Stage & Dance

Balagula Theatre returns with new show and organization

Mark Smith and Ryan Case star in Balagula Theatre's production of "Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship" by Anthony Wynn. Photo courtesy of Balagula Theatre.
Mark Smith and Ryan Case star in Balagula Theatre's production of "Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship" by Anthony Wynn. Photo courtesy of Balagula Theatre.

One of the many casualties of the area's two recent record-breaking snowstorms was a week and two days of rehearsal time for Balagula Theater's production of Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship by Anthony Wynn.

But Balagula has suffered more threatening obstacles than 17.1 inches of snow in recent months, including the resignation of founding artistic and managing directors Ryan Case and Natasha Williams in December in the midst of a financial crisis.

Many in the Lexington Arts community wondered whether Balagula could still be Balagula without Case and Williams' artistic sensibilities. Under their direction, the company had grown into one of Lexington's most critically-praised theater troupes.

Rachel Rogers, who has been in several Balagula productions and is serving as a volunteer artistic director while the company regroups, says that although the theater is under new leadership, the artistic legacy Case and Williams left will continue.

"Having worked so closely with my friends and colleagues Ryan and Natasha for years now on many productions, I have an intimate understanding of the unique Balagula style and I'm committed to that legacy," Rogers said. "Our shows will continue to be innovative, intellectual, and full of unusual charm with serious commitment to local artists.

"Balagula began as an artists' cooperative, and that foundation gives us the strength to move onward and upward as a theater."

Directing this play, she has a reminder of that legacy in front of her in Case as Bosie, opposite veteran actor and Balagula newcomer Mark Smith as Bernard Shaw. Case selected the show for this season when he was still serving as co-artistic director, and wanted to honor his commitment to the role he had agreed to play months ago.

"Just because I wasn't the AD anymore, I still wanted to be an artist and I still wanted to support the theater," Case said. "I wanted people to see that I support it even though I'm not able to keep my position."

Based upon the written correspondence between the literary great George Bernard Shaw and Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, poet and former lover of Oscar Wilde, the play is a dramatic reading of letters that the duo, who only met in person once, exchanged for more than a decade.

Rogers says the company is bringing the show, often presented as a staged reading, to Lexington with a distinct Balagula twist.

Balagula's struggles have been financial, not artistic, but a retooled board of directors is trying to change that.

Scott Halvorsen Turner joined the board and was elected president on Dec. 18.

Turner, who has previously served on the board of directors for Studio Players, says the board has taken drastic measures to restore the theater's fiscal health.

Since Turner took the reins, the theater's monthly expenses have been reduced from $4,708 to $2,600 by doing things such as moving facilities and restructuring payment for artists. The board also worked with the Kentucky Arts Council and LexArts to re-establish its eligibility for funding.

LexArts suspended Balagula's $1,000 per month grant allocation after the resignation of Case and Williams because, according to the terms of the grant, organizations must retain a paid professional staff member.

"As we shared with them, the quality of Balagula Theatre's productions and its ability to attract an audience have been and still are great assets and reasons to encourage the board and paid and unpaid staff to improve fiscal management of the organization and maintain compliance with eligibility requirements," LexArts president and CEO Nan Plummer said, adding that LexArts is looking at other ways it can help Balagula recover.

Turner says that the theater hopes to restore at least one part-time or full-time position in the future and that by conservative estimates, he expects the theater to finish the fiscal year with an $8,000 surplus. The theater ended fiscal year 2014 with a $3,800 deficit. According to both Turner and Rogers, a four-show season for 2015-16 will be announced soon.

Rogers said, "It will include the avant garde, a modern classic with a Balagula twist, a literary adaptation and a Kentucky original."