copious notes

Rich Copley: Applause from this corner on Summerfest's move

Herald-Leader Culture ColumnistDecember 8, 2013 

Despite some truly magical evenings with the Lexington Shakespeare Festival and SummerFest, the novelty of going to plays in the Arboretum has worn off the past few years.

I love the Arboretum as a place to walk, take pictures, enjoy the changing of the seasons. It is a wonderful community asset.

But slogging out to the shows that started at 8:45 p.m. and ended after 11, being consumed by microscopic bugs and sinking into the mud while sometimes struggling to hear was getting old. I didn't even mention the Porta-Potties.

I shed no tears when I heard Monday that SummerFest is taking its show down to the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater in Beaumont.

There are some challenges of outdoor entertainment that come with the deal but are offset by the charms of theater under the stars. Some shows, particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream, benefit greatly from the outdoor setting. It seems that from its physical structure and built-in amenities, MoonDance will be an improvement for audiences and artists. Certainly, the SummerFest crew will not miss having to build an amphitheater in a field every summer. We'll have to wait and see about the bugs.

A few Facebook postings highlighted one misgiving some have about this move: Yet another artistic entity has moved away from the city's core and into the suburbs.

At MoonDance, Summerfest will be right down the road from Actors Guild of Lexington, which was once the primary tenant of the Downtown Arts Center, in the middle of downtown, and now resides in a strip mall off Harrodsburg Road, beyond Man o' War Boulevard.

The Downtown Arts Center is experiencing a dearth of theater offerings. At one point, there were a number of theaters that seemed poised to fill the void left by Actors Guild's departure. Some of those have vanished, like SummerFest's parent organization, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, abandoning plans to present theater year-round at the DAC. Other groups including Project SEE Theatre and the for/word company have been more infrequent in their offerings, creating at least the perception that the publicly owned and financed theater is under utilized. (In the busy holiday arts season, this weekend's performances by the modern dance troupe Movement Continuum were the only public events listed at the theater before the end of the year.)

The most active downtown theater troupes now — the Lexington Children's Theatre, Balagula Theatre and Studio Players — all have homes of their own.

It is not necessarily that there has been an exodus of arts groups to the suburbs. But more seem willing to try it. The nomadic On the Verge theater began with performances at two historic downtown homes and a production at the DAC, but has presented several shows outside the city core. The Lexington Philharmonic went outside New Circle Road for some performances of Messiah in recent years — on Sunday, the orchestra performs it at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. We have two major chamber music festivals that take place well outside of New Circle Road, though the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington endeavors to present small performances in town before its big event at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion out Newtown Pike.

Some see this as a problem. Arts, the philosophy goes, are part of a thriving downtown life; a concentration of groups in the center of the city helps create artistic energy and make downtown a destination.

But what about people who are not interested in going downtown? Dismiss them if you like, but there are people in Lexington and across the country who find downtown areas forbidding, but will go see arts events if they are presented in, say, a nearby church or mall. Every time I talk to Actors Guild artistic director Eric Seale, he touts a new audience the theater has found in his corner of town.

At MoonDance, SummerFest will be sitting in the middle of a large residential area where certainly some folks will get curious about what's going on there in July.

Maybe it's because I am a child of the suburbs, but it seems these things can coexist. After all, neither Actors Guild's nor SummerFest's moves were rejections of downtown Lexington. They were results of efforts to find the best places they could do their work in cost-effective, artistically satisfying ways.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: rcopley@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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