Published April 2011: Lyric's new executive director excited about its possibilities

Theater had national search

rcopley@herald-leader.comApril 19, 2011 

Five months after reopening, the Lyric Theatre has an executive director.

Yetta Young, who spent the past 13 years as a Los Angeles-based performer, director and producer, started work Monday as director of the theater that reopened in October after being dark for more than four decades.

Seated in the theater Monday afternoon, Young, who earned a bachelor's degree in history at Fisk University in Nashville, said she was attracted to the theater's history as a hot spot for Lexington's black community in the middle of the 20th century, hosting movies and nationally acclaimed artists, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

"When I read about the history and the rich culture behind the Lyric ... it really resonated with me, and I wanted to come," said Young, 42, who ran her own production company in Los Angeles. "I was at a point of transition. Sometimes you want a different kind of a challenge."

The Lyric does have its challenges as essentially a new venue in Lexington, despite its age and history, and its controversial reopening, which cost $6 million and was preceded by court battles over ownership and condemnation of the property.

Since opening in October, it has hosted the local Agape Theatre Troupe and hip-hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh.

But it is only now getting a permanent director. Lyric board vice president Kip Cornett said that is because the search committee did not get the quality of candidates it hoped for in its first round of searches.

"We wanted to make sure we could get the best candidate possible," Cornett said. "We went for more of a national search and found a deeper candidate pool."

The salary needed to be increased to attract a higher-quality candidate, he said, although he declined to say what Young's pay will be.

The position drew interest from entertainment capitals around the country for three primary reasons: the history of the Lyric, the opportunity to be its first director and the proximity of the University of Kentucky to the theater, Cornett said.

As executive director, Young will be the business and artistic head of the theater, a combination of skills that she said she used in running her own company, Yetta Young Productions. Among its shows was an African-American version of The Vagina Monologues with celebrity actors including Oscar winner Mo'Nique.

Young said she plans to use her celebrity contacts to bring some big names to the Lyric, but she also wants to produce local entertainment and educational programs.

"I'm excited and optimistic about all the possibilities," Young said. "I feel the responsibility of trying to restore the theater back to what people knew it to be. But then there's also a new generation now, and we want to create something new for them to get excited about and making this the new place to be and be seen."

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