Filmed on location in Central Kentucky, Not to Forget features Lexington actor Kevin Hardesty in the lead role along with Tatum O’Neal, Lou Gossett, Jr., Karen Grassle, Cloris Leachman and Olympia Dukakis.
The story: a judge sentences a self-centered millennial to take care of his grandmother, who’s affected by Alzheimer’s. As he realizes the extent of the elderly woman’s wealth and becomes her caregiver, the young protagonist gets ever-closer to Grandma and the treasure he’s been looking for.
Kevin visited WEKU’s Eastern Standard for a chat with host Tom Martin about the making of Not to Forget. To listen, click on this image of Kevin on set with Tatum O’Neal:
More images from the making of Not to Forget
Tom Martin is a co-publisher of UnderMain, as well as producer and host of the weekly radio magazine Eastern Standard on 88.9 WEKU.
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.
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.