Stage & Dance

Rich Copley: Project SEE directors feel right at home

Ellie Clark, top, Evan Bergman and Sullivan Canaday White are the directors of Project SEE Theatre.
Ellie Clark, top, Evan Bergman and Sullivan Canaday White are the directors of Project SEE Theatre. Lexington Herald-Leader

Ellie Clark and Evan Bergman were back home in New York after an exhilarating thespians' holiday in Lexington.

The couple, who had been together for only three weeks, starred in the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory's production of Charles L. Mee's Big Love. It had been several weeks of getting to know each other and fellow artists, including director Sullivan Canaday White, through intense rehearsals and performances.

Reflecting on the experience, Bergman said to Clark, "Why aren't we back there?"

At the time, White, Clark and Bergman were all visiting artists. Now, they are residents of Lexington, starting one of its newest theater companies: Project SEE Theater.

The company launched in December with a production of Steven Dietz's Lonely Planet, a well-received two-person drama starring Tim Hull and Nick Vannoy.

This week, Project SEE launches its first full season of shows with boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, a comedy in which a presumably inconsequential sexual encounter takes on universal implications.

Project See is the result of two artists from Central Kentucky who left to explore elsewhere for several years and then came home.

Clark was born into a theatrical family, the daughter of former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School theater director Trish Clark. She went through her mother's program and the University of Kentucky theater department. After graduation, she was part of the prestigious apprentice program at Actors Theatre of Louisville before she moved to New York to pursue theater and film work.

White was the director of the apprentice program at Actors Theatre for five years before she moved to New York and eventually headed to educational posts in the Carolinas.

For White, the opportunity to come home was a job offer from Transylvania University, where she had enjoyed a monthlong stint as an artist-in-residence in winter 2010, directing the school's production of Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros.

Weighing the offer to join the Transylvania faculty and come home, White called Clark, who told her, "I will if you will."

Despite being a New York native, Bergman was in a mood to try something new.

Clark says, "Evan said to me, 'I want an intimate community where I can see my art is making a difference.'"

Intimacy is hard to come by in the New York arts community, and it was getting more and more expensive to live there.

Clark acknowledges that with her return to Lexington, some people "may think that we didn't think Lexington was good enough before."

She says that is not the case. After growing up and going to school in Lexington, she thought it was important to go work in a place where she was not a known quantity, and White concurs. Having done that, they and Bergman say, they bring a broader experience to their new endeavor, Project SEE. One of the challenges has been figuring out what sets them apart in a community increasingly populated by theaters.

At the outset, they see their first season representing a taste for new work and challenging classic material, and as a test.

"I think we will be able to more clearly define a niche after this year," White says. "This season will tell us a lot about what our strengths are and who our audience is."

None will say their wanderlust has gone. But for the moment, the Project SEE trio feels at home here.