Copious Notes

In three years, teacher built Bryan Station Theatre from nothing to acclaim

Amie Kisling gave her Bryan Station High School Theatre students a pep talk before they performed “The Cagebirds” at the Southeastern Theatre Conference High School Theatre Festival on March 2.
Amie Kisling gave her Bryan Station High School Theatre students a pep talk before they performed “The Cagebirds” at the Southeastern Theatre Conference High School Theatre Festival on March 2.

It was an early spring afternoon in 2013, and my daughter and a friend were in tears in the back seat of my car.

They had just emerged from Bryan Station High School where they were told that the production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” was being canceled. Theater and musicals had not been a going concern at Station for years. Then, in 2012, choral director Kristine Lyon took on the task — all but by herself — of producing a show, a scrappy and spirited production of “School House Rock Live.” My daughter and others thought they had found a place as high school theater kids through that show, and were stoked about the next one.

But the next one fell apart, we were told because the show was not coming together; not everyone gets what hard work putting on show is, and to Lyon’s credit, she wasn’t going to let the kids go out there and embarrass themselves.

Station theater was dark for two years. We talked to our daughter about the possibility of transferring to one of the other Lexington high schools with robust theater programs, but she didn’t want to leave her friends and the Spanish Immersion program she had been in since kindergarten.

It was a sad situation, but then at the end of the 2013-14 school year, we got word that Amie Kisling was coming.

Kisling’s reputation preceded her through her work with the Lexington Children’s Theatre, where she was on staff, and things ramped up quickly.

In the fall of 2014, she directed a one-act version of Celeste Raspanti’s holocaust drama “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” in a heartbreaking production that wowed everyone by taking third in the Kentucky Theatre Association’s High School Theatre Festival.

It was also a show that started to reveal the talent pool Kisling could begin to build a program on. While Station had no theater, then-junior Cavan Kyle Hendron was a Children’s Theatre veteran who knew how to lead a production and model how to be a strong actor. He and others gave Amie students she didn’t have to worry about as she expanded the program.

And she had help. When it came time to take on the first musical, “Seussical — The Musical,” Lyon was back, able to concentrate on the voices, and there was buy in from Pat Price and Kelley Mayes in the orchestra to provide the music. Those were just a few of the supporting players, including the dedicated janitorial staff that helped the production sing.

Both our kids got involved: Our daughter finished her high school career playing a role she had loved for a long time, Amazin’ Mayzie, and our son was a Wickersham Brother. One of my favorite memories was watching Amie, who was all of nine months pregnant as the show went up, consult with our daughter about the giant egg she had to deal with, until she pawned it off on Horton.

“Seussical” established community. While there were a few seniors in the cast, it was for the most part underclassmen, who would form the core of the next two years of Station theater. In 2015-16, the group scored another third at the KTA festival with Edward Mast’s challenging “Jungalbook,” which took the Rudyard Kipling tale to an urban playground, and then took on the high school theater classic “Bye Bye Birdie,” our son engaging for the title role an inner Elvis we had been previously unaware of.

In three years as theater parents, we had front row seats watching everything from the creativity with which she staged productions to the way she drew commitment and talent from the students. Like we said above, theater is a lot more than “let’s put on a show,” and through Amie, the students came — with some hiccups — to understand that. There was a definite discipline to the program that will serve the students well, regardless of where they go.

This has been the year where everything came together. The fall brought a production of David Campton’s “The Cagebirds,” a brilliantly staged show that set an authoritarian society in a birdcage. The show broke through, placing in the KTA competition and moving on to the Southeastern Theatre Conference, where the students received universal acclaim from the judges. In the midst of that, Amie also directed a late fall production of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” and the spring musical: “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Wizard” gave us and other Station parents who had been there since fall 2014 a chance to sit and reflect. We always thought the productions were great, but you could definitely see the growth — the depth of the casts, technical assuredness, strong production values and sophistication — in the shows.

In three years, Amie had built Bryan Station High School Theatre from nothing to a tight community ready to present sharp productions that are recognized by more than just we, the biased parents. At SETC, a number of Station students participated in the cattle-call college auditions and received dozens of call backs.

The thing we didn’t know until last week was we had witnessed the entire history of Amie Kisling’s Bryan Station career. Last week, she announced she will be leaving Station to take the theater position at the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School, filling the shoes of retiring Paul Thomas.

There are obviously a lot of mixed emotions about this. Amie came into a school that often gets the short end of the stick in Fayette County and showed what can be done when the students are valued and challenged. Through theater, she did exactly what people have been wanting to see happen at Station for years. Even though our son is graduating, we were looking forward to seeing what Amie would do next with kids we had become attached to through long nights and delirious highs.

But, if there is anyone in Fayette County Public Schools who has earned a promotion, it is Amie Kisling. Our hope is someone comes into Station ready to take the baton and continue building on Amie’s amazing work. The students have earned nothing less.

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY