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Actor Michelle Hurst and writer and director Ain Gordon in Lexington's Downtown Arts Center where they are presenting In This Place . . . , a play inspired by the "alternative history" of Lexington. Copyrighted Lexington Herald-Leader photo by David Perry.
Jim Clark, the president and CEO of LexArts, invited stage writer and director Ain Gordon to come to Lexington to find a story in the city's history to tell.
It is the sort of thing Gordon has done in New York and New Jersey, and Clark has seen how it generated interest and dialogue in the communities where Gordon worked.
"I started walking around downtown and saw all of those historic plaques," said Gordon. "My first reaction was, it's all been taken care of. There's nothing for me to do. This town is covering its history."
But then he started to think about the plaques and how in most cases they couldn't possibly tell the whole story of what happened at each site. He also spotted a place that curiously did not have a marker: 245 South Limestone.
"It was as old or older than many of the houses that had markers, and it wasn't marked," Gordon said. "I thought, 'Why is that? Whose house is this?'"
Through his investigations, Gordon found the 1830s-era house was originally the home of Samuel Oldham, the first free African-American man in Lexington to own his own land and build his own house.
Now, Gordon is giving two unique markers to the house -- which was bought in 2006 by Coleman Callaway III and is being renovated.
First, there's a play, In This Place ..., which opened Thursday for a three-night run at the Downtown Arts Center. The one-woman play uses traditional theatrical techniques and multimedia to tell the story of the Oldham House through the owner's wife, Daphney.
Later this summer, a new-concept historic marker will be unveiled at the house. Rather than try to encapsulate the history into a paragraph like the familiar bronzed signs dotting downtown do, the new marker will direct viewers to a Web site full of research Gordon did while writing In This Place .... The site will also showcase video from and for the play's production shot by Lexington documentary filmmaker Joan Brannon.
Last year, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center participated in a pioneering effort: The first Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.
Presented by the Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts and its director, George Foreman, the fest was held at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky., off the beaten path for most concert goers, in a renovated tobacco barn, an atypical venue for musicians more accustomed to cozy concert halls.
And it was a smashing success.
The concerts were sold out, and the chamber music society's press representative says the musicians haven't stopped talking about Kentucky.
So, with the second edition upon us, we got on the phone with cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-directors of the Chamber Music Society, to talk about the second edition of the festival and their return to the Bluegrass.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Tell us about your trip here last year and what made it so great.
David Fickel: The most wonderful thing, besides being in Kentucky, and in such a beautiful place and having such beautiful weather and meeting all the new people and playing for a new audience was being present at the birth of a really exciting new project. These days, when classical music takes root in a new location and blossoms, it's wonderful news for everybody involved. We also look at our involvement at the Shaker Village there as being something that the Chamber Society is good at, something that we should do, being the kind of organization we are, we should go around and help people start new things because we can present great art in great programs and get people excited.
In the end, we all had a marvelous time. We made a lot of new friends, and we've really been thinking about it ever since.
Wu Han: In a regular concert, we usually hit a city and play for an audience of 500 to 2,000 and then we probably split the next morning and hit the next town. That's a performer's life.
So, to have the opportunity to base in such a gorgeous environment - it's inspiring to be in such a pure and spiritual place like the Shaker Village - and to have the opportunity to be involved in a festival is incredibly satisfying. Festival is a place you come to meet people to have exploration, to have a community that has the opportunity to mingle, to eat meals together, to talk and to share a space and exchange ideas. At the end of the festival, we know the presenters very, very well, we get to know the audience, we get to know where to eat locally, we get to hike a little bit and the audience bonded with us. We have so much to share and it's a very different sensation from just traveling from city to city and doing one night stands. The setting of the Shaker Village is fantastic. I don't have the TV to distract me with CNN and 30 minutes of updating in my hotel room. And everyday I would wake up in the same place and it is very close to nature and I get to meet my audience in the daytime.
That's unusual for musicians and I think it's unusal for the audience to be that close to the musicians.
And playing the tobacco barn is so unusual. It's very close to the earthiness of what we do using the chamber music form and its intimacy. It's a project I really treasure.
Q: Last year, before you came, you said you were curious as to what the venue was going to look like. How did the tobacco barn turn out as a place to play?
WH: I loved it. To have a little bit of cowbell and the birds flying around the Dvorak Piano Quintet is not a bad thing at all.
A few weeks ago I took a look at the front page of Arts + Life, our Sunday features section in the Lexington Herald-Leader. There was a story about a double bill of plays by University of Kentucky Theatre, a piece about UK soprano Afton Battle in the national semifinal round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and, inside, a story about a new UK musical and operetta club.
A few nights later, I was in UK's Singletary Center to hear the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, and I noted that concertmaster Daniel Mason directs UK's string program, principal violist Joseph Baber teaches composition at UK, principal ... well, you get the idea.
Even when you're not dealing with a UK organization, there's a good chance there will be a tie to the university.
That is not to diminish the efforts of artists from other area schools. I'm reminded of folks such as Stephanie Pistello, a Transylvania University theater graduate who now directs the New Mummer Group in New York; John Ellison Conlee, who graduated from Centre College's theater program and went on to a Tony Award nomination for his performance in The Full Monty; and singers such as Corey Crider and Norman Reinhardt, who got their starts at Morehead State University and Asbury College, respectively, before filtering through grad school at UK on their way to burgeoning opera careers. We have a wealth of colleges and universities in Central Kentucky with substantial arts programs. And covering UK arts extensively is not a subversive effort at boosterism (my dirty secret: I was born and raised a Duke fan -- one of UK's mortal enemies in basketball).
There's something to be said for having a major land-grant university in your city. It elevates the possibilities for what you can do and what your community demands.
Michael Friedman, Jim Lewis and Steven Cosson (L-R) discuss This Beautiful City, the play they created about the evangelical community in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is part of 32nd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor's Theatre of Louisville. Photo by Maggie Huber | Lexington Herald-Leader and LexGo.com.
Last week, I saw a performance of Lee Blessing's new play, Great Falls. It was an excellent piece of theater that belied the bells and whistles of so many shows today by focusing on two terrific, well-traveled actors under the guidance of a first-rate director.
And I was nowhere near New York City. Not even Chicago or San Francisco. I was in Louisville, a town most people only think about the first Saturday in May. But every year, somewhere around the last weekend in March, the Derby City becomes the center of the theater world with critics and theater professionals flocking in for the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The festival, which has launched critically acclaimed plays such as Crimes of the Heart, is now into its fourth decade. It has had its up years and down years, but with recent hits such as Dinner with Friends and Omnium Gatherum, people still come to Humana hoping to be among the first to discover the next great thing.
Nowadays, when people describe Humana, it's often compared to the Sundance Film Festival, another major arts (yes, it attracts glitterati, but most of its offerings are geared to the art houses) event that thrives outside of major mets. Look south to Charleston, S.C. (John, are you ready?) and we have Spoleto, a major arts festival with a schedule that will make you da-rool, da-rool.
Chatting with Jim Clark, the president and CEO of LexArts, the United Arts Fund here in Lexington, he pointed out that one of the common denominators of these and other major arts happenings outside of the cultural capitals of America is that they didn't have great infrastructure to launch. What they had was a great vision that serious and substantial work could be done right where they were. It's the kind of success that should make you look around and wonder what could happen, wherever you are.
Now that Ashley Lindstrom has broken the ice as the newest Flyover blogger, please allow me to bow in. I'm Rich Copley, culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, primarily covering performing arts and film.
That is a gig I am proud to say, as of March 9, I will have had for 10 years. Like a lot of young writers, when I took the job, I thought we'd be here three-to-five years and then off to a bigger town with bigger theaters, orchestras and all that. But, in the intervening time, my wife and I had a second child, we settled into jobs and schools, and we are now buying our second house in Lexington. We've stayed. And that hasn't been hard to do. The Bluegrass is one of the most beautiful regions of the country, and Lexington is a place where you can kind of set your pace. It's a small city or a big town, depending on how you look at it, and there are lots of ways to look at it.
Professionally, this job continues to be intriguing and exciting.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog