As AthensWest Theatre Company works to establish a professional theater for all audiences in Lexington, artistic director Bo List found an obvious place to look for a collaborator to launch its third season.
“We are trying hard to build a professional theater for Lexington, and LCT (Lexington Children’s Theatre) has been a professional theater for decades. So when we were thinking of ways of using Lexington directorial talent, we could not help but think of Larry and Vivian (Snipes) over at LCT, who have been doing it great for years and years,” List says, explaining his decision to recruit producing director Larry Snipes to direct the theater’s season opener, “Our Town.” “Larry just seemed like a good fit for a play as straightforward as this.”
A holy grail of Lexington theater for several decades had been a professional theater a la Actors Theatre of Louisville or Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, but Snipes and his wife, Vivian, an artistic director — have led just such a troupe for young audiences since 1979, when he was hired to direct Lexington Children’s Theatre. Vivian joined the staff two years later. The theater now has its own space in The Square, facing Short Street, with a full scene shop, a costume shop, and educational space and programs, as well as a main stage.
Larry was the scary man with the beard in the corner.
Mark Mozingo, ‘Our Town’ assistant director
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Over those years, many of Central Kentucky’s aspiring actors and talented youths have gone through LCT’s productions and classes, including AthensWest cast and staff.
Snipes was an enigmatic character when AthensWest associate artistic director Mark Mozingo was cutting his teeth as a young actor at the children’s theater. “I mostly worked with Vivian, and Larry was the scary man with the beard in the corner,” Mozingo says, laughing.
More than 20 years later, Mozingo is Snipes’ assistant director for “Our Town,” with a cast that includes LCT alumni, including Lynn Hungerford, who was one of Mozingo’s theater instructors when he was a youngster.
Snipes says he has enjoyed moonlighting for another theater.
“For me it’s been an interesting process,” he says. “After working within our process for so many years, it’s interesting to see how other companies work.”
One thing that he had to adjust to was a quicker rehearsal process with performers who often have other jobs, rather than rehearsing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., like at LCT.
But that didn’t deter him from letting the actors find their characters’ truths on their own. That’s one of Snipes’ hallmarks as a director, Mozingo says.
“He’s so laid-back and so patient with the actors,” Mozingo says.
“As someone who’s an actor myself, I’m eager to jump on something immediately if I see something is not working. He lets them work it out. He’s trusting the actors so much more than I do, and I’m an actor. I’ve learned you have to be patient with the whole process.”
Larry Snipes says that although he usually directs for young audiences, there is little difference in his artistic process for adult audiences.
The thing that really strikes me about this play is how it touches the core of our commonality as humans.
Larry Snipes, director of ‘Our Town’
“The reality is that we approach some of the same themes (at LCT) that go through ‘Our Town,’” he says. “In ‘The Little Mermaid,’ for instance, she dies, and that’s the way it works; that’s the way life is. There’s not a lot different in the approach that we take.”
List thought Snipes was a really good fit for the play that kicks off AthensWest’s “Season of Truth.”
“‘Our Town’ starts the season by telling the truth plain and simple,” List says. “Our original plan was to do ‘The Crucible,’ which is all about the truth. But when we didn’t get the rights, we thought, ‘Maybe we should do a play that just tells the truth, that doesn’t challenge it or obscure it. Why don’t we start with a play that tells our truth and take it from there?’” List says.
To List, Snipes was perfect for what he calls a “very gentle, affirming, positive story.
Says Snipes: “The thing that really strikes me about this play is how it touches the core of our commonality as humans. We can all be one side of the political fence or the other, or for one sports team against the other or one country against the other, but when it comes down to the cold hard facts, we have lives that we live, we have people that we love and we have a little amount of time. It’s about those connections and those lives we lead and cherishing those lives we lead.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If you go
What: AthensWest Theatre Co. production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play.
When: Oct. 6-22; showtimes 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.
Tickets: $27.50 adults; $22.50 students, senior adults and active military