Tim Collins, UK Opera Theatre
Performing Arts Guide
William Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage.” With a profusion of performing arts venues and organizations, it’s evident our Commonwealth is a shining star upon that stage. To the talented and dedicated Kentuckians who contribute their creative energies to keeping the arts alive and thriving here, we say, “Bravo!”
University of Kentucky Opera
Eighteen-year-old Catherine Wright admits she always pictured herself singing on stage to a crowd of adoring fans. Yet, exactly what she would be singing came as quite a surprise.
“I sang all sorts of pop music in the talent shows I entered while growing up,” says the University of Kentucky freshman. “It wasn’t until I began taking voice lessons in high school that I truly realized that pop music was not my strength.”
It was classical music that ultimately would capture her heart and lead her to win the first-place undergraduate award at the 7th annual Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition. The winners of what has become one of biggest competitions of its kind in the country are offered scholarships to the University of Kentucky along with prize money furnished by Alltech. Scholarships and graduate assistantships also are provided by UK. “This allows us to recruit the best singers in the country,” explains Dr. Everett McCorvey, director of the UK’s Opera Theatre program. “It also gives us the chance to provide our audiences the opportunity to hear some of the most talented young artists in the country, right here in our own backyard.”
Besides high-profile events such as the Alltech competition, the University of Kentucky’s relationship with the Lexington Opera House provides students the chance to perform in a real opera house and work with its staff. Yet, for the program to continue to succeed, McCorvey says the facility needs to be larger. “We must continue to pursue the idea of building a large performance venue in Lexington,” remarks McCorvey. “Our citizens deserve it, and our students need it. Whether it’s downtown, on campus or somewhere in between, we still need a larger facility badly.”
This year, Wright will find herself alongside countless other young artists who come to UK to train in opera and vocal studies. Planning to study vocal performance with McCorvey, Wright says she looks forward to seeing just where classical music ultimately will take her.
Hardin County Playhouse
There was a time when Hardin County Playhouse Artistic Director Bo Cecil could be found in the kitchen far more often than on stage. Attending culinary school and going on to teach cooking classes in his hometown of Louisville, Cecil felt he knew clearly how he would spend the rest of his life.
It wasn’t long before he realized he was hungry for much, much more.
“I started with the Playhouse back in 2001, and in 2005, I decided to enter the theater world full time,” explains Cecil, whose theatrical background—which includes attending the Youth Performing Arts School and co-founding Louisville’s Pandora Theatre—has provided him the chance to appear as everyone from Edna in Hairspray to King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar. “When I first started here, it was really your standard community theater and I was given the responsibility to help shape the artistic vision of the organization.”
Shaping this vision ultimately meant creating theater that would be engaging for the audience. “I remember the first show I had a hand in was Cabaret, and I was actually quite nervous because it did deal with some adult issues,” he recalls. “It was more than what this area was really used to.”
Currently in its 42nd season, Hardin County Playhouse continues to charm audiences of all ages with a lineup of delightful and often thought-provoking productions. “I’m always looking for shows that are going to offer broader viewpoints,” says Cecil, who looks to the Playhouse’s upcoming production of The Laramie Project as an example of these broader viewpoints within shows. “As an artistic person, I want to continue expanding the entertainment options and reach as many people as I can through the theater arts.”
Now located at the Plum Alley Theater, HCP reached a milestone in 2006 when it was awarded the honor of Best Play at the Kentucky State Theatre festival for its production of Wit. Since then, the theater and its offerings have continued to evolve. “I have to admit that I probably did have a preconceived notion about this area,” Cecil says. “I assumed they were going to be far more close minded, especially here in the Bible Belt of Kentucky. I have been quite happy with being proven wrong.”
Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra Music and Executive Director James R. Cassidy went through instrument after instrument after instrument before he found the one he felt would fit him best. And just when it came time to make the crucial decision to make music his lifelong career, Cassidy found himself stopped in his tracks … and became a business major. “I got into business for a little while, and then I ended up with a degree in education,” he recalls. “Once I graduated, there were no jobs, so I worked as a carpenter.”
Luckily for the classical music fans of northern Kentucky, Cassidy eventually took a job as a high school band director and began attending the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. “I went in as a real purist,” says Cassidy. “I started taking a long, hard look at the perceptions surrounding classical music. People thought it was expensive and boring. How was I going to change those kinds of barriers?”
Changing those barriers has always been the focus for Cassidy, who founded the orchestra under the name The Northern Kentucky Symphony in 1992. “I wanted to program and present music in a way that was much more engaging and friendly,” he says.
The Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s lineup of concerts has offered a variety of music to more than 500,000 attendees. In fact, KSO concerts have performed everything from Madonna’s music to ragtime, and alternative rock to a good ole country band. The group also has evolved into forming smaller subsidiary groups, including the KSO Boogie Band, Newport Ragtime Band, Flood Wall Jazz Quintet and KSO Chorale, “to explore and perform different genres of essentially American music.”
“I was especially proud of our 'Of Rings & Myths' program, which paired Richard Wagner’s four Ring-cycle operas with Howard Shore’s three Lord of the Rings film scores,” says Cassidy of the comparative narrative. “We took 26 hours of music and boiled it down to 92 minutes. Who would ever think of doing something like that?”
Owensboro Dance Theatre
At 4, Owensboro Dance Theatre Managing Artistic Director Joy Johnson began to dance and has never stopped. She knows firsthand the love one can have for the art of dance—and can effortlessly sense it deep within the hearts of her students.
“I can definitely see it in one’s eyes and attitude,” explains Johnson, who became one of the founding artistic directors at the Owensboro Dance Theatre in 1982. “Their movements just become natural, and you can see that they are living to dance.”
Training and supporting these young talents are essential to the overall mission of the Theatre. “When we first started, we had a number of talented dancers with no place to put them unless we could find an opportunity out of town,” says Johnson, who began her dance studies in Nebraska and later moved to attend Indiana University. “We wanted to spread the love of dance into this community.”
The Theatre’s pre-professional dancers have ultimately moved on to achieve the careers of their dreams. In fact, many went on to professional dancing with well-known groups such as the Lexington Ballet, Radio City Rockettes and the Gorrdano Jazz Dance Chicago. “We have four of our former students on staff and five on our board,” says Johnson. “It definitely provides us with a very strong foundation in which to build from.”
Johnson wants to build on this strong foundation and find ways to expand the Theatre’s reach further into the community. Children from the area often are used as extras in productions such as The Nutcracker, which has sold out the last four years. Johnson also says she hopes to continue to build on a scholarship program in the works.
“We want to build our audience in any way possible,” she explains. “Owensboro is going through quite a revitalization these days, so we have looked seriously at the possibility of creating a three- to four-day event where we would put on some master classes for attendees. No matter what, we want to maintain a level of professionalism that we have become known for. It will be this that will ultimately be our key to success. ”
When no one else is watching, Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center Executive Director Tom Tomlinson sits near the front door of the facility and simply listens to the comments of visitors.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, ‘I can’t believe I am in Bowling Green,’ ” he says with a chuckle. “SKyPAC has become part of the fabric of the community. I think we have really been able to thread the needle as to what the community wanted in this facility and have come up with the most effective and efficient way to meet all of their needs. We constantly talk to people who come to shows they don’t even like, just because they think SKyPAC is such a nice place.”
This feeling of community wasn’t always the case, since there was skepticism when planning for the arts center began in July of 2000. “There were plenty of people that were against our mere existence,” says Tomlinson. “We knew if we could create a viable and successful venue, the community would eventually respond positively. It really has been quite a domino effect in the way that we are thriving alongside the entire Bowling Green area.”
The 80,000-square-foot facility—which includes an 1,800-seat performance hall, two rehearsal halls, a 200-seat studio theater and two visual arts galleries—opened its doors to the public in March of this year. Its numbers already are positive. “We have an 80 percent renewal rate amongst our subscribers and are currently running over $600,000 ahead of budget,” says Tomlinson.
The growth of SKyPAC became even more evident when the venue earlier this year assumed operations responsibility for The Capitol Arts Theatre and will now include its 800-seat auditorium in Warren County’s mix of venues, along with expanding its visual arts galleries to three with the addition of The Capitol’s Houchens Gallery.
“We will always strive to meet and respond to the artistic and cultural needs of our entire region,” says Tomlinson. “Looking to the future, I think we will begin to take a step back and make sure we are listening to our community and responding to their needs.”
Big Sandy Community and Technical College Music Program
For some, life twists and turns in different directions. For others, life simply moves as if it were divinely planned. So goes the story of Laura Ford Hall, music director at Big Sandy Community and Technical College and someone who has received hints along the way telling her what she ultimately would do with her life. “All through my life, it seems like there have been virtual road signs saying, ‘Go this way!’ ” she says with a laugh. “I began singing at age 3. I sang at home; I sang in the car; I sang every opportunity I could. My dad always said that other people saw something special in me when I was very little.”
Since joining the team at the Big Sandy Community and Technical College eight years ago, and with the support of its president, Dr. George D. Edwards, and provost Dr. Nancy Johnson, Hall has watched the music program grow to involve more than 700 people, with seven different programs: the elite collegiate singing ensemble The Big Sandy Singers; talent showcase Big Sandy Idol; The Little Sandy Singers; InHamony Women’s Chorus; Serenade Vocal Ensemble; The Big Sandy Teen Singers; and Big Sandy Stars, a talent program for BSCTC faculty, staff and students.
“Musicians share a special bond that is hard to describe,” says Hall, whose group raised more than $8,000 earlier this year for the tornado victims of eastern Kentucky. “Music is a universal language, and it causes a bonding experience between those who sing together. And the students and community members I sing with become like an extended family to me, as their director, and to one another.”
Hall says she is especially proud to watch the accomplishments of some of her past students who have gone on to further personal and professional achievements. “I think for any teacher, the most joyful moments come when you see a student succeed,” says Hall, who taught voice lessons to the newly crowned Miss Kentucky, Jessica Casebolt. “I have often looked back on my life and thought, what the Bible said in Proverbs 3:6 was so true … I trusted Him and He directed my path to a job I love, with people I love, with a wonderful and supportive administration, and now I get to sing and teach voice every day.”