For well over a decade, a professional theater company for adult audiences has been a sort of holy grail for the Lexington theater community.
Lexington Children's Theatre is a professional company, and there have been numerous companies in town that have paid actors stipends, and several have on occasion presented actors under special event contracts with Actors Equity, the stage actors union.
But Lexington has lacked a company like Actors Theatre of Louisville or Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park that operates under Equity contracts, paying the artists on and off the stage union wages and presenting resultant professional productions.
Local theater artists Bo List and Jeff Day hope they have founded it.
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The pair, along with a few other artists, including several Lexington-based Equity actors, are launching AthensWest Theatre Company early next year with a February production of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Doubt.
"Hopefully the quality of work we're going to do will be demonstrated at that production," Day said.
Day and List met several years ago and started discussing the idea of creating a professional theater in the last year. This summer, they began talking with several interested parties, including John Long, chair of the board of LexArts, which is partnering with AthensWest for its launch.
List and Day say they can't think of a specific catalyst that told them this was the time to launch their project except, "enough people have said it couldn't be done I got irked and decided to do it," List says.
"There's been talk of we tried it before and it didn't work, so it can never work. I've worked in other places and seen models that worked successfully. Our first production has four actors, our production elements are fairly simple compared to something huge. It's something we can do very well with the resources we have here, and we might as well give it a shot at a level that is doable in the earliest stages of things and be a seed that can grow into something else."
The play will star Day as Father Flynn and Leslie Beatty as Sister Aloysius. Both actors are Equity members and therefore have limited opportunities to work in Lexington. Rounding out the cast are Shannon Baker and Tiffiney Baker, not related.
Day and List say they know of at least 25 Equity actors in the Lexington area who do not get to perform much or at all locally because of a lack of opportunities. Other associate artists on the company's roster include actor Miles Meehan and theater artist Jim Betts as well as outreach director Mark Mozingo and production manager Kate Goodwin.
"We want to create opportunities for all of our performers and all of our artists to work at a professional level, in town," List says.
Day adds, "We have spoken with Equity, and they are very open to working with us on contracts in any way they can to make this successful."
AthensWest is throwing its hat in the ring during a rapidly changing time in Lexington Theatre. It is one of two companies to announce their formation this fall, the other being The Lexington Theatre Company, which aims to offer Equity contracts staging summer musicals at the Lexington Opera House.
Also, SummerFest presenters Kentucky Conservatory Theatre reversed previously stated intentions to be a summer-only theater and plan to present productions of Cabaret, Jan. 26 to 30, and Hamlet, Feb. 2 to 6, under the banner Winterfest.
But also this fall, Actors Guild of Lexington announced it was going, "into hibernation," as board chair Jim Gleason put it, due to financial travails. Balagula Theatre also revealed it is in financial crisis and received the resignations of both founding artistic directors, Ryan Case and Natasha Williams. The future of the theater is unknown.
List, who teaches drama at the Sayre School, and Day, assistant theater and cinema professor at Asbury University, say they are working to avoid situations like those that have darkened other local theaters.
On the other hand, they are also feeling very good about stepping into the scene when both LexArts and the Downtown Arts Center are under new management. LexArts' new president and CEO, Ellen A. (Nan) Plummer, started last month and the DAC is now undercity management and receiving generally positive reviews from users.
"It is a really exciting time to be starting a new theater in Lexington," List says. "We hope to be a part of a new era of growth and professionalism."