Tag Archives: Downtown Arts Center

Arts

“Pangaea” at City Gallery, Lexington


The exhibition Pangaea — now on view at City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington — brings together the disparate practices of Patrick Smith and Robert Morgan in a way that illuminates how the same ideas and impulses can permeate in different ways across both generations and media. Juxtaposed closely in this exhibition, the similarities ring out, making clear elements of both artists’ work that would likely be overlooked in the context of a solo show. As a show, Pangaea, therefore, functions in opposition to the supercontinent from which it gets its name; while the landmass dissipated creating cultural and ecological divisions that have marked humanity since our emergence as a species, the exhibition ultimately unites distinct individuals and shows the shared nature of their art and lives in so doing.  

Detail of Bob Morgan’s sculptural assemblages

One of the starkest distinctions between Morgan and Smith is how each man approaches art making. Morgan, a sculptor now in his 60s, has always identified as an artist. He has been making art out of found objects for as long as he can remember. Morgan’s practice has been consistent for decades, making assemblages that are complicated and congested amalgams of various items, ranging from goat horns and religious figurines to rubber snakes and car parts, all of which he covers with bright colored paint and patches of glitter. 

Smith, on the other hand, is a painter who came to art making relatively later in life, around the time he was an undergraduate at Transylvania University. Now in his 30s, his practice is still evolving, and he conceives of his practice as a direct reaction to his surroundings. For instance, his recent works — which consist of  small, intimate and hyperrealist portraits —simultaneously reflect the regional tradition of intimate craft practices with regard to their scale, while also working against the abstract tendencies that dominate both the painting practices taught in art schools in the area and the looser styles that characterize folk and outsider art in Appalachia more generally. As such, Smith’s practice is more informed by the particulars of time and space than Morgan’s, a notion that is further underscored by the generational differences between them. 

Various self portraits by Patick Smith

Yet despite these differences, Morgan and Smith’s works share a considerable amount in common. For example, both artists explore issues of queerness and sexual difference in their works. Patrick Smith’s work deals with elements of visible queerness and difference through his engagement with gender and sexuality as performance. His self-portraits, for instance, often play with elements of drag, with Smith appearing heavily made up and, at times, dressed in women’s clothing from various (sub) cultures. 

Self Portrait in black top, Patrick Smith

In these images, Smith never appears to be passing as a woman, per se, but rather complicates elements of masculinity by adopting women’s dress. For instance in one Self-Portrait, he appears in a sheet black top, with heavy black eyeliner, and pink lipstick, with his mouth pursed to a kiss. His face gazes directly out but his torso is slightly turned with one arm bent at the elbow and raised behind him and the other wrapping around his belly, adopting a pose often used by women models in fashion magazines. Though Smith has adopted feminine elements of dress and gesture, his gender performance is somewhat incomplete. His shaved head, muscular arms, and hint of a five o’clock shadow remind us that Smith is a man. As such, he is queering the conventions of gender performance, embracing elements of both masculinity and femininity in a way that celebrates deviation from heteronormative and patriarchal conventions of sex and gender.    

Moreover, for Smith, all of his portraits are performances. He often describes his sitters as “getting into character” and for his self-portraits Smith allows his appearance to be styled by various friends who collaborate with him. As such, these works are not emblematic of the subject’s lived experience, but rather illustrate how conventions of gender and sexuality are performed moment by moment. 

Installation shot, “Pangaea” at the Downtown Arts Center

The performative nature of Smith’s work stand in contrast to Morgan’s practice, which is largely derived from his personal history. Morgan, a gay man himself, has been a prominent figure within the LBGTQ community in Lexington for decades. He is widely known for his role as a caretaker having tended the sick and dying here during the A.I.D.S. epidemic in the 1980s and 90s and caring for the legacy of queer folk through his role as the founder of the Faulkner-Morgan Pagan Babies Archive. His art practice has been, as such, largely informed by both his lived experience in and his research of LGBTQ history; he notes that most of his works examine themes of “A.I.D.S., Insanity, Alcoholism, and Drug Addiction,” afflictions that have commonly plagued the queer community and further marginalized LGBTQ folk. 

Bob Morgan with sculptures

Morgan’s affinity for the marginalized manifests in the work he creates. His assemblages are made from piles of junk, objects whose intrinsic value has been lost or was never fully appreciated. Morgan collects these items and transforms them into something new, something with an aesthetic quality that is elevated and is meant to be seen, rather than to hide. That many of these assemblages of people whose experiences were similarly marginalized — like the teenaged drug addict that Morgan cared for and whose nightmare forms the basis of The Island of Lost Souls — and that Morgan himself has felt marginalized in similar ways imbues the sculptures with a particular kind of powerful resonance.

Religion, like queerness, is a theme that is explored in both Morgan’s and Smith’s work. As with his explorations of LGBTQ struggles, Morgan draws from his own religious upbringing in Catholic school as the basis of his work. Each of the seven works on display in this exhibition features an oversized vintage doll, which Morgan has posed and covered with various objects — often including devotional items like figurines of Jesus or religiously symbolic items like swords and snakes. To Morgan, decorating these figures  is reminiscent of the way that The Infant of Prague is dressed and put on display in the chapels of countless Catholic churches and schools, like the one Morgan attended as a child. Yet these sculptures aren’t simply Catholic in character. Some appear to have a more clearly Hindu iconography, like the allusion to Shiva in The Horned Toad, and others involve the hybridization of multiple religious traditions like in Pangaea. Morgan asserts that the appropriation of religious iconography is central to his practices, noting “I steal from every major culture,” and citing a particular predilection for Byzantine, Egyptian, Mayan, and Hindu traditions. 

The religious character of Smith’s work is more subtle. Some of his portraits employ elements of dress and gesture that are reminiscent of the long history of religious icons. For instance, the first painting of Armani, depicts the sitter with their head draped with a pale pink cloth, much like the veiling of the Virgin Mary in many Renaissance portraits of the Madonna. 

“Skull on Red”, Patrick Smith

Smith has also called upon religious symbolism in his depictions of skulls, both in portraits, like the one held by Pablo and on their own. Within Catholic imagery, skulls have often appeared at the base of crucifixion scenes to depict the connection between Adam, the first man created by God, and Jesus, his son. Similarly, skulls are prominent in Protestant imagery, specifically in the form of the Vanitas, a genre of still life that was popular in the Netherlands in the 16th  and 17th centuries, in which the skull serves as a reminder that material objects cannot transcend the mortal plane and thus faith and good works are essential for transitioning into the afterlife. 

Placed side by side, Smith’s and Morgan’s works balance each other out to create a fuller picture of each artists’ respective practice. The overt role of religion in Morgan’s work, for instance, helps to clearly draw out those elements at play within Smith’s. Conversely, the highly legible engagement with performative queerness in Smith’s hyper-realist portraits primes the viewer to read Morgan’s very symbolic assemblages more deeply. The result of this compilation of two different artists with two very distinct practices is ultimately a greater understanding of both artists’ work and the issues they explore. As such, Pangaea, on the whole, illuminates how the differences among artists and their work can ultimately reveal their overall similarities. 

Arts

Making A List

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.

BOlist

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?

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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.

UM: When I spoke with Kevin Hardesty, we talked about you writing for the Humanities Council.

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.

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Trish Clark as Mary Todd Lincoln

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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.

BL: Yes.

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.

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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.

green antique lamp on white

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.orgor call (859)425-2550.

Arts

Athens West: ‘Mockingbird’ Flying High

Photo: Emily Reed as Scout

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 Lexingtons 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 Lees 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 Mockingbirdappeared 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 Footes screenplay: its 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 Mockingbirdfirst 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?

JD:    Yes.

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.

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Kevin Crowley is Atticus Finch and Emily Reed as Scout.

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.

UM:   Do you usually announce your auditions?

MM:   Yes. People can check our Facebook page.

JD:    We also have an email set up for audition inquiries as well: athenswestauditions@gmail.com.

UM:   Terrific. And a website?

MM:   athenswest.org

All Photos by Patrick J Mitchell www.imagesbypatrik.com

Arts

A Delightful Bath

On some basic level, every exhibition is an opportunity to contemplate and maybe even escape a little. Delights: Bathing in Another World – Paintings and Sculptures by Elissa Morley on display at the Ann Tower Gallery through May 10th gives us the chance to immerse and discover.

Elissa Morley, Installation View at Ann Tower Gallery

Morley’s twelve watercolor and graphite drawings, along with seven hanging tissue sculptures transform this gallery, now located on the second floor of the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, Kentucky, into something quite unique. To visit is almost as though you were stepping into the illusions Morley depicts within each of her poplar frames.

Central themes in her work are quietude and contemplation. In this space, Morley successfully asks us to relinquish momentarily the known world overrun by the mating call of Twitter, push notifications from Facebook, and the ever-present ephemerality of Instagram.  Rarely alone long enough to contemplate our surroundings and what we are doing within them, we take little time to consider how our actions might impact this world – or even worse – that while forever caught in the flutter we do nothing to alter any of it.

calderButtonMorley’s Alexander Calder-esque mobiles hung from the ceiling
make no sounds as they react to our movements within the gallery. Initially this is a very calming sensation. On deeper contemplation, the soft, tattered tissue shapes like that in Blue, White, Pink Wings – tenuously held together with wire – might be remnants of something we once knew, something that is now only moments away from falling apart entirely. Other works like Yellow Wings hang so low that they occasionally penetrate the viewer’s personal space beckoning us to reconsider our complacent gaze.

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Blue, White, Pink Wings (above) and Yellow Wings (video), steel, watercolor, tracing paper

Within the framed objects hung along four walls, pacific blues, wisteria purples, and persimmon oranges painted on tracing paper – sewn together in multiple layers – blur any overt intent or heavy import. Yet their presence in this multi-media installation encourages deeper inquiry. Fields of multiform abstractions are punctuated with architectural elements and the occasional tree-like shape as though to signal some specific place, a place not yet known as in a drawing or idea that is still churning in the mind and at the hand of its creator.

But there is a creator at work, one who resists the confinement of others’ imagined boundaries perhaps but is still mindful and present. Stepping into and back out of these drawings allows us to renew our perceptions of this world by bathing briefly and delightfully in another. Delights: Bathing in Another World Paintings and Sculpture by Elissa Morley is on view through May 10, 2015 and is well worth a visit.

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Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27x34

Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27×34

Elissa Morley attended Asbury University and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, England.  She has lived in Lexington for several years, teaching at Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University and Asbury University.  She is also a recipient of a 2009 Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant.

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Cross-pollination on the rise in Lexington

Broken Queen – Photo by Mark Cornelison

This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.

As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”

Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.

Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.

And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.

Coming up later this month, on June 27, is the Lexington Art League’s CSA LIVE: An evening of story and song, billed as a convergence of Lexington’s literary, music and visual arts scenes.

These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.

This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.

The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?

Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?

Please offer your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Thanks!

Arts

Chico Fellini & Blackbird Dancin’ Together

Photo by Mark Cornelison

Photo by Mark CornelisonFor those of you longing for a rock concert that’s more of a spectacle than barroom social affair or a dance performance that isn’t a “tutus and Tchaikovsky” recital, take note of an upcoming event at the Lexington Downtown Arts Center.  On Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th Blackbird Dance Theatre presents “The Broken Queen,” featuring live score by Chico Fellini.  A multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird’s Jenny Fitzpatrick and music producer Duane Lundy, “The Broken Queen” is a live music and dance experience nearly one year in the making.  I sat down with Lundy recently to discuss the Broken Queen project, the excitement of multi-disciplinary performance, and the resurrection (and future?) of Chico Fellini.

For those of you longing for a rock concert that’s more of a spectacle than barroom social affair or a dance performance that isn’t a “tutus and Tchaikovsky” recital, take note of an upcoming event at the Lexington Downtown Arts Center.  On Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th Blackbird Dance Theatre presents “The Broken Queen,” featuring live score by Chico Fellini.  A multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird’s Jenny Fitzpatrick and music producer Duane Lundy, “The Broken Queen” is a live music and dance experience nearly one year in the making.  I sat down with Lundy recently to discuss the Broken Queen project, the excitement of multi-disciplinary performance, and the resurrection (and future?) of Chico Fellini.

Under-Main: What was the origin of this collaboration?

Duane Lundy: Jenny Fitzpatrick, who’s the brain-child behind Blackbird [Dance Theatre], had done a piece called “The Great Grey” last year and had used my productions as the underscore.  Then she had come to me to see about doing something more performance-based this year along with the dance.  She has ten plus dancers and aerial silk work and felt like a good way to lift the bar would be to have a live band.  For me it was a no-brainer to put Chico [Fellini] together.

UM: So this is the first new activity by Chico Fellini in a long while, what’s the story with the extended break?

DL:  We played a ton of shows, did a bit of touring and did our album; I was already producing and had the [Shangri-La] studio so it just got so busy.  I felt like we had a nice three year run of being really aggressive and it was super positive, but it felt like it was time to either do a new album or take time off.  With schedules the way they were… it was at a good point.  I think sometimes bands push and push without taking a breather. My production work was real demanding so I thought it was time to stop, but we’ve all worked together in different capacities since.

I had written a couple of new songs and then I had a few pieces that I had been working on with Justin Craig, now Musical Director on Broadway for “Hedwig” and my assistant for years.  We had worked on some ambient pieces, some instrumental stuff and a couple of older Chico songs, and Jenny used that as a framework for the choreography.  Then the band reconvened at the end of last year to talk about participating and everybody wanted to do that.  We just picked up where we left off.  The band has an identity to it, so we weren’t really searching much.  There’s such a personal connection between us; it’s like a bunch of family members getting together, you just re-start the same conversation you ended a while ago.

UM: What was it about this project that made it right for a Chico Fellini reunion?

DL: I had been looking for an excuse for all of us to get together and play, but I didn’t want to do the more traditional “release and tour” route.  Jenny was a fan of the band, and her dance & choreography, her look at how to incorporate music, is incredibly creative; she’s able to look outside the box of a waltz being a waltz and a contemporary jazz piece being a jazz piece.  She’s melding different styles of jazz in with different types of things that I had given her and it had worked smoothly because she was picking up things that I was giving her and yay-ing and nay-ing things that she did and didn’t like.  So I think we gave her 20 plus pieces to come up with the 13 or 14 that are the show.

She was kind to let us bring what we thought would be interesting to the table, sonically, and then let her work within that framework.  It’s a real collaboration of the music and the dance that she’s been able to put together.

UM: What can audience members expect from the performances?

DL: It’s a really wild, interactive experience for the viewer.  There’s so much dance, and the way the DAC is set up, you’re right there with it.  It’s very dramatic.  About 80% of [the music] is new.  There are three songs from past work, most of which was unreleased, so in some ways it’s all new.  Sonically, the sound envelopes everybody around.  It’s this mass sound that’s happening while people are having an interactive experience with the dance.  I think it’s a very wild show.  It’s very smart too.  It’s such a narrative-involved and intricate piece from the storyline Jenny put together and the abstractions of the dance, the aesthetic of the look of it… the genius behind all that is her.

Blackbird Dance Theatre and Chico Fellini will perform “The Broken Queen” at the Downtown Arts Center on Friday June 13th and Saturday June 14th, at 7:30pm.  The DAC can be reached at 859.225.0370.