When you hear that a new entrepreneurial business is coming to town, what comes to mind? Maybe a service of some kind? Perhaps a donut shop, or a Web-based business? How about a theater company with the aim of pairing Broadway and national touring talent with aspiring local and regional talents?
That's the aim of "The Lex" (The Lexington Theater Company), set to stage its first production, 42nd Street, at the Lexington Opera House July 23rd through the 26th. As professional theater arrives in Lexington, Tom Martin looked into the business side with co-founders Lyndy Smith, a former Broadway professional, and her husband Jeromy, himself a former broadway performer and theater management professional who along with Lyndy operates Town and Village School of Dance. If you've attended It's a Grand Night For Singing you've experienced the Smiths' handiwork as professional choreographers.
Tom: What is The Lex? What's the mission?
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Lyndy: We are a nonprofit, professional, locally produced theater company. We have a model that brings in talent from Broadway, seasoned veterans, members of Actors Equity Association. They lead the plays and musicals. And we bring in college students from around the country to round out the cast, as well as local Lexington talent. We also have an apprenticeship program for high school students. Our goal is to create first-rate productions for Lexington and to serve as a training ground for these up-and-coming young talents.
Tom: Is there something like this elsewhere in the country?
Jeromy: We cut our teeth working at a few places like this. Music Theater of Wichita; Lyric Theater of Oklahoma. They are putting together local, collegiate and professional talent to create shows. We spent summers during our college years performing at these places and then have since gone back to Music Theater of Wichita as choreographers and have seen not only how it affects the performers but also what it's doing for Wichita, giving people another reason to come downtown and experience what Wichita has to offer.
Tom: You chose to go the nonprofit route as a 510(c)(3). Why nonprofit versus for-profit?
Jeromy: Art organizations need support. They need to be able to apply for grants. They need people to be able to donate funds in order to make this happen. We can't do it on ticket sales alone, although I think it should be our goal. So, that 501(c)(3) allows us to give people a tax deduction for their sponsorship, for their donations to us. It gives us another stream of revenue to be able to help fund our projects.
Tom: How in a city like Lexington do you reconcile what the market will bear in terms of the ticket price, versus the cost of a production?
Jeromy: It is a very hard balance, but we are doing our very best to examine how we can use the funds that we have, how we can apply for grants and sponsorships to cover those costs and make this happen for Lexington.
Tom: And what do you expect the typical ticket price to be in this market?
Jeromy: Ours are ranging from $35 to $86.
Tom: How many productions in a season?
Jeromy: Currently, we are doing one full-scale production, 42nd Street. Our goal is to eventually go to up to 3 titles in a summer season.
Tom: It must require significant investment to get something like this off the ground. How did you do that?
Lyndy: A lot of grit. You know, Jeromy, with his experience at Richards/Climan, it's really been invaluable to this organization.
Tom: And for those who don't know, explain what Richards/Climan is.
Lyndy: Richards/Climan is a general management company in New York that handles Broadway plays and musicals.
Jeromy: And we also have had some wonderful sponsors who have jumped in to be a part of the organization: KentuckyOne Health; Steve Grossman at Hilliard Lyons; Central Bank; Elite Graphics. We've gone to the Kentucky Arts Council. LexArts has given us grants. We were able to do a wonderful concert in January that served as a benefit for the organization. And then donations. We've been very excited about the fact that people are donating money to help us make this happen.
Tom: That sponsors of that significance are stepping up indicates real interest. What's in it for them? What's in it for Lexington?
Lyndy: It's an addition to our very vibrant art scene, but it's also something completely different. The element of having the professional actors coming in, the training ground, but also, the idea of summer theater in the opera house. A lot of people are excited about the possibility of what that could mean. We're filling a niche in this community and region. And I think people are excited to get on board with that and to be a part of it.
Jeromy: Louisville has Actors Theatre and Cincinnati has The Playhouse and other wonderful professional theater companies that are servicing those communities. We are looking to bring that type of organization to Lexington.
Tom: What is it about Lexington that makes it worth the risk?
Lyndy: I left after high school. So, we've been away a long time. And we were just so impressed and amazed when we got back at the vibrance of downtown and how much it has grown and blossomed in those, you know, 10 to 15 years when we were in New York and elsewhere. The energy felt right. Walking around downtown, we would just say this would be such a perfect addition to the downtown scene. Everything seems to be effervescing with this energy, the new restaurants, the new shops. There's so much of that entrepreneurial spirit happening. We bring the artistic side. That's what we know how to do and it seems like the perfect fit.
Tom: The attraction to local talent should be pretty obvious, getting to be in the presence of experienced professionals. What interests that national talent enough for them to want to come to Lexington and participate?
Lyndy: For the Broadway actors, having the chance to come to a regional theater, do a short two or three-week gig in the summer, play a dream role in a gorgeous town like Lexington with all of its Southern charm and hospitality is a dream. The national talent and the Broadway community are very much in support of that.
Jeromy: Right. The true example of that is the fact that we were able to get Karen Ziemba, who has such an amazing career — four times nominated for a Tony. She won for Contact. To have her coming to be a part of a show in Lexington is incredible. To have her coming to be a part of the first show that we're producing is something we never dreamed of and we're amazingly excited to be able to share her talent and the talent of our other three guest artists coming from New York.
Tom: And of course, these folks need a place to stay, a place to dine and to just live when they're not at the opera house working. So, they'll be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.
Lyndy: Absolutely. We'll be keeping Lexington hopping. I was just putting the welcome packets together with maps of Lexington and the dining options and encouraging them to do some sightseeing while they're here. So, it does bring a significant impact. Right now, it's just 1 show. But when we grow to our 3-show season for 6 to 8 weeks in the summertime, we hope to have a lot of folks coming in from New York and other states staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, shopping in our boutiques, experiencing Lexington.