Sean Childress with Kathi Ellis in 2011. Photo: Frankie Steele.
Remembering Kathi E. B. Ellis
By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
- impossible to subdue or defeat. ex: “a woman of indomitable spirit”
What can I say about Kathi E.B. Ellis? When the news of her passing arrived this morning, social media began filling up with tributes and personal reminiscences from just about everybody who has anything to do with theatre in Kentucky and Louisville in particular. For many, she was an integral part of some of their first experiences on stage. “Mentor” is a word that appears often; “inspirational” is another; ”powerhouse” was my personal favorite.
What I choose to say is this: she was never satisfied. She worked incessantly not only for her own edification as a theatre artist but in tireless support of others. Whether for Looking for Lilith Theatre, (her primary base of operations), or Shoestring Productions (her personal sandbox) or Louisville Repertory Company, or Josephine Sculpture Park or The Alley Theater, or any of the other companies and stages upon which she worked. I saw her sit in later performances studying the work onstage. The fact that a show opened was never a reason to stop thinking about how to improve it. Was she not quite happy with the actors or her work? Is there a difference for a director?
Once when she told me she had directed three shows that were opening on one weekend, I joked, “Is that all?” (I think her record was five). If she wasn’t directing, she was teaching, or traveling to an education conference, or writing reviews for Arts-Louisville.com, or…
When Kathi offered to review dance for us, her observations on the Louisville Ballet particularly impressed then Artistic Director Bruce Simpson enough that he suggested Louisville Public Media contract her for their coverage. But she continued to believe in Arts-Louisville and insisted in contributing even though she was not keen on reviewing colleagues, so she took up reviewing the national tours from Broadway in Louisville.
As her health became imperiled, she stubbornly refused to stop reviewing. She would not ask me to sub for her in covering Hamilton until the last possible moment, so hopeful was she to leave the hospital in time for press night. I just don’t think stopping entered her mind.
She would nag me about things, and I don’t think she cared a whit for being annoying because each and every time she was pushing me to do better – for Arts-Louisville to be better. She set a high professional standard for herself and expected no less from everyone else. We should always expect more from each other.
When we use the word community to describe the work of artists in Louisville, it doesn’t come from the ether, it has always been and will always be built, brick by brick, by such hands as these, and of those that will follow in their place. Tomorrow, we must all work a little harder to take up the slack.
Read Kathi’s final review for Arts-Louisville.com: It’s So Nice To Have You Back!
And I have featured this photograph of Kathi with Sean Childress in recognition of the many friends who offered essential support to Kathi during her battle with cancer, of which I know Sean was one.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.