Anica Bell, Heidi C. Platt, Joey Arena, & Ryan Watson in rehearsal for Church and State. Photo: Angela Miller
New Structure, New Plays, New Hope
By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The last Louisville Repertory Company (LRC) production I saw was in August 2016. It was a play called Smoke & Mirrors, written by Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera as a pastiche on Hollywood and TV mysteries, and staged by George Robert Bailey in the modest environs of The Bard’s Town. At that time, nobody knew that it would be the last play from LRC for nearly four years.
March 27 of this year was meant to be the reemergence of the company with the opening of Jason Odell Williams’ Church and State, but the closing of all music, dance, and theatre performances, first by choice and then by the mandate of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, has provided a frustrating extension to the company’s self-imposed hiatus.
“It’s nice. We get two extra months to work on the show,’ jokes director Angela Miller. Williams’ play is about a politician trying to confess his deepest truths on the eve of re-election and was chosen exactly for its relevance in an election year. “We were looking for something timely that could also be simple enough to produce at The Bard’s Town. It’s political but very funny, not at all preachy or serious in the way that people might expect given the subject. It deals with partisan issues from a non-partisan perspective.”
As of this writing, Church and State has been rescheduled for later in the 2020, hopefully with the same cast and crew.
Miller, who teaches at Bellarmine University, has worked with LRC since 2013, but the company was founded in 1992, which makes it one of the longest-running theatre groups in Louisville. For many of those years, actor and director Darren McGee was the driving force, but by 2013 he was exhausted from the effort. Bryce Woodard, who first became involved in 2008, describes McGee as, “…the tentpole figure who always picked up the slack.” Woodard remembers McGee functioning as a mentor once he had made the decision to step away. “When I first produced a show, Darren was right at my shoulder, answering questions and gently nudging me in the right direction.”
LRC had always functioned with a loose organizational structure, and after McGee’s departure, that looseness proved to be a challenge. “We had a lot of good ideas,” remembers Woodard, “but not the capacity to act. The individuals who comprised the LRC members at the time, like a lot of other artists, wanted to do creative things but weren’t the right fit for the administrative stuff.”
So the board at that time, Miller, Woodard, Martin French, Janice Walter, Sean Childress, and J.C. Nixon decided it was time to step away from the demanding season-to-season dynamic, put the company on hiatus, and find a new structure upon which to build the future. They spent two years rewriting the bylaws with the assistance of Miller’s Bellarmine University colleague Dr. Richard Brown, adopting the idea to have not one individual Artistic Director but a three-person Artistic Directorate, with a system of checks and balances between that Directorate, a board of directors, and the company.
For the present, the Directorate is Miller, Woodard, and Martin French, but after the company has gotten back on its feet, the leadership will be voted on by those members, who will earn that privilege by contributing nominal annual dues and participating in the productions. “Building a community membership base is meant to extend beyond subscribers or season ticket holders because it gives voting rights to guide the direction of the company. This is how we would like to stay connected to the community and vice versa. It doesn’t just give a voice to the community as an audience but also through choosing the leadership of the company.”
In recruiting for the new board, the intention was to find bankers, accountants, and other business professionals who could offer exactly those skills the artists have not mastered. “Our expectation was why would non-theatre people want to serve on the board,” explains Miller, “and we were surprised how quickly people were willing and eager to get involved.”
After all of the foundational work was complete, the plans were to have a soft relaunch with the production of Church and State, followed by a summer fundraiser and second play to be produced in the fall. Like every other arts group, all of these plans are on hold.
On hold but not scuttled. The future of Louisville Repertory Company is more arguably ambitious than its past, with plans for education and collaboration. Miller explains, “LRC’s goal is to take the next step and try to help fill gaps within the local theatre community, provide safety nets, and invest in trust.”
“About a year ago,” she continues, “a former student told me that they felt like the ladder they climbed to be where they are today professionally in the theatre is crumbling below them. The companies that they were able to learn and grow from are struggling or closed. So it would be great if LRC could help provide some safety nets for artists in the community through apprenticeships and mentorships along with staying non-niche, allowing folks to come and go as their lives allow.”
“We are also hoping to collaborate with local playwrights, offers Woodward. “Derby City Playwrights is having an impact and there are plays coming from that group that LRC would be interested in.”
It goes without saying that every new or reborn arts venture is risky. The new structure is built for sustainability, but will it last? “In a time when people feel less trusting of information, public opinion, and discourse, and as we distance ourselves from each other…” offers Miller, “perhaps this is just the right time when community theatre invests their trust into the community even more?”
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.
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