If the atmosphere in downtown Lexington this weekend seems a little more colorful and dramatic than usual, that’s because more than 5,000 theater artists from around the Southeast have descended on Lexington to attend the Southeastern Theatre Conference at the Lexington Center and surrounding venues.
The largest theater conference in the nation, the conference, known as SETC, offers more than 300 workshops, auditions, and networking opportunities. It also hosts five theater festivals: the Ten Minute Play Festival, the Theatre for Youth Festival, the High School Theatre Festival, the Fringe Festival and the Community Theatre Festival.
What does that mean for us?
The last three are open to the public, so it means theater. Lots of it.
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Theater lovers can indulge themselves throughout the day and evening on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday afternoon, choosing from among a few dozen performances that remain to be showcased this weekend as part of the convention’s fests.
Clay Thornton, a spokesperson for SETC, says each festival has something distinctly different to offer audiences, depending on tastes and interests.
“The Community Theatre Festival is going to be more broadly received plays that have stood the test of time,” Thornton says. “In many cases, they are favorites in their communities.”
This year’s selections include “The Glass Menagerie” by Alabama’s Wetumpka Depot Players, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” by Florida’s Star Center Theatre, and “Last Train to Nibroc” by Georgia’s Dalton Little Theatre.
Kentucky’s entries in the festival include Ashland’s Paramount Players with “Cabaret” and the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro’s “Who Am I This Time?” with back-to-back show times at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Friday.
Each featured play was a winner at its respective state theater convention earlier this year. Two of the featured plays will be chosen to represent the southeastern region at the National AACTFest in June in Rochester, Minn.
“The community theater, they’re trying to sell tickets in their respective communities,” Thornton says. “The Fringe Festival is more about trying to get a message out.”
In other words, the Fringe Festival is a more purely artistic endeavor that invites experimentation and features all original work as opposed to time-tested classics.
This year’s Fringe Festival is heavy on one-person shows, puppetry and music that explores themes of self-discovery.
From “Breakneck Julius Caesar,” by Timothy Mooney, which is just what it sounds like — one man racing through Shakespeare’s classic tale — to Dawn Larsen’s “Vicious Hillbilly,” a one-woman show about dating in the South as a self-identified “progressive hillbilly,” the Fringe Festival showcases five original works by the region’s established and emerging voices.
“There are no tickets required and no cost for anyone attending, but folks would need to show up about 15 minutes prior to the show,” Thornton says. “Come on out and check out something different.”
The high school theater festival also is open to the public, but there is a $20 charge to see the one-act plays in blocks of five. Bryan Station High School’s “The Cagebirds” was scheduled for Thursday night, and Corbin High School’s “Still Waters Run Deep” is set for Friday.
If you go
Southeastern Theatre Conference festivals
Community Theatre Festival: 2:45-10 p.m. Thurs., 3-11 p.m. Fri., noon-4:30 p.m. Sat. at the Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St. Admission is free and open to the public; seating priority will be given to conference attendees.
Fringe Festival: Midnight Thurs., noon-6 p.m. Fri., 10:30 a.m. Sat. at Lexington Children’s Theatre, 418 W. Short St. Admission is free and open to the public; seating priority will be given to conference attendees. (Note: Even though it is at the Children’s Theatre, a number of the Fringe Festival shows are not suitable for general audiences.)
Online: Find schedules and more information at SETC.org.