I put in my application two years ago and worked with Bo to do Jefferson Davis as a character. They had an early audition in January and they take five new characters every two years.
Bo and I worked for about a year rehearsing, researching. The process goes through several reviews with the Humanities Council. We worked with Jim Rodgers as my drama consultant. Jim and I have a long history going back to my UK days.
UM: Yes, you were at UK Theatre. How has that developed you and your career?
KH: I actually still use that training and material to this day, preparing for roles. Jim Rodgers was there, Russell Henderson, and a lot of other great teachers.
UM: So, Chautauqua sounds very involved, preparation-wise.
KH: It’s a long, involved process and took roughly a year. I’ve learned a lot about the two characters by being in their skin.
UM: How did the Daniel Boone role come to you?
KH: The gentleman who was doing Daniel Boone moved out of state. They had an open audition, and I got the part. I wound up launching both Daniel Boone and Jefferson Davis late last August.
UM: It seems there have always been misconceptions about Boone, but did you find that to be true of Jefferson Davis?
KH: What is amazing is how many people have heard the name, but really don’t know what he did or the impact he had on the time. Most people in Lexington remember the old Jefferson Davis Inn, named after Davis, more readilythan knowing the man. Davis was born in Kentucky and had a big impact on the state, and he also had a great passion for his home state of Mississippi, where his family moved when he was young.
UM: Do you feel a lot of responsibility for getting things historically accurate, especially with such a pivotal figure in US history?
KH: Well, aside from the historical aspect, Davis was an interesting man. If the Civil War hadn’t happened, he probably would’ve been president. He built the aqueduct systems in Washington and developed the war machinery that drove the fight between north and south. I thought, ‘let’s do our best to paint this guy as a man of passion and a product of his time.’ Regarding the accuracy, I considered writing the pieces myself, but I’m not a writer. That’s why I approached Bo List.
UM: Did you feel people like or dislike this character, people who still see a Mason-Dixon line, or even political sympathizers that may not like to see JD portrayed?
KH: I thought there was a chance no one would want to see Davis embodied, as he was on the wrong side of history. It was part of the 200-year anniversary of the end of the Civil War. There was also another issue: the shootings in South Carolina last year. We had been working on the project close to a year, and all of a sudden there was all this horrible stuff in the news and we certainly didn’t want to fan the flames.
The Charleston Church Massacre, as it has come to be called, became the largest church shooting in American history. Attempting to incite race riots, 21-year old Dylann Roof opened fire on the congregation at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015, killing 9 people.
UM: So there was a strong question-mark hanging in the air about it being an appropriate time to go showcasing well-known Southern figures, the images of whom many people may see when thinking of the American South during slave times.
KH: Right. I talked to Ben Chandler, who is the Director of the Humanities Council, and asked him about the Davis material and if he thought it needed to be shelved. He said it was a piece of history and Chautauqua was a great venue to show it. 99 percent of the people who have come have loved it.
UM: That’s great. It’s developed a long run, too, yes?
KH: To date I’ve done 65 performances and about 75-80 percent are Boone. I have another 35 shows booked for spring. I’ll end up doing over 100 shows.
UM: How exactly do the shows get booked?
KH: The Humanities Council puts out a catalogue every year and bookings are done based on this. We may get K-12 teachers who want the performances for their students, or people who are involved in some kind of historical society. So Humanities offers the program, but the individuals who go through the catalogues choose what they want. These are the most challenging roles I’ve ever done as an actor.
UM: You mean the historical issue, or the solo issue?
KH: Both, but especially the solo thing. You’re the only one out there. You know how it is: there’s no one to throw the ball to.
UM: All up to you.
UM: And, a different audience every time.
KH: Yes! One day you might be changing in a broom closet somewhere and playing to a group of kids, the next time a different venue with a whole different set-up.
UM: I would imagine the audiences would be vastly different than even when people do the highly-detailed Civil War reenactments.
KH: Yes. Varied.
UM: I’m sure it’s challenging, but I’m sure you love the challenge. The plays I did with you years ago, you were always professional, prepared and we had a good time.
UM: I actually learned quite a bit from you in those days. One thing that really stands out in my mind, though, was finally understanding that process is what theatre’s all about.
UM: I’d heard that from acting teachers, I’d heard it at UK many times, read it in the usual acting texts, but you and I were doing Inherit the Wind 20 plus years ago. Shakespeare in the Park when it used to be at Woodland Park. We were rehearsing in some basement somewhere and you said to me: process is always what it’s about. I had thought of theatre up to that point as more of oil painting or tableaux, instead of living, breathing, constantly changing. That it was expected to, encouraged to, change in each moment. Probably one of the best lessons I ever learned.
KH: Oh, man, thanks for telling me that.
UM: I’m glad I have a chance to in a very public way.
For anyone interested in booking the Chautauqua performances, please visit kyhumanties.org for a list of the characters with descriptions. You can also check out Kevin’s FB Chautauqua page.
UM: Let’s turn our focus to Of Mice and Men. The show goes up at the Woodford Theatre on January 22.
KH: Yes, three weekends. Jan. 22-Feb. 7. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each week.
UM: What drew you to the material?
KH: Well, I did Of Mice and Men when I was at Actor’s Guild around 1999, with Joe Ferrell directing. You probably know Beth Kirchner built Woodford Theatre up and when she retired in 2011, Trish Clark took it over. Trish had been talking to Joe Farrell and Woodford had been doing a lot of lighter fare. They were thinking about something a bit more serious. Joe called me and asked if I would like to revisit it and I said ‘hell yeah.’
UM: Was it a vastly different experience than it was years ago?
KH: Oh, yes. There is always the issue with the word on the page being so important. Respect for the work and the playwright is crucial. Good writers take a lot of time and care making sure every piece is where it should be.
UM: Steinbeck’s no lightweight, and Mice is probably his best-known story.
KH: Right. And my job is always to tell the story, no matter how well-known it is. But, of course, I’m older, it’s a different venue, different time, and it’s all great.
UM: Looking at the cast, you’re sharing the stage with some wonderful people: Walter Tunis as Lennie, Paul Thomas, Demetrius Conley-Williams, some very seasoned actors in the community. Courtney Waltermire is an amazing talent. She was a student of mine at Asbury and I felt she really had a presence in a lot of the scene work she did.
KH: It’s a great cast all around. They’re all magnificent.
UM: Do you like the Woodford Theatre experience?
KH: I have to say I don’t believe I’ve ever worked on a show where I’ve felt more supported. The theatre itself is a terrific facility, and everything is carefully planned and you have a network of people that makes everything work well. Woodford has their own space, great technical elements, designers and technicians. It’s a fully-functioning theatre.
UM: Support and freedom to create is so important, isn’t it?
KH: It’s a huge part of process. It’s one of the marvelous things about working with Joe Ferrell. We’ve done so many shows together now and as a director he is superb at creating a space, an environment where you feel safe and you can really do your best work.
UM: You mean he lets it be what it is?
KH: There’s guidance and direction, of course, but he let’s you experiment and find the character and voice that will bring a truthful and watchable character to the audience. Many directors are not like that. So, yes, I’ve grown as an actor since I played George before, Woodford is doing some amazing work, and it’s great to work with Joe. The foundation is there and a highly-supportive environment. It’s interesting, Joe has always managed to draw people together in an group of trust and creativity. You feel safe taking risks and you don’t feel like you’re being judged. The magic happens. He allows it to be a natural growth of the people and the words. It’s rare in directors, actually.
UM: I suppose there have to be a number of elements to make sure the show works and the house stays packed.
KH: That’s always the balance. Trish has built a huge and loyal audience and the productions stay full. The practical element of feeling safe must play to ticket sales. It’s a hard thing to do, to produce theatre. It’s expensive, even in those cases when shows are not paying everyone their full value.
UM: What do you value a lot in the craft? For yourself, or from other actors.
KH: Being prepared, ready to go. I use the same warmups Russell Hendersonand others at UK taught me 30 years ago. Getting on with the work. Being real and truthful.
UM: Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, the old Meisner adage. More good theatre for everyone.
KH: More good theatre for everyone.
UM: Going deeper, Kevin: what is it that has kept you in the theatre so long?
KH: That’s hard to say. I know my passion for the theatre came first as an audience member at the Diner’s Playhouse, which is now defunct. My mother would take me to all the shows. I remember being 10-12 years old and being mesmerized. Mr. Roberts was at the Diner’s, and I remember that show really affecting me. In high school I was cast in a play and I found self-worth and much-needed involvement in something I wanted to do. When I moved on to UK Theatre, I played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I was 17. I had found this thing that was central to my life. Maybe I would’ve felt the same way if I went to law school.
UM: Perhaps, but do you subscribe to the notion that performance is something you’re born to and can’t escape?
KH: Definitely. There’s no escape.
UM: It wasn’t long after UK that you went out west, right?
KH: Yes, I had the privilege to work as a professional for a number of years out in LA. Actually, I was in a touring production of Biloxi Blues and I found an agent in LA and went where the work was.
UM: Film work. Heathers; Happy Together.
KH: I was fortunate to work.
UM: Film, stage, video, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
KH: Not really. The work is what always draws me. Chautauqua is a three-year contract. One of the real values in taking the show all over and sometimes taking it to this little nook or cranny is that some of these people have never seen a live theatre performance. That sounds unbelievable, but there are many parts of this state where people have not seen live theatre.
UM: That’s amazing. It makes you wonder the impact you’re having on people through the arts. I mean, we all set values differently. If you had never experienced live theatre and then someone came along and gave you a good show, you just wonder how you’re shaping that person in their thinking and what they choose in life.
KH: Absolutely. I was doing a Daniel Boone performance, and afterward a little girl came up to me. Her head was shaved and she was clinging to me after the show.
UM: She was living with cancer, you mean?
KH: Not sure. She was sick.
UM: And something spoke to her in your performance?
KH: Right. It was a powerful moment for me. I remember wondering how what I was doing must be helping her in some way.
UM: Perhaps she was having a similar transformative experience to what you had back at the Diner’s Theatre. That’s the job, isn’t it? Being present in a truthful way, and transporting people to another place.
Thursday, November 20th, sees the opening night of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the second play in the AthensWest inaugural season. After the first play of the season, “Doubt,” met with critical and commercial success, the new theatre group is pressing forward, changing the face of Lexington Theatre. Joining me to talk about ‘Mockingbird,’ AthensWest, and the new vision of theatre in this region, are Jeff Day and Mark Mozingo, co-founders of Lexington’s newest theatre group.
UM: Jeff, thanks for taking time to talk about the show and Athens. What was the process that brought about Mockingbird as the second show in the season?
JD: Well, it’s pertinent to now. What’s going on today is what was happening when Harper Lee wrote the book in 1960.
UM: Such a well-known book and it translates well as a play. Did the release of the new Lee novel have any bearing on the board’s decision.
JD: Of course. We knew Lee was very much in the public eye with her new book, and we knew this would be an incredible play to put up.
Harper Lee’s novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” was published this year and contains many of the same characters from her classic story. The film of “To Kill a Mockingbird” appeared a few years after its publication and starred Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall. It stands as one on the all-time classics of American cinema. Lee said of Horton Foote’s screenplay: “it’s one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.”
UM: AthensWest is housed at the Downtown Arts Center, correct?
JD: Yes. The Center was taken over by Parks and Recreation and we have a wonderful working relationship with them. We’re all highly affiliated with LexArts as well. The coming together of many arts groups, we feel, is what Lexington has been needing for many years.
UM: How did AthensWest come about?
JD: We started initially because we had the dream of creating an Equity theatre in Lexington. For so long a time there has been no Equity theatre and we were wanting to up the standard, not from the standpoint of having only Equity actors, but having the guidelines that professional theaters outside of Lexington must have.
UM: For those who may not know, Actors’ Equity is a professional organization that actors can belong to. Most Equity actors are encouraged to take roles only in productions sanctioned by Equity.
JD: Right. It also ensures that actors get a decent wage for their time and effort and so on. This has been a big struggle for actors in this region for years, where weeks and months would be spent on a show, many times needing to take time off from day jobs or being away from family with no compensation other than your name in a playbook. In Spring of 2014, I put a big proposal together, I met with the mayor, and I’d already been in conversation with Bo List. Bo and I started meeting on a regular basis. I was in a production of Twelfth Night and one evening, after a performance, Bo came to me and said, “let’s do Doubt,” which became Athens first play. We held open auditions. Bo and I were doing everything at first, then we enlisted Mark and Kate Goodwin.
UM: And by Mark, you mean Mark Mozingo, who we happen to have here with us. Mark, thanks for joining us.
MM: Glad to be here.
UM: What is your role at AthensWest, Mark. No pun intended. (no laughs)
MM: I’m officially the Director of Outreach.
UM: Unlike Jeff, you’re from this area, correct?
MM: Yes. I’m a Winchester boy. I moved back here from New York City, where I had been acting professionally since 2006.
UM: What caused you to move home?
MM: My father had taken ill and I moved back to support.
UM: Sorry to hear that. Mockingbird is an interesting play to take on; the racial issues alone are palpable.
MM: It’s challenging hearing the “n” word every night. It’s shocking to hear white actors using the word in it’s original hateful context, and I think it’s important for audiences to experience that too. It’s jarring. It’s upsetting. Not just challenging; it’s an ugly part of our national history.
UM: Surely. Do you feel times have changed?
MM: Perhaps. It’s 2015, this was set in 1935. We like to think things have changed so much; maybe they have and maybe they haven’t. We did “Scout’s Honor: To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Public Library on November 9th. One of the key issues discussed was: where does the law come in on things like racism?
UM: Were there any good answers?
MM: Varied. What is certain is the viewpoint of Atticus in the play.
UM: Atticus Finch, you mean. The lawyer.
MM: Yes. He believes that everyone is indeed equal in the eyes of the law. It’s such a subjective thing, though. Is it that we’re all equal by right of birth, by being born American? What constitutes equality? Atticus took on the case because he believed in the equality of the law. It’s also shocking and powerful to hear the dialogue of 1935, not just racial slurring.
UM: Tom Robinson, the slighted black man in Mockingbird, is played by Patrick Mitchell.
MM: Yes, and he’s wonderful. Patrick is one of the founding members of The Message Theatre here in Lexington, along with former Poet Laureate, Frank X. Walker. Tom Robinson is a challenging, racially-charged part to play. At one point in the play, Atticus is asked: “do all lawyers defend negroes?” It’s hard to know if Atticus is really that color-blind or if he truly was invested in the belief that all are equal under the law.
UM: One would like to think in this day and age, unlike in the 1930s, racism would be thought of as a learned behavior.
MM: Maybe by some, not by all.
UM: I suppose we can point to many recent events to see that racial intolerance is alive and well.
MM: It’s interesting that there was such a mood of equality in the 1960s, right after the book was written. I haven’t read the new novel by Lee, but apparently Finch isn’t as equality-minded as he was in Mockingbird.
When “To Kill a Mockingbird” first appeared in 1960, it was a huge hit. It then won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961. Gregory Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Atticus Finch in 1962 and Lee was appointed to the National Arts Council in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
UM: So, the question arises, was Finch always this way, or was the character developed from trending times. Did Lee become more intolerant and it bled through to her characters?
MM: Hard to say.
UM: I did read where the manuscript to Go Set a Watchman, which was published earlier this year, was the original incarnation of Mockingbird. Mark, How did you come to be involved with AthensWest?
MM: Bo and I reconnected and we met with Jeff, Margo Buchanan and Leslie Beatty. We talked about what professional theatre meant to us and what it could mean to central KY.
UM: Jeff, I worked with you over at Asbury, you’ve been there now, what, 12 years?
UM: And you came to Kentucky by way of LA and Utah, right?
JD: I spent time in LA and I did an MFA at the University of Utah.
UM: And you’ve been tasked with directing Mockingbird.
JD: Yes, and it’s been wonderful. For transparency’s sake, I must say, however, that I did step down from the board; there are just too many irons in the fire between my role at Asbury, maintaining a professional career, and other projects. I will remain at Athens from a creative standpoint, which is perfect for me, as I’ve always been an idea guy. I like to get stuff started.
UM: I know getting an equity theatre going has been a dream and goal of yours for some time, Jeff. What process did you have to go through to make it happen.
JD: It’s odd, because so many people act like it’s a huge thing; really, it was just a matter of filling out the proper paperwork. We have become a full Equity company, officially carrying the SPT3 (Small Professional Theatre) status. To meet the parameters of this, we have to hire at least two equity actors per show. Many actors in the community would like to eventually become Equity but haven’t had the opportunity in Lexington, because shows are non-equity and therefore are not given credit and weight in the eyes of equity. It is with enough of these credits that Actors Equity finally grants an actor their Equity Card. For those who are not full equity, we have negotiated the Equity Candidacy Program, which allows non-equity members to receive credit, thereby moving them closer to obtaining their card.
UM: That sounds like a great program. I know a lot of actors in the community who have struggled with this issue for years. Mark, how else do you think this might change theatre in Lexington?
MM: There’s not a lot of room for favoritism or precasting roles, which has been a sore spot in Lexington for a long time. We’re trying to do it the right way. When we say we want to engage this community and Central KY with quality theatre, we mean it.
JD: When we cast this show, there were open auditions and we didn’t have anyone in mind. It was a blank slate. We have a lot of people in this cast who would like to have a career in acting and they can join equity eventually, if they want to, given these experiences.
MM: Working in New York as I did for years, there’s simply no room in a community like that for playing favorites and boosting egos; what’s important is who is the best candidate for the job. Shoo-ins and preconceptions are out.
UM: Do you feel this has been an issue in the past?
MM: Not with all theatre in Lexington, but yes.
UM: Aside from the credits actors will receive and the base pay, which I’m sure they love, how do you think this will affect the quality of shows?
MM: There’s a difference between going to see a union show with professional actors vs. non-professionals. There’s a level of training there that may not be present in non-equity. Is it true that there are great actors who don’t have their cards and crappy ones who do? Yes. Is it more likely you’ll have a performance standard that will make you happy you invested your time, money, and effort to come out in the evening with an Equity-backed show? Definitely.
UM: So, it’s like having your uncle over to fix your sink. He knows a little something about plumbing, and he does a great job, though he may not be bonded and licensed as a plumber. Then, there are numerous stories of licensed plumbers whose work isn’t the best quality; you call them two days later to do the same repair.
MM: Yes. The time is right for Lexington Theatre to move up. A lot of times, when you’re in a union, you can’t get work if you are in a denser area like New York City or LA. Here, there are many roles with open auditions; the opportunities are vast. This is especially true since there are so many Equity theaters in Kentucky: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jenny Wiley has a huge operation going. When you’re in a community where there’s not a huge scene for theatre, but there are some roles to be had, it is a point of pride to get your card and be in a process where the bar is intentionally set a bit higher. As a union actor, it was a big deal for me to negotiate along with the others at Athens West, this contract that is helping to open the door for Lexington and give more value and credence to our artistic community.
UM: Is Athens going to expand its season?
JD: Next year we want to shoot for four shows, but it may stay at three; we’ll have to wait and see.
MM: We’re happy we’ve been able to do this three-show season.
UM: What’s next?
JD: We have Bo List directing 33 Variations for February, which has already been cast.
MM: And then Margo Buchanan will direct Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, which is a Bluegrass musical. Michael Hume will be the musical director for it.
This weekend sees five performances of The Producers at the Lexington Opera House. The musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 2001, has become a smash-hit adaptation of Mel Brooks’ 1968 debut film of the same title. Playing Leo Bloom, the lovable neurotic originated by Gene Wilder, is Richard Lafleur. Here’s my conversation with Richard about the show, himself, and theatre in general.
Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom and Jessica Ernest as Ulla in THE PRODUCERS
UM: How long have you been on the road and how long is this tour?
RL: Almost a month. We end in mid-March, after 50 cities.
UM: Have the reviews and audiences been as expected?
RL: Well, we’ve been mostly in the northeast for the first part of the tour, and they all have loved the performances, so we’re excited to see what Lexington will think.
UM: Even with that kind of challenging schedule you must be riding high to have landed such a great role.
RL: It’s hard for me to believe. I didn’t initially see myself as Leo; the part had to grow on me quite a bit. They must have seen something in me during the audition process.
UM: So, you went through the process from beginning to end, it wasn’t a shoo-in?
RL: No. I went through the whole deal. I graduated this past December and saw they were casting Producers. I had been doing musicals on cruise ships and some of the material was getting a bit stale for me, so I went for it.
UM: You are from Montreal, right?
RL: Yes. Canadian. Not so much theatre in Montreal. I did a few plays in high school. I wound up getting into AMDA for musical theatre.
UM: The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.
RL: Right. After that it was off to the cruise ships and while we were docked in Southampton, I wound up auditioning at the Bristol Old Vic.
The Old Vic is one of the best-loved and most-revered theaters in the world, boasting colossal talents like Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Peter O’Toole.
UM: I’ll bet that was quite an experience.
RL: Incredible. The work ethic alone is outstanding. There is zero margin for error and excellence is expected daily. It was a 2-year course.
UM: I would imagine the classics were worked thoroughly.
RL: Oh, yes. I did a lot of Shakespeare there and it was wonderful. There are many terrific and well-known actors who are still very invested in the place, it being their alma mater. Daniel Day-Lewis, Patrick Stewart; the list is long.
UM: Any fun shows you particularly liked?
RL: Comedy of Errors and Northanger Abbey are up there.
UM: Comedy or drama? Preference?
RL: I feel more at home with comedy than straight drama.
UM: ‘A very serious business,’ like George Burns always said.
RL: Yes. Playing comedy for laughs doesn’t work.
UM: The impeccable timing needed for comedy goes hand-in-hand with musical ability. Do you feel working the classics really enhanced your musical theatre chops?
RL: Absolutely. If you notice, many of the men and women getting choice roles for television and film today are Brits, most of whom are people deeply grounded in the classics. They not only have a solid foundation in their craft, but they have spent a great deal of time with the pieces that have stood the test of time.
RL: Benedict Cumberbatch. We already mentioned Patrick Stewart.
UM: Are there some Americans, or even Canadians you admire who are similarly rooted in the classic training?
RL: Kevin Spacey. American actor rooted in the classics.
UM: I heartily agree.
RL: When I was studying at the Old Vic, Peter O’Toole passed away. Spacey had become the Artistic Director at the Old Vic some time ago and he came to speak to us after O’Toole’s death and it was amazing being able to talk with him.
UM: He seems to be a real presence and he definitely seems rooted in classical training.
RL: Yes. There’s just something about that training that allows one to be available to many venues.
UM: To have a wider palette?
UM: Producers debuted in 2001 at the St. James Theatre.
RL: Yes. Susan Stroman directed that production. She’s won a Tony Award for it, and she actually came and gave her blessing to our production before we started the tour.
UM: That must’ve been empowering.
RL: It was great.
UM: Who directed this show?
RL: Nigel West, who is terrific . He’s had a massive amount of experience as an assistant director, particularly with Producers, so he is a wonderful source for the materialand knowing what works.
Nigel West started with the Bristol Old Vic in 1983. His credits are many from not only the Old Vic, but many other theatre associations abroad. He was a part of the original, 3-year Producers, tour and is well-known in professional theatre circles.
UM: Was there a tendency or desire on West’s part to rehash the original production? Matthew Broderick had originated the musical Leo Bloom under Stroman. Was there a sense of ‘let’s just replicate that’?
RL: Well, Nigel asked us to be true to the original Broadway production, but to bring a lot of our own stock to the show.
UM: Do you think you fall more on the Wilder side of Leo, or the Broderick?
RL: I’d say in-between. Maybe leaning just a bit more to Wilder.
UM: How so?
RL: Well, I had done quite a bit of research stemming from Wilder. I read Gene Wilder’s bio and he mentioned that Leo Bloom had been based on a character Mel Brooks knew. This, to me, smacked of a realism that helped the character come across as truthful to audiences.
UM: Do you feel this has given the character its longevity as well?
RL: Probably. There was a lot more material in the original script. I mean the Brooks screenplay. Satirizing something as serious as Hitler is a timeless thing anyway, but it feels like Brooks was really saying it’s important to be able to laugh at evil.
UM: Perhaps laughing about it disarms it somehow? Disempowers it?
RL: I think so. The musical script didn’t go into the same kind of depth, but it had its own feel. It really lives in the land of the surreal. Everything’s over-the-top.
UM: With a lot of truth underlying.
RL: Yes. Wilder himself said he felt it was the truth of the script, of the story, that gave it such power. It’s really a love story.
UM: Love story?
RL: Yes. Between Max and Leo.
Richard Lafleur as Bloom and David Johnson as Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS
UM: Max Bialystock, the role originated by Zero Mostel in the film.
RL: And Nathan Lane in the musical, yes.
UM: I could see that: that the two loved each other.
RL: Yes. It really comes across in the original film, and even if you watch the film version of the musical with Lane and Broderick.
UM: Despite all of their shenanigans, they seem to need each other.
RL: Yes. Leo is the everyman, the lens through which you see everything else happening. Leo goes from 0-60 in two minutes, so it’s difficult to get that pacing down. When he gets the blue blanket taken away, he goes crazy.
UM: And somehow Max is his comfort or something he can turn to?
UM: Do you feel you developed this relationship with your co-star?
RL: Definitely. David Johnson plays Max. He’s done three national tours before and a lot of regional theatre. It’s great playing opposite him. From day one when we started rehearsing it, it went well.
UM: It would seem trust is huge with two roles that are interlocked like these two.
RL: It would be impossible to do without that sense of trust and creative play.
UM: What about the rest of the cast?
RL: They are the most fantastically gifted group I’ve ever worked with. It was cast so well; they are their roles. Even when technically something goes awry, the practice pulls us through because everyone is so gifted and because we all know each other. It’s great we get along because, as you know, we spend a lot of time together.
UM: Are there other roles you’d like to land?
RL: I’d love to play Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Hamlet. If they ever do the Frankie Valli story…
UM: Do you have any idea of what you’ll do after the run?
RL: Ironically, my brother lives in Louisville and he suggested that I come and audition for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and I think I might just do that.
UM: Awesome. Kentucky would love to see more of you.
RL: I hope so.
UM: Thanks again for the interview Richard and break a leg Friday.
RL: Thanks, Charles, and we will.
The Lexington Opera House run of TheProducers, will feature the following five showings.
The Lexington Philharmonic continues the season November 13 at the Singletary Center for the Arts with Mozart and More. As the title indicates, the centerpiece of the evening is Mozart’s magnificent, mature and oft-performed 40th Symphony. Referred to many times as “the Great G Minor symphony,” this classic piece, composed near the end of Mozart’s 35-year life, stands in contrast to his 25th symphony, “the Little G Minor Symphony,” his only other symphonic work in a minor key. For this performance, Amadeus Mozart is in the company of Felix Mendelssohn, Dmitri Shostakovich andJohn Corigliano.
Joining UnderMain contributor Chip Sebastian for a chat about Mozart and More and the experience patrons can anticipate is LexPhil Conductor, Scott Terrell and musicians Stephen Campbell and Pei-San Chiu.
UM: Mozart and More. Just the title makes me curious. Why “More?”
ST: As ever, we’ve tried this season to offer a wide range of listening, showing many aspects of music and the wide range of the Lexington Philharmonic. In the course of a season, we wanted to establish a balance. We did Mahler, then went American with Time for Three. There are moments when we want to feature our artists, and this upcoming evening is certainly one of those times.
UM: If you needed a word to sum up the entire evening, what would it be?
ST: If I had to sum it up, it would be “Voyage.”
UM: Why “Voyage?”
ST: Well, the Corigliano piece itself is entitled Voyage, for starters. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of his finest works and it was composed while he was traveling through the Hebrides Islands. The whole evening has the sense of taking a journey.
GERMANY- CIRCA 1997: stamp printed by Germany, shows Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Composer, circa 1997.
Hebrides was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1830. Also known as “Fingal’s Cave,” the work was inspired by Mendelssohn’s trip to Scotland. The ten-minute piece, an overture, was dedicated to Frederick William IV, then Crown Prince of Prussia. The work was revised by Mendelssohn at least once after its premiere in London, and has been featured in many literary works and films.
UM: Hebrides is the first piece on the docket, correct?
ST: Yes. This is one of Mendelssohn’s most beautiful pieces. Dark, rich, and very different from say, Shostakovich, who can be very angular, percussive, dissonant.
UM:Mendelssohn always seems rich and textured.
ST: Yes. Like most composers coming from the Romantic Era, he has a full, rich sound. Emotional.
UM: A contemporary of Beethoven.
UM: It seems the programs are trying to balance the more harmonious with the more dissonant. Would that be fair to say?
ST: It’s more of a thematic thing. What pieces fit together to make a very interesting and dynamic evening. Like a good meal.
ST: Shostakovich will bang you over the head, while the others draw you into their worlds.
USSR- CIRCA 1976: A stamp printed in the USSR shows a portrait of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the score for his 7th Symphony, circa 1976.
UM: This first piano concerto was completed in 1933, not so long after the Russian Revolution.
ST: Yes. Shostakovich had a bit of a slap on the wrist from the Russian aristocracy about an opera he had done not long before. He was trying to stay in good graces with this piece.
UM: He was well-established by then?
ST: Yes, but in the 1930s, he was still uncertain about being a pianist. Perhaps not as settled as later in his career.
UM: The pianist and the trumpet have major roles here. The featured pianist: Fei Fei Dong. Tell me a bit about her.
ST: Fei Fei was one of six finalists in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She studies at Julliard and she has had nothing but glowing reviews from the many places she’s played. Her pedigree is very good. This is a real tour de force for a pianist. She’s a young and fresh talent and we’re glad to have her.
UM: The other featured performer, trumpeter Stephen Campbell, plays regularly with LexPhil?
ST: Yes, Stephen’s been around for awhile and he’s another wonderful talent.
UM: Do you feel there is a great story between the piano and trumpet?
ST: Absolutely. Certainly the pieces of this season have a protagonist and antagonist. Story is what makes it all interesting.
Stephen Campbell is the Principle Trumpet with LexPhil
UM: Stephen, what is your sense of the structure and power of this Shostakovich piece?
SC: The Concerto is a wonderful composition on so many levels. It’s one of the first major concertos to come from the Soviet era. Shostakovich was constantly falling in and out of favor with the Soviet censors based on their standards of decorum and aesthetics. One moment, he’d be awarded the coveted Stalin Award, the next he’d be publicly criticized. This is one of the compositions which brought him back in favor.
UM: Because of the focus on trumpet, is this a piece that trumpeters look to as a standard for performance? Something every trumpet player wants on their resume?
SC: The concerto is great for trumpeters because of the dramatic range required for performance. We have everything. The character of the second movement is really low. Someone, bourbon in hand staring off into the middle distance, contemplating life. There’s a real folksy section in the fourth movement, as well as a quotation from one of my favorite Haydn sonatas and a very exciting finish.
UM: You seem to be quite at home playing with LexPhil.
SC: Performing with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is a thrill. I love performing high quality music with friends and colleagues.
UM: Thank you, Stephen.
SC: Thank you.
Resuming with Scott Terrell, we move to John Corigliano
ST: Yes. He’s probably most famous for the score to the film, The Red Violin, which featured Joshua Bell on violin.
UM: Great movie.
ST: Yes. John’s very prolific and Voyage is an early piece that demands a great principle flute and we certainly have one in Pei San.
Pei-San Chiu is the principle flute for LexPhil and is featured on Voyage.
UM: Pei-San, what are your thoughts onVoyage, in terms of the flute and the level of performance required?
PC: Voyage is the instrumental version of Corigliano’s choral work based on Baudelaire’s L’Invitation au Voyage. The timbre of flute and strings is very warm and comforting, which gives a new texture and atmosphere to the piece, just as it’s said in Richard Wilbur’s translation, “There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure.”
UM: Wonderful to imagine. You’ve been with LexPhil for some time, haven’t you?
PC: I joined LexPhil in 2013 and this is my third season. It’s been such a pleasure to be in the LexPhil and work with my colleagues.
UM: It seems LexPhil has a wider range of endeavors with each passing season.
PC: Thanks to Scott, we’ve done so many great concerts with superb soloists, including classical, opera, film music, works with choral and Pops. As a flutist, I couldn’t be happier to play good music with my colleagues.
More on Voyage from Scott Terrell
UM: Voyage seems to be quite a contrast to Shostakovich.
ST: Exactly. John has done some of the most beautiful music for strings in the last few decades. This is a very warm piece and will work nicely after the dissonance of the Shostakovich. Compositionally, you hear a lot of Barber, Copland and Bernstein in John’s music.
UM: When you have a piece like this, with the artist still living, do you ever have interactions or brainstorming with the composer about the work or the performance of it?
ST: In this event, no. It’s interesting with composers: you never know if they are watching musical scenes around the country and the world to see if their pieces are being played.
UM: I suppose this would help keep the performance true, not knowing if the person who gave birth to the piece is watching and inevitably critiquing the performance.
ST: There is a sense of being true to the work and its composer.
UM: I know this is true with writers, when films are made of their books. There seems to be an understanding that the messageor theme of the work, the writer’s original intent, is preserved.
ST: Yes. One can’t help but think about that when a performance is developing. I’ve done some of John’s pieces before. Gazebo, and The Red Violin. It’s all very listenable stuff, very pleasant to the ear.
UM:Do you ever wish you had the artist on standby when you perform pieces by living composers?
ST: That’s always nice, if possible. So often it’s not. I did meet John many years ago, when I was in Aspen as a student. Do I know if he knows the music’s being played? No. I had an experience along these lines with Jennifer Higdon, who is a modern composer, won many awards, etc. I was performing a piece of hers titled On a Wire with a group called Eighth Blackbird out of Chicago. I saw Jennifer at an event and introduced myself and she said Eighth Blackbird had been raving about the experience and she knew that we had performed it in Lexington. I was taken aback. You just never know who’s hearing what when.
UM: I know in dance the circles are pretty small. I would imagine the same is true in, especially, classical music.
ST: Yes. Definitely.
CZECHOSLOVAKIA – CIRCA 1981: a stamp printed in the Czechoslovakia shows Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Composer, circa 1981
Mozart finished his 40th Symphonyin 1788, along with the 39th and 41st in that same year. Even though the three final symphonies were written close together, there are marked differences between them. Mozart composed many other works after the 41st Symphony, “The Jupiter,” living another three years before succumbing to an illness at 35. Scholars still cannot agree on what actually killed Mozart, but it is well-documented that he was bedridden in his final days, and composing to the end.
UM: Mozart’s 40th Symphony is one of his best-known, most-beloved symphonic works.
ST: It’s the linchpin of the evening. Mozart in general is very different in terms of scale and performance. The sound is energetic and profound and really will make for a huge ending to the night. It’s important in any evening that we have that old performance idea of tension and resolution. The audience will certainly have enough tension with the Shostakovich piece with a little steam let off from the others. But the Mozart should really open the floodgates at the end.
UM: A lot of different styles in the evening.
ST: Yes, and the other interesting thing besides the difference in styles is that the composers are at different places in their lives.
UM: This was toward the end of Mozart’s life, but his life being so brief, he would have been approaching middle-age when this was composed, right?
ST: Yes. Noting his early death, there’s still a marked maturity in his later work. A lot more color and nuance that isn’t present to the same degree in the earlier, developmental material.
UM: It seems Mozart never stales, even two hundred-plus years later.
ST: It will always be great to hear and perform.
For information about LexPhil and tickets, click here.
Whether you’re into musicals or not, Rodgers and Hammerstein is pretty hard to beat. South Pacific, which first appeared on Broadway in 1949, represents a definite high point in the duo’s efforts, with many well-known numbers and sets.
When the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre decided on South Pacific for part of its season, it was done with much community and patron support. Dr. Everett McCorvey, who is the Director of UK Opera Theatre and largely responsible for bringing the Department to worldwide attention, shares with us in the following hinterview the reason South Pacific was chosen and the many factors that go into making an outstanding opera theatre company.
CS: South Pacific. Good, strong musical theatre.
EM: We’re starting to highlight “classical” musicals, because the reality is a lot of students are doing crossovers. We’ll have the greatest impact as a young artist training program.
CS: Aside from creating a great evening, that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? That the students get what they need to be successful.
EM: Absolutely. We have students that are performing on Broadway, on TV.
The goal is to graduate singers who can work. We can’t overlook musical theatre, and just be classical opera, as Broadway is doing is very well. When we did Phantom of the Opera a few years ago, it was a huge success. We broke all the records at the Lexington Opera House. Then we did Les Misérables, then Sweeney Todd, and now South Pacific. We have to apply for the right from the companies to present these shows, so that becomes a factor as well.
CS: Is this a trend for opera companies, blending musicals and operas in their seasons?
EM: If you look at opera companies around the country, they’re doing the same thing.
CS: How are the roles chosen from the student body?
EM: We look in our program to see who’s ready to be featured and be on the big stage. We’re the opera company for the city, not just the university, so we have a big obligation regarding quality assurance. On the one side, we take our patrons very seriously and want to offer the best; we knew we had enough singers to fill South Pacific and it would be an exciting show for the public.
CS: How big is the production?
EM: It’s a great cast of about 40 singers and and orchestra of about 40. We’re using the set that was built for the South Pacific revival, which was used at the Lincoln Center in New York. Young people go to Broadway to see these shows more than they do pure opera these days. Opera companies are trying to engage the young people; we want them to attend the productions, otherwise it’s difficult for the art form to survive.
CS: So this same phenomenon is definitely happening in other places?
EM: In the next 10-12 years I predict opera companies will take over doing musicals and the other stuff. What’s interesting is that most of the shows that come back to Broadway are revivals; there are very few new shows.
South Pacific ran for almost 2000 performances after premiering in 1949. James. A. Michener wrote the book, Tales of the South Pacific, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and became the germ of South Pacific, the musical. There have been many revivals and offshoots from the original, including a very successful 2008 Broadway revival.
CS: How long or will this way of mixing musical theatre and opera continue?
EM: The mission of our program is to be the best training program in the country. That being said, it’s important to me that we stay current. We are trending and trying to be a part of this new paradigm that is happening to American Musical Theatre. We will still do traditional opera as students must still be trained in this repertoire.
CS: How many are currently in the program at UK?
EM: About 133 in the Voice Program. 80-90 are undergraduates and 30-40 are graduates. We recruit from all over the world for our people.
CS: So, when it comes time to sit down and roundtable about upcoming shows, what will teach the most and who you have in the student body become hot topics.
EM: Of course. We vote on which shows are done. These include people who are voice teachers and voice coaches. We look at what stock we have and whether or not the show will work. We’re already talking about shows for the next year and the year after.
CS: Tell me more about the cast of South Pacific.
EM: Jenna Day, who was the former Miss Kentucky, plays Nellie Forbush. This was a role originated by Larry Hagman’s mother, Mary Martin, in the late 1940s. André Campelo plays Emile de Becque, a French ex-patriot. He plays it beautifully and has a great accent to go with it. For South Pacific, the challenge is that there is a lot of dialogue, and the singers have to be able to grab the nuances of the language. Typically for operas, they are played by people 35-50 years old, so we also have a decent age range of students between the undergraduate and graduate programs.
“Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Happy Talk,” “Younger Than Springtime” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” are all well-known and oft-performed pieces from South Pacific. Following is a link to a Mary Martin televised London performance from 1952:
CS: It seems that students have to be more and more versatile in today’s world to be able to work; I’m sure competition is as thick or thicker today, yes?
EM: Companies need these all-around arts people. People like Kelly O’Hare, who is making her Metropolitan Opera debut. The reality is the producers need the best performer, it doesn’t matter the particular skill; many skills are preferred. We’re looking at a more joint musical theatre program. Merged costume companies. We’re looking very hard at how we can collaborate, so we can serve the needs of the students. Once again, We want to ensure our graduates work when they get out. Ironically, they sometimes are our best recruiters.
CS: Case in point?
EM: Reginald Smith Jr. Earlier this year he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. People see these awards and events on Facebook and Youtube and they seep into the public awareness. This includes, of course, potential students watching online and researching the best schools where they can hone their talents to eventually get work in the field they want.
CS: Do you feel recruitment is a big issue at UK?
EM: Alltech offers a big competition that recruits from everywhere and we bring in all kinds of people. They’ll send students to do concerts. Recruitment’s a big concern for any school, but it’s the usual deal: when big decisions have to be made for programs to be cut, the fine arts are always first. Ahead of the sciences, business and especially sports.
CS: It seems that people are not weaned on the arts in the same way as the others you mentioned.
EM: We work towards this with the young people so we develop arts appreciation into something else. Babies leave the hospital in UK basketball jerseys; fans are developed very purposely. We have Bourbon, horses, basketball and opera!
CS: Patrons seem ready and eager to support.
EM: Philanthropy in Lexington is at an all time high. I’m talking about individuals, not companies necessarily. They want to see UK at the top and they’re willing to support.
CS: It seems opera at the University and State level has come so far, particularly since you’ve taken the helm. Many people agree. It’s not hyperbole.
EM: It’s a collective effort, of course. I’m glad we’re growing in the right direction, growing students to their potentials and their employability.
CS: With so many success stories, it seems that growth has been a constant factor over the last 15 years.
EM: Definitely. The Richard Tucker Foundation publishes a list of companies each year that are the top in their field, and we were listed in that recently, which gave me a real thrill. We’re doing the right thing for our growth and our students.
CS: Dr. McCorvey, as ever, it’s been wonderful talking with you.
EM: Yes, thank you.
You can go to the Lexington Opera House website, where you will find info on South Pacific, tickets, and more on the seasons for the UK Opera Theatre and the Lexington Opera House.
Following strong success in September with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic is at it again. The next adventure is slated for 7:30pm, October 23rd at the Singletary Center for the Arts: American Soundscapes, an evening of (you guessed it!) American composers. LexPhil will open with the more familiar: Aaron Copland’s Our Town, taken from Thornton Wilder’s play of the same title, and George Gershwin’s Catfish Row Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess. But then, the program looks to present and future with a performance of Travels in Time for Three, a newer work by American composer and musician Chris Brubeck.
Maestro Scott Terrell spoke to us recently about the upcoming concert, the musicians involved, and his bold vision for our symphony.
ST: Yes. Plus they’ll have a drummer with them that night.
CS: How did this develop?
ST: Four years ago we introduced them here which is a huge undertaking, as they have become their own genre. The audience was blown away by their virtuosity when they were here before.
CS: And this was an opportunity to have them back.
ST: Yes. They are an ensemble that has opened a lot of people’s eyes and brought audiences a different sound. They relax the concert experience as well. When we had them here a few years ago, they did a series of pieces written for them and by them. Since then composers have taken on writing pieces for them, such as Chris Brubeck and Jennifer Higdon.
ST: Right. Chris had a one-of-a-kind musical education growing up and he has come into his own as a composer. Chris is deeply trained in Jazz, but this concerto is so broad in its variety of styles. This is his first big piece on our programming. When we had Time for Three here last time, they said Chris had written this piece for them, it was really dynamic and they would like to present this here.
CS: Tell me more about the piece itself.
ST: At times the piece is very baroque, while at other times you might hear a Jimi Hendrix-style sound. Travels debuted in 2010, and calls for the three guys, plus a drummer.
ST: Gershwin was able to absorb the environment and create an opera that is definitely American, but is distinctly Gershwin in character. The honkytonk piano, the hurricane music with the ship bells, etc. All three composers had to adapt to their environment to create something new and fresh. There is also the sense of pushing boundaries away from the already-established.
CS: So, each of the pieces adapts to its times and perhaps pushes then-established boundaries, is that correct?
ST: Definitely. We forget that Copland was a big part of films and TV. Our Town was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s lesser- known Copland, but definitely his sound and color. It’s a lovely piece that doesn’t get performed very much; he adapted to his environment in the same way Gershwin did with Porgy and Bess. One would think Gershwin would not take on this subject-matter, being a composer from New York with so much ability and the experiences of the North. But, once again, we have that stepping-out-of-the-norm mentality, which is a trait that makes all three great.
CS: The pieces complement thematically as well as being new and older Americana.
ST: In all three of the pieces, you get a real sense of honesty. The intention of all three is very clear. They go together very well.
CS: And strongly American.
ST: American music is still Gershwin and Copland and in a newer, still-forming way, Chris. There’s a definite character in the sound world they create. They’re different, but American in their approach. Of course, Copland’s life and his output were tremendous: ballet, film scores, theatre, the versatility is unbelievable. He was also a product of his environment with his pieces for movies, which is where many composers found work and patronage. All three draw the best out of the orchestra. Genres gradually blur in these pieces. Today, Gershwin and Copland sound usual, because everyone has heard them and they have been labeled “The American Sound,” but they were daring in their day, just as Chris’s music is daring and expanding presently.
Below: Technical Sergeant Matthew C. Erickson performs Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the NEC Symphonic Winds conducted by William Drury. Recorded live in NEC’s Jordan Hall on March 6, 2014.
Brubeck is coming to Lexington later this season on New Year’s Eve to perform with his quartet. He’s written a lot of wonderful pieces, including one composed with his father concerning the photographer Ansel Adams.
CS: Travels in Time for Three. A new and different piece, I trust?
ST: The piece is 35-minutes, so it’s decent-sized. It traverses all of these musical styles that are emblematic of the American musical scene. Time for Three started out as students doing their own thing and have spiraled into composers seeking them out and writing for them..
CS: What is so appealing to you about this group?
ST: They’re a very versatile group that is capable of taking the audience through the many genres and the music Chris has created. It’s extremely virtuosic and interesting. You’d be surprised if you saw the three of them in a nightclub without a drum set. They’re all highly-trained musicians, world-class players in their own right. and they defy expectations and they’re committed to the music they perform. This community heard them a few years ago, but I wanted to bring them back for a more substantial collaboration. I like what they stand for. They can jam with anybody. They are comfortable representations of what’s happening in music now.
Here’s a clip of Time for Three at the Heartland Music Festival:
(Note: After 15 years with the trio, Zach DePue, has decided to depart Time for Three in order to to dedicate 100 percent of himself to his role concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Zach’s successor is acclaimed solo violinist Nikki Chooi. According to the Time for Three website, “Nikki is appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.” LexPhil confirms that Zach will be performing with the group in Lexington.)
CS: Can you tell us about other concerts that Time for Three will be performing while in Lexington?
ST: Right. It’s not just the average “drop-in and do the show” visit. They have the ability to connect with people in a very formal way, but also in a very grass-roots way. They are doing four pop-up concerts. One is the National Anthem at Keeneland on October 22. Another will be in the lobby atrium at UK Healthcare’s Chandler Hospital, and then another at Ethereal Brewing. They’re also performing our educational Discovery concert, currently sold-out with over 1400 students at Singletary. These students will experience how interactive and exciting Time for Three is to watch in action. And on Friday, October 23, the day of our concert, UK School of Music will host a Music Entrepreneurship Assembly with Time for Three. So, the Friday night concert is the culmination of many activities and partnerships that take place throughout the week.
CS: LexPhil partnered with UK HealthCare and the Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation for this concert.
ST: Yes, we’ve combined forces on a number of projects. It is really amazing, the connection between music and healing, and UK Healthcare recognizes the power of music and has worked with us for several years to bring live music into the healthcare environment. One of Time for Three’s appearances will be at Eastern State Hospital. The Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation is a supporter for this partnership as well as our bi-annual Composer-in-Residence program which will take place in April. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a deep appreciation for the arts in this community.
CS: It seems to be growing, getting stronger.
ST: We’re fortunate.
CS: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time and efforts, Scott.
ST: My pleasure.
American Soundscapes is October 23, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. For the schedule of events and ticket info, please visit www.lexphil.org, phone (859) 233-4226 or email email@example.com.
As 2014 comes to a close, Lexington bids farewell with a welcoming: a special New Year’s Eve performance of the incomparable chanteuse, Ute Lemper.
Photo by Lucas Allen
The evening pays tribute to the sounds of the Moulin Rouge, including musical selections from Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Roseto Bertolt Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny.
The program begins with an orchestral Tribute Medley to the Moulin Rouge, concluding with Jacques Offenbach’s famous “Can-Can” from his satirical opera, Orpheus in the Underworld.
Ute Lemper takes the stage to perform classic French songs by some of the nation’s most beloved singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. After intermission, the show continues with the orchestral and cabaret selections of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.
On the selection of Ute Lemper as the featured soloist of the NYE Celebration, LexPhil Music Director and Conductor, Scott Terrell describes Ute as, “an internationally acclaimed chanteuse that I am honored to bring to the LexPhil stage this season. Her range of cabaret songs from Edith Piaf to Bertolt Brecht will dazzle the audience for a truly memorable New Year’s Eve!”
Ms. Lemper, a native of Münster, Germany, spent her first eighteen years there, before traveling the world, living in Paris, and finally settling in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I chatted by phone with Ms. Lemper, concerning her upcoming date in Lexington, her many awards and talents, and what makes her tick.
You lived in Germany until you were 18. What made you leave at that time and pursue the arts?
I was in the original Viennese production of Cats after studying in Vienna in the early 80s. This was after I graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.
And this led to other opportunities?
Yes. Particularly playing the original European Sally Bowles in Cabaret. This was in Paris. Then Velma Kelley in Chicago. We did that in London and New York, and I won the Olivier Award in London for the performance.
Then voice-overs for films dubbed for German-speaking audiences?
They called me to do the voice of Ariel for Disney’s Little Mermaid and for Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the German-releases, yes.
But, more than anything, you’ve become known for singing Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and singers who have seemed absent in the last generation. Is that accurate?
I have quite a bit more in my repertoire, like show tunes and original songs I’ve written. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing a lot more of my own material in recent years, but I became known for singing the songs of these artists. I put out an album in 1987 called Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill, and it was a huge success. In the early-90s I followed it with a second album of Weill’s songs and it did well too. I do Weill songs in my performances, among other pieces.
What do you feel is the common thread in your performances? What are you trying to achieve?
One common thread is to make a journey through time, to bring people on an historical journey. Making classical sounds more contemporary. But I have also fallen into this niche of keeping alive many songs that have fallen by the wayside or in some cases were purposely forgotten.
Yes. Like many of the Weill songs, which were abandoned in post-war Germany because they reminded the people who lived through those times of the horrors. It’s only many years later that they can be reflected upon and brought out into the light. The wounds were too deep for decades.
Photo by Lucas Allen
I imagine you feel a strong connection to this, having grown up in post-war Germany?
Yes, it is part of my heritage, but this also happened when I went to live in Paris.
When I lived as a Parisian, I found myself becoming an ardent pupil of the French chanson. As a result, I have incorporated many of Edith Piaf’s songs and Brel’s pieces into my show.
So you’ve become something of a torchbearer for these artists who may very well have been left behind?.
I’m not sure if they would have been left behind, but each of them speaks to a certain time and place and the music is very good. I feel drawn to these more cabaret-style pieces. At one point I was a dancer in Maurice Bejart’s company. I paint. I have many creative and artistic outlets, but the song is what I’m really known for and what I do the most. And with my performances, they are a mish-mash of many songs, with many histories behind them. Many of the songs from one artist can sound and feel different, however. Weill is a good case in point. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had the first half of his career in Europe, then came to the States. The songs from later in his canon have a different feel than those earlier songs. This is what cabaret should be: a blending of many different tones and feelings for variety and appeal.
(Ute was part of the German reunification of artists after the Wall was torn down in 1989. She performed in Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall,celebrating Germany’s historic move toward peace and solidarity.)
You were part of the German unification after the Wall fell?
Yes. It was and still is a complicated process, unifying the artists from East and West. While it’s had its challenges, there has been no other day like it in history. Unbelievable and overwhelming. Most artists had difficulty even expressing the feelings of it in their work, it was so intense and powerful. I wrote a song, Ghosts of Berlin, concerning it.
Do you feel the unification has been good for Germany, 25 years past the demolition of the Wall?
Absolutely. Today we face other issues, like Solidarity tax.
When the Wall fell, a Solidarity tax was imposed on West Germany to rebuild East Germany. While this was supposed to last only a few years, to get East Germany on their feet, it continues to this day. While West Germans are perhaps bitter about the tax, there is no doubt that the freeing of East Germany, and the money used to rebuild it from the West is nothing but a success story. Sadly, this cannot be said for many similar situations in the European Union.
Do you feel the wounds and ghosts of the past have healed and settled enough to bring out many of these songs in places so affected by wartime?
I did a concert with Zubin Mehta back in 1988. There were at least 50 holocaust survivors, people with numbers on their arms, that attended. One is not sure about the healing and settling, even with sufficient time passing.
What’s the next exciting step for Ute Lemper?
I’ll be doing a 70 years of liberation concert in Rome. I’m showcasing songs that were written in the death camps. Most are in Yiddish and German. I’m finishing up a great project with Paul Coelho called 9 Secrets, from his work, Manuscripts found in Accra. I did the original music for it, so I’m very excited about that.
Ute, thank you so much for your time. Lexington’s lucky to have you for this special night!
Of course. Thank you!
Photo by Lucas Allen
Tickets to the New Year’s Eve Celebration range from $25-$75 with $11 student tickets as available. Special seating is also available for parties of four with bottle service of champagne at prices of $500 for cabaret tables and $600 for box seating. Price of the special seating includes one bottle of champagne. Bottle service is limited to ticket holders over 21-years of age. Valet parking is available for $10 per car at the Short Street Entrance to the Lexington Opera House.
A New Year’s Eve Dinner at Portofino’s will be hosted following the concert by LexPhil for $75 per person. Tickets include a three-course prix fixe menu and Champagne toast, and must be purchased in advance by December 26, 2014. 20 percent of dinner ticket is tax-deductible, as allowed by law, and will benefit LexPhil.
Ute Lemper will perform at the Lexington Opera House on December 31st at 7:30. To purchase tickets, click here, or call (859) 233-4226.
Whether you were born and bred in the Bluegrass or are a transplant, chances are good to great that you know Lexington has a rich artistic heritage. This is especially true with respect to music. Some of the greatest pickers and grinners of all time have come from Fayette County and the areas surrounding it.
Patrick Golden is one such artist.
Lexington-based guitarist Patrick Golden with his collection of Fender Telecasters
Born in Lexington, July 14, 1966, Pat recently celebrated over 40 years in music and has influenced hundreds of students and peers. Known worldwide for his ‘chicken-pickin’ style, Golden is an accomplished guitarist, transcending genre with a style recalling many great players, but most definitely all his own.
Before we chat with Pat and a host of guitar greats who have performed and studied with him, how about a listen? Here’s a clip of Golden promoting Knight Guitars. He is playing a signature Richard Young edition, customized for the Kentucky Headhunters’ rhythm guitarist and vocalist.
The Headhunters still tour a great deal and have had a string of hits over the last 25 years. Headhunters’ lead guitarist Greg Martin has been friends with Golden for some time.
How did you and Pat hook up?
Pat was freelancing with my stepdaughter, Sherri McGee who is in Little Miss Tammy Smith and the Inbreds. That’s how I got to know him. He reached out to me years ago. He’s great about being open to learning new things.
Pat with Doug Phelps and Greg Martin of The Headhunters
What is most striking to you about his playing style and approach to teaching?
Pat’s a very dedicated player, a very patient player, and a great teacher. Stylistically, he has his own take on the Tele “twang” thang for one thing, but there is much more to his playing. He loves Telecaster and he’s really creative with its use.
In this exclusive conversation for UnderMain, Golden talks about his playing, his teaching, and growing up in the Bluegrass.
Why electric guitar?
“It all started acoustic,” he explains. “My step-dad gave me an old Craftsman Acoustic back in 1973. It was the f-hole style guitar and it wasn’t much, but it got me started. I banged around on that old thing for a few years. My mother and grandmother wanted to see if I was serious and would stick with it before they bought me an electric, which is what I really wanted.”
Soon after, Pat got his first electric guitar, an old Sears and Roebuck model.
Was it just getting that electric guitar that set you on your path, or something else?
“My mother took me to an Elvis concert in 1976 in Cincinnati; this was just a year or two before he died, and it changed everything for me. It felt like I was supposed to be there. I could tell you what the weather was like and what we had for lunch. It was the most intense experience of my life up to that point and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about it.”
It wasn’t just the King’s charisma that captured Golden, however.
“It was James Burton. James Burton was and is my biggest influence. I saw him originally playing with Elvis and I became absorbed by his style and professional manner. He could cross into any genre and he has many times, playing with Merle Haggard, with Elvis Costello, John Denver, Johnny Cash, the list goes on and on.”
Golden with James Burton
It was also Burton’s influence that led Golden to play a particular type of electric guitar: the Fender Telecaster, or “Tele” for short.
What is it about the Telecaster that made sense to you?
“My first good quality electric was a Gibson Les Paul. I just found playing very limiting for what I was trying to do. The Tele offers me a much wider range of options. I can do more of the things I really want to do with a Tele. Stratocasters, Les Paul, they’re all great, but the Tele is right for me.”
What happened after the Burton experience?
“I started to absorb everything I could to be versatile like Burton: Django Reinhardt, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis. I’d watch all the great acts on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Express in the 70s; Hee Haw, which, of course, had Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and Don Rich. Right after watching something that was Country, Rock, or Blues, I’d switch over and take in Lawrence Welk. All of these things and more were influences. In those days there were just three channels and no internet, so you watched what came on, and I watched intently, with the idea of applying it to playing.”
Pat with Waylon Jennings
You’ve taught Blues, Funk, Rock, Country, Jazz and many other genres, but you seem to have a lot of Country influence. How did that come about?
“Well, in the 70s in Lexington, you would have bands playing in local bars 6-7 nights a week. Most of the stuff being played was Country. I was a teen and wanted to play, so that’s where I landed, but I’ve always been interested in and played everything.”
When did your playing first get some real notice?
“Many years ago WKQQ had a contest for the best young rock guitarist and I submitted a demo, which, of course, at that time was on a cassette tape. There were a lot of people entering. Ben Lacy was in the mix, and a lot of other amazing guitarists. Neither of us won, but it did give me more exposure.”
Ben Lacy’s been on the Lexington music scene as a highly refined guitarist for many years. Lacy said the following recently of Pat’s playing:
“He is the purest of tele pickers, able to capture the essence and truly honor the personality of the Tele from classic country sounds and the blues. You can hear all that glorious pedigree of such greats as Danny Gatton and Scotty Anderson but still you can hear Pat’s own voice on the instrument. I’m proud to know Pat and admire his ability to not only perpetuate the rich tradition of the telecaster but also to forge his own path.”
Pat with Phil and Don Everly
But was this what got Pat to Nashville and becoming a sought-after sessions player?
“It helped, but late in the 80s I met Bobby Anderson, who was then a writer for Hee Haw. Bobby was from Somerset and we went down to Nashville together, and he connected me to the staff at The Grand Ol’ Opry; Jim Ed Brown, who had a show for many years and many well-known artists. Most of them would hang out at the Nashville Palace. If you’re a sessions-player, singer, songwriter, or anything else musical in Nashville, the Palace is the place to be.”
What happened when you got deeper into the Nashville scene?
“The same thing that happens to all players who go there: a reality check. I thought I was a great player, but I didn’t know what that was until I got to Nashville, and there’s one on every corner. I remember going to a show and being sick in the parking lot after, realizing what I was up against.”
Pat with sought-after Nashville sessions player, Reggie Young
Where did you go from there?
“Well, I had a decision to make. Either tuck my tail and go home, which is what happens to so many players, or buckle down and get focused.”
You chose the latter, but how exactly did it manifest?
“I went looking for the best people I could find to study with and learn. The first teacher I sought out was Ray Flacke. He was known at the time as being one of the best country pickers and had recorded with everybody.”
Some of those artists include Ricky Scaggs, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart, Kathy Mattea, and Emmylou Harris. The English-born Flacke has been known for four decades as one of the greatest country Tele-pickers in the industry. He is also well-known as an instructor and sessions player.
Pat with Garth Brooks
“Someone who continues to influence me greatly is Scotty Anderson. I still drive up to Ohio and study with Scotty; he’s in the top .01 percent of players in the world, but he’s kept a low-profile for many years. Any serious player knows about Scotty, though; he’s in a realm all his own. I’ve been with him over twenty years now and I’m still working on that first lesson.”
Here’s what Anderson has to say about his long-time student and friend, Pat Golden:
“Throughout the years I’ve seen Patrick turn into a fantastic player. He was always a really good player, but now he’s reached the level of commercial music greatness really, really unique in his own style. Maybe I was able to help him a little bit; I definitely could tell his playing in a room full of players. He always plays the right notes at the right time and he’s a hell of a nice guy.”
These sentiments about Golden echo throughout the industry, not just with his instructor of many years.
Cartersville, Kentucky singer/songwriter, Josh Logan, has been friends with Golden since the 80s. Logan recorded four albums for the world-renowned Curb Records, starting in 1988. Somebody Paints the Wallincluded three chart singles which have been covered by artists like Tracy Lawrence and Aaron Tippin.
You and Golden go back a long way?
“Oh, yes. My friend Pat: I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s one of finest real country guitar pickers that I have ever met, his style is the real deal, not computer automated!”
On your tours, did you ever use Pat?”
“The sad part of my story is that I never had him as my lead guitar picker. The timing was always wrong for him to join my band, when I was on the road heavy in the 80s and 90s and early 2000. However, he’s a real country guitar picker, and with his ability to play just about anything that you need on a guitar, I’m sure he could just about fit any style that you need.
Golden’s influence crosses genres and spills out of the Country music scene as well. Blair Carmen, who tours with his band, Blair Carmen and The Belleview Boys, hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. The band stays with a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis and Big Band-style songs. Carmen commented on Pat’s playing and professionalism.
“In 2010, I contacted Patrick about an audition to see about him filling in on some road dates with my band. Since we were doing a mix of retro Honky Tonk Rockabilly Piano Pumpin’ Rock & Roll type stuff, I needed someone who was pretty versatile, yet still hardcore at the old country and rock & roll styles. First chance I had, we went down and met him at his home for an audition, which ended up only lasting five minutes. He introduced himself as a no-nonsense, hardcore honky Tonkin’ chicken pickin’ Telecaster picker…and that he was! I looked around, saw many of his different telecasters and vintage Fender amps and knew I was in the right place. He strapped on his 50s Tele and fired into Merle Haggard’s The Bottle Let Me Down and I said ‘Whoa now, we don’t even do that song, but maybe we will now!’ Then he played a little of Workin’ Man Bluesand a bit of a rock & roll tune called Big Hunk a Loveand I said ‘When can ya start ?’ He asked, ‘When do ya need me?’ And I said: ‘tomorrow.’ It’s been a blast ever since.”
So how did the rehearsals play out?
“Patrick joined us on the road immediately with no practice, no rehearsal, no set list, and no keys to any song and he hung right in and honky tonk’d and rock’d & roll’d like we’d been playing together for years. We played throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, DC, at a huge swing dance in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, and outside Atlanta, Georgia, where special guests, J.W. Brown, Rusty Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ex wife/2nd cousin (13 year old child bride) Myra Gale joined us. J.W. Brown was Jerry Lee Lewis’ original bass player in the 50s and 60s and played on all of his hit records. J.W. Brown got up and played a few songs with us. He was really impressed with Patrick’s playing and even told me after the show, ‘Now that there’s a guitar picker!’ That’s what we musicians love to hear!”
So, are you still get together?
“Oh, yeah. Patrick still fills in often with us and is always very professional. He’s always early and on time. He’s also very picky about and always has great tone! Very reliable and great personality, too. That means a lot when you have to work and travel with someone.
“I met Pat many years ago when I was working at the Nashville Palace, and he came in with Bobby Anderson, who worked on the Hee Haw staff. We started talking about Telecasters and realized we both had a passion for them. He’s a wonderful player. He’s always learning something and showing me something. He comes and plays with me all the time. He’s a wonderful friend.”
Wayne’s is a Cinderella story, heading to Nashville from Columbus, GA when he was 18 with his guitar strapped to his back. He immediately got a job with Tom T. Hall, then with Johnny Rodriguez. After being at the Nashville Palace for about three years, he met Randy Ray, who became Randy Travis. Randy became a star and Wayne started toured and recorded with him until 2013, when Travis had a stroke and had to slow down.
What is it that makes Pat’s playing so special?
“Pat has mastered the Telecaster. He knows what pickup to use in the front, back, and middle positions. He’s learned how to play between these for particular songs. He is one of the most efficient players I have ever seen. I deeply respect him personally. No one’s better than Patrick at getting the most out of a Tele. He puts a lot of heart and soul in it and I respect his playing immensely. He’s a great player and teacher.”
Wayne says he and Golden have spent many hours learning from each other.
“I’ll say ‘what did you do there, show me that!’ I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s showed me stuff he’s learned from others like Clint Strong; he just has so much skill and a lot of soul. I’ll usually send potential students his way, if they’re up near Kentucky. The thing about Pat, he’s very humble and doesn’t talk himself up a lot the way a lot of people do in this industry. You can’t help but respect his playing, but his humbleness makes me respect him as a person.”
It was in the mid-90s when many years of playing and teaching paid off for Golden. He got the call to tour with Jerry Lee Lewis and play alongside Lewis’ longtime guitarist, Kenny Lovelace.
Pat, Kenny Lovelace (Jerry Lee Lewis’ longtime guitarist), and James Burton (Elvis’ guitarist)
Touring with Lewis taught him a lot and when Golden returned to Kentucky, he focused on teaching and running to sessions in Nashville, Austin, and a handful of other music meccas in America. Many of his lessons are taught through Skype these days as well as his home, with students from all over the world.
What do you like about teaching, Pat?
“It’s so important as a teacher to be able to transcend genre, relate to the student, and ultimately give students what they come to you to learn. I usually just ask students where they want to go with their playing and take them on that journey. Doing it this way, you’re always giving the student what they want, which keeps them interested and makes the process fun.”
NOTE: Pat Golden can be reached at (859)221-4633 or (859)271-8812. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Pat is also on Facebook and can be messaged there as well.
The Lexington Philharmonic recently presented Heroes: Eroica and Icarus in the orchestra’s Lexington Opera House debut. UnderMain music writer Charles Sebastian chatted with renowned physicist Brian Greene who conceived this modern retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, replacing the sun of the original with a black hole in space.
First, some background: Eroica or Heroic Symphony was composed in 1804 and originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, though Beethoven later changed his mind. Longer and more richly textured than contemporary symphonic works of its day, the Eroica stands as a breakaway from the classical forms that preceded it. LexPhil conductor Scott Terrell contends that it is for this reason the symphony makes good sense adjacent to the Philip Glass score for Icarus on the Edge of Time.
The novella of Icarus was published in 2008 and sets the well-known story in space with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Philip Glass score was commissioned by the World Science Festival in New York, the brainchild of Greene. It has developed a great deal of momentum since its inaugural year in 2008. The film accompanying Icarus was created by surrealist filmmakers Al and Al, with a narrative by Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning play, M. Butterfly. In the Lexington performance, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will provide the narrative.
Here’s Sebastian’s conversation with Dr. Greene, speaking from his office in New York City:
What was the germ of Icarus? The one thing that let you know this was the story?
“The Greek myth had fascinated me since childhood, but the deeper piece is about being willing to go against the norm. Being willing to break out of the box with science or with anything is essential to progress and these are the things that create a whole new world. Science is a great story of adventure.”
Why use the media of film and music for science?
“Melding film and music with these scientific ideas I feel teaches science in a deeper way. The recognition of how science affects our daily lives is essential to the quality of our lives and our knowledge of the world around us and ourselves.”
You’re known mainly for your scientific writings. Are you still teaching?
“Oh yes! I maintain my position at Columbia University as a professor of mathematics and physics and I have my graduate students. Writing was a hobby that took off. It makes for a busy schedule. Then there is the World Science Festival, started by me and my wife.”
What role, if any, does education play in Icarus?
“Icarus fits with the general perspective in all my books, which is that they must make science penetrating. The language of science is math and many people have to have it translated. The ideas of science can be big and hard to fathom, and no one wants to feel stupid. By educating through the arts, these ideas are more accessible to most people.”
Was this your first time working with Philip Glass?
“Yes. I didn’t know what to expect. We met on a panel some time ago, he probably doesn’t remember it, but I do, because it happened to be where I met my wife. I sent him a story after the discussion. That was ten years ago.”
That sounds memorable. What was the collaboration with Glass like?
“Highly collaborative. He really wanted to understand the science behind Icarus. He asked me down to his studio one night around 11 o’clock. He was trying to understand how a black hole functions; he was very thorough with his questions and stayed open to my thoughts. Fortunately, we live in the same city, so it was a quick trip to his place.”
Whose decision was it to bring David Henry Hwang into the project?
“Glass’s. He had used Hwang on many previous projects as a librettist and felt it would add to the overall impact if he had a role in the writing.
How many times has Icarus been performed at this point?
“The Lexington performance is around 25. It’s been around the world in places as exotic as Malta.”
Had you delved into theatre or film prior to this?
“Yes. I developed another show that ran for three performances called Spooky Action, which deals with the concept of quantum entanglement. It premiered at the World Science Festival here in New York.”
What is the main ingredient for Icarus that you feel has made it a popular piece?
“I believe it works on so many different levels. Boys and men like it because it is a hero adventure, but then there is the science that goes along with it, that makes it different than the myth from which it’s borrowed.”
It’s obvious in this case that science is affecting the arts. Do you feel your piece somehow affects science, in reverse order?
“It’s a two-way street. Icarus may open up more avenues in art and it might dovetail back into science and somehow affect processes within it. It’s hard to say, but I would like to think that would be the case.”
How do you find working in collaboration?
“It’s one of the things that most excites me: working in new forms with others. I can spread my own wings in ways that are challenging and new.”
Will we hear more about Icarus?
“A sequel is planned, hopefully to coincide with the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.”