Since the first time I was involved with Lexington Children's Theatre more than four decades ago, my acting career has taken me all the way from playing a dwarf to playing a toad. Fortunately, LCT has had much more success.
The non-profit organization, now in its 73rd year, has grown into one of the state's largest children's enrichment programs. LCT says it reaches 130,000 children throughout Kentucky each year with its resident and touring performances, classes and workshops.
If you want some good laughs for a good cause, LCT will have its annual Celebrity Curtain Call fund-raiser at 7 p.m. Saturday at the organization's headquarters, 418 West Short Street. After a reception and a silent auction, there will be a series of short theatrical scenes starring well-known local people. Some of them actually have talent.
Lyndy Franklin Smith has performed on Broadway in the musicals A Chorus Line and The Little Mermaid. State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr has quite a good singing voice. Others onstage will include former Vice Mayor Isabel Yates; actor and Herald-Leader music writer Walter Tunis; and TV newscasters Marvin Bartlett, Kristi Runyon Middleton and DeAnn Stephens.
I will appear in the role of Toad in a scene from Wind in the Willows. It is sure to be as riveting as my portrayal of Dwarf No. 4 in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs during LCT's 25th anniversary season, 1966-67, when I was 8 years old.
My most memorable line in that play — "Dust? What's that?" — was delivered after Snow White politely offered to tidy up the dwarfs' cottage. My wife says it still reflects my attitude toward housekeeping.
I asked to try out for Snow White after my mother took me to see an LCT production of Treasure Island. It was the first time I had ever seen live theater, and it inspired me to somehow persuade my third-grade teacher to let me organize a classroom production of Treasure Island, costumes and all.
Appearing in Snow White was fun. Looking back, I realized that I was with an amazing group of talented kids.
Lydia Hodson, who starred as Snow White, went on to become America's Junior Miss and a Kentucky television personality before her untimely death in 1991. Jay Bolotin, who played the prince, became a Nashville songwriter, artist, playwright and filmmaker.
The Dark Queen was played by Margaret Price, now a successful playwright, author, actress and lawyer. One of my fellow dwarfs, Skip Hollandsworth, is an award-winning writer for Texas Monthly magazine.
LCT was started in 1939 by young members of the American Association of University Women. Despite being an all- volunteer organization until 1971 — changing directors and performance venues almost every year — LCT sank deep roots in Lexington, thanks to tireless organizers and patrons including Marilyn Moosnick and Lucille Little.
In the 1970s, LCT transitioned from an organization that put on plays with child actors to an acting company that exposed children to professional theater. Plus, there were classes to teach kids dramatic skills without the pressure of performance.
It was a controversial change, but it has proven successful, said Larry Snipes, LCT's producing director since 1979. In addition to after-school and Saturday classes, children may take summer workshops that culminate in a performance, or they may join one of LCT's teen acting troupes.
"We weren't trying to take it away from the kids but to give them more," Snipes said. "There are probably 20 or 30 times as many kids onstage here now as then."
LCT's programming has exploded since it moved into permanent performance and classroom space on Short Street in 1998. The organization now has a $1.1 million annual budget, about 60 percent of which comes from performance revenue.
Snipes' next goal is to create an endowment to support educational efforts without having to rely so much on ticket sales. Nurturing young creativity is what LCT has always been about.
"We're not here to create the next Jennifer Lawrence," he said, referring to the young Louisville-born star of the new movie The Hunger Games. "We want to give average kids an experience that will help them be more creative and more confident no matter what they end up doing in life."