Drew Davidson is the kind of director who puts his actors through their paces.
In order to prepare members of the cast of Antagonist Productions’ "Othello" to be able to clearly deliver their lines while moving or out of breath, Davidson prescribes exercises to do while practicing lines. But for Whit Whitaker, who plays the title role, Davidson’s exercises failed to challenge him.
“Whit’s in such good shape ... I couldn’t get him out of breath," says Davidson, who refers to Whitaker as a “philosopher athlete.”
So, the pair hit the gym.
“We spent countless hours and hours going to the YMCA,” says Davidson. “We were doing kettlebells, doing suicide drills while running lines.”
“Not every single actor would be willing to do that. You look at Whit’s physique — that doesn’t happen overnight. He puts in countless hours. He does the same for the role.”
The image of two sweaty men running around a gym panting Elizabethan lines like “may the winds blow till they have wakened death” and “I kissed thee ere I killed thee” could also be seen as a metaphor for Antagonist Productions itself.
Founded by Ian Scott, the new theater company has burst onto the scene with the same intensity as Davidson and Whitaker’s suicide drills.
Scott moved to Lexington from Cincinnati nine years ago and worked as a contractor with his father while taking classes at BCTC.
“I took a theater class because I needed a humanities credit,” Scott playfully admits. “Tim X. Davis kind of paved my road to success,” Scott says of the director of BCTC’s theatre program. “I caught the bug.”
Soon, Scott was putting his construction skills to work building sets for Kentucky Conservatory Theatre. After dabbling onstage and backstage in a few more shows, Scott founded Antagonist Productions in April 2017.
“It all kind of derives from the name — the antagonist who goes against everything,” Scott says. “I wanted to do completely different types of theater, nothing but work by local playwrights.”
For example, Antagonist Productions mounted a successful full production of local playwright Caitlyn Waltermire’s play "Little Bites" earlier this year.
“We’ve proven that we can sell tickets on work that’s unknown just based on the amount of talent that’s around here and how everybody supports each other,” Scott says.
Antagonist Productions recently received nearly 40 scripts in a local script drive and will select two to produce in 2019. The company also works with inmates at Northpoint Training Center in Danville on a recurring series entitled “I Come From,” and it has a radio show on Lexington Community Radio, 93.9 FM.
But the playwright of "Othello" definitely isn’t local. The production is, however, an example of the company using its wiley determinism and sense of possibility and community resources to fill a local need.
With the Kentucky Conservatory Theatre scaling back its summer shows, offering one musical instead of one Shakespeare show and one musical, that left Lexington with the premise of no “Shakespeare in the park” in more than three decades.
Scott wasn’t having that.
He saw an opportunity to stage a Shakespeare show on the Woodland Park stage on the days that KCT’s summer show, "Beauty and the Beast," isn’t playing.
Kentucky Conservatory Theatre director Wesley Nelson says scaling back SummerFest was a difficult financial decision but, "Upon hearing about Ian Scott’s desire to present a summer Shapkespeare production we were immediately interested in a collaboration. Thanks to Scott’s long term relationship with KCT, we had great admiration for his passion, and work ethic.
"By inviting Antagonists Productions to join us for SummerFest, we are helping to make sure the long standing tradition of summer Shakespeare can continue."
Will audiences pile into Woodland Park on a weeknight to see Shakespeare? Scott is willing to find out.
It’s just the kind of daring fun that people who want to help build Scott’s dream of the “ultimate collaboration” with area artists and the community crave. Bailey Preston is one of those people, volunteering her professional skills in marketing as she serves on the board.
“It’s a theater company in this area that’s doing something completely different than anybody else,” Preston says. “I think everything that we’re doing is unique, so we’re not competing with other companies, we’re collaborating with them.”
Preston says when she pitched the idea of a weekly radio show focused on local theater, Scott immediately loved the idea.
“Can we start next week?” Preston recalls him asking. “It’s just a way for us to work with other theater companies and help them to get the word out. We want everyone to support the arts.”
IF YOU GO
What: Production of the William Shakespeare tragedy by Antagonist Productions
When: July 9-11, 16-18; gates open at 8, show starts at dark
Where: Woodland Park, 601 E. High St.
Tickets: $10 suggested donation at the gate
Note: This production will also be presented at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, 2590 Richmond St. in Mt. Vernon, July 26-28. Gates open at 8 and showtime is 8:45 p.m. Admission is free.