Copious Notes

When you read this, I’ll be gone: Farewell to 20 years as the Herald-Leader’s arts writer

Herald-Leader reporter Rich Copley enjoys his first mint julep at his first Kentucky Derby on May 3, 1998 in Louisville.
Herald-Leader reporter Rich Copley enjoys his first mint julep at his first Kentucky Derby on May 3, 1998 in Louisville. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Last Friday night, I was walking to the Singletary Center for the Arts for the Lexington Philharmonic’s Made in America concert. I saw some friends ahead and thought about catching up with them, but then hung back. I wanted to take in the moment.

Just over 20 years ago, I walked up to the Singletary Center for the first time. It was the end of my first week at the Herald-Leader, and the concert was Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Houston Symphony Orchestra. I don’t remember if I was reviewing it, but I do remember Holly Salisbury, the mother of the Singletary Center, insisted I come.

In the ensuing years, I came to feel at home in the Singletary Center, not really needing to make specific coordinates with groups such as the Philharmonic or the UK Opera and Symphony when I came over to cover them. We all knew our ways around, and the same went for places like the Lexington Opera House and the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center — which really should simply be the Pam Miller Arts Center.

But last Friday night was as distinctive as that chilly March 1998 night, because it was the last time I was going to the center as a staff writer for the Herald-Leader.

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone.

After 20 years covering art and entertainment for the Herald-Leader, I am stepping off the beat to pursue the next act in my life as a communications strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is an exciting opportunity to help tell the story of the awesome work the church is doing around the world, but that doesn’t make leaving here any easier.

When I graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia — always “Big Blue” to me — my dream was to become an arts and entertainment writer for a daily newspaper and get to cover big events and exciting people and organizations.

Lexington and the Herald-Leader is where that dream came true.

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Former Herald-Leader reporter Heather Svokos poses with Rich Copley in 2001 for a photo illustration that was published with a story about the Oscars. JOSEPH REY AU LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

It occurred to me the other week, editing a colleague’s story about the Backstreet Boys tour coming to the Yum Center in Louisville, that I had covered them in their heyday when they came to Rupp Arena for two sold-out shows Thanksgiving weekend in 1999 and now we were writing about them as something of a nostalgia act — sorry millennials, we Gen Xers have had to deal with a lot of our bands being “classic” for a good decade or more.

A lot had changed since 1998. Major groups or events that were part of my beat when I started are gone now, and there are new entities that have emerged. Actors Guild of Lexington was the major locally-based theater company when I started here, and the desire for a professional theater troupe with actors contracted by the stage actors union was a regular topic of conversation. Now, AthensWest Theatre and The Lexington Theatre Company do just that, in forms probably few envisioned.

But then who in 1998 was envisioning things such as visionary works of Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova or the annual PRHBTN mural project — one regret in moving on is that it is so soon after a beautiful Alice Mizrachi took over a Midland Avenue wall I could see from my desk.

And who ever thought in 1998 Lexington arts leaders such as Lexington Philharmonic music director George Zack or Holly at the Singletary Center would move on. Heck, I even had Opera House impresario Dick Pardy denounce one of my reviews from the stage before his untimely passing in 2000. But then I got to cover the stories as each entity brought in new leadership and thrived, along with many other organizations that experienced major change during my tenure.

The constants that come to mind in 20 years are Everett McCorvey at the University of Kentucky Opera and Larry and Vivian Snipes at the Lexington Children’s Theatre. But even without major leadership changes, those were groups that had lots of stories to tell over the past couple decades.

This was a beat that took me on plenty of adventures, including covering Laura Bell Bundy — another constant, starting with covering her senior musical at Lexington Catholic — in her biggest Broadway moment creating the role of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde — The Musical.” I got to cover some of UK’s exceptional singers at the Metropolitan Opera, Kentucky performers at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Kentucky-made movies premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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First Lady Jane Beshear, left, presents the Media Award to Herald-Leader reporter Rich Copley during the presentation ceremony for the Governor’s Awards in the Arts in the state Capitol rotunda in Frankfort in October 2010. Matt Goins Lexington Herald-Leader

I covered Ashley Judd making a little film for KET out in Woodford County and George Clooney premiering a movie in Maysville. While I never got to sit down with Gorgeous George, I got to interview his famous Aunt Rosemary once and visited his parents Nick and Nina Clooney, who really are two of the loveliest people you could ever meet.

I could drop enough names to fill an entire Sunday features section and still not cover all of the great folks I have met covering this beat for two decades. There are some people I have just met and am sorry we will no be able to continue our conversations. There are stories I have wanted to tell that will have to be told by someone else.

I have covered many people moving on who said, “there’s no good time to leave,” and now I am living that.

One thing I want to make clear: As I have been sharing this news the last couple weeks, several people have presumed this is because of the troubles facing the newspaper industry now. It is not. I am moving on because I got a fantastic opportunity at the right time in my life to take it.

It is not lost on me that I am getting to leave newspaper journalism on my own terms at a time when many of my colleagues have not had that choice. Watching colleagues dismissed through no fault of their own the past decade has been the toughest part of this job, and my hope is the ship is righted and sails into prosperity for my amazing colleagues. Leaving them is the hardest part of all of this moment, no matter how excited I am for the opportunity.

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From left: Rich Copley, Matt Ellegood, and Ben Parker discussing summer theatre. Ellegood plays Daniel Boone in the ‘Legend of Daniel Boone,’ and Ben Parker plays Chief Blackfish as a native American. The performance took place from June 15-August 26 at James Harrod Amphitheatre in Harrodsburg in 2000. KYUNG SOOK SCHOENMAN LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

But one thing I got in addition to a dream job in Lexington is a new home for me and my family in Kentucky. When I applied for this job, I didn’t even know if the Kentucky Derby was run in Lexington or Louisville. (I learned Louisville has the big race, but we have the best track.) So it is great news to us that while the job changes, our home won’t. We will remain a part of this community, joining audiences at Singletary, the Opera House, the Kentucky Theatre — Fred Mills, another constant — and I will be an avid reader of the Herald-Leader, Kentucky.com and LexGo.com.

You will see a few more bylines from me in coming weeks, as I have left a few stories to be published. But as of now, my work here is done. It has been an honor to tell the story of Lexington arts and entertainment these past 20 years, and while this is the end for me, the story continues.

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