Stage & Dance

AthensWest takes professional approach to ‘Mockingbird’

Kevin Crowley, as Atticus Finch, shoots a rabid dog. Behind him is Stuart Fail as Maycomb County Sheriff Heck Tate.
Kevin Crowley, as Atticus Finch, shoots a rabid dog. Behind him is Stuart Fail as Maycomb County Sheriff Heck Tate. Herald-Leader

Actress Robyn Maitlind is used to long commutes in the name of theater.

Maitlind drives from Louisville to Lexington a few times a week to rehearse her role as Miss Stephanie in AthensWest Theatre Co.’s upcoming production of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Until she moved to Louisville from Connecticut a couple of months ago to be closer to family, she thought nothing of routinely driving an hour or two to work on shows as either an actress or a scenic painter.

“It’s not that big a deal,” says Maitlind, who regularly commuted among cities throughout the Northeast when she lived in Connecticut.

“I was working a lot in New Haven, which was an a hour and a half from my house, and in New York City, which was two hours from my house,” says Maitlind, a professional interior designer with theater training from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

Others in the cast also spend hours on the road to work with AthensWest. Eight of the 18 cast members hail from regional Cincinnati, Frankfort,d Louisville and elsewhere.

Why is the influx of regional actors to a Lexington stage significant?

Because it suggests that AthensWest is on the fast track to creating a professional regional theater that employs a mix of local,regional and national actors.

We thought one day we’d be this destination for regional actors. We didn’t realize that would happen immediately.

— Bo List, co-director, AthensWest Theatre Co.

AthensWest producing director Bo List, who cofounded the theater company with To Kill a Mockingbird director Jeff Day, and Kate Goodwin and Mark Mozingo, says he was surprised to get such a strong regional response so soon. The troupe has produced only one show so far: Doubt by John Patrick Stanley — a successful venture in February that paved the way to the announcement of a three-season show this year.

“It’s been very surprising,” List says. “I was surprised that we had so many from Louisville and Cincinnati showing up for auditions for To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Auditions for the theater’s second show of the season, 33 Variations by Moises Kaufman, surprised List even more.

“We had two women from Chicago audition,” List says. “They didn’t know each other and drove separately. I said, ‘Why are you here?’ and one of the women said it was her favorite play, and the other woman said, ‘I saw it on Broadway three times.’”

“It’s very humbling to feel like we have a special niche to fill,” List says. “We thought one day we’d be this destination for regional actors. We didn’t realize that would happen immediately.”

List says that working with so many new actors has been a boon for the production and the theater itself.

“We really lucked out and got a cast full of really marvelous people largely unfamiliar to us,” List says. “It was terrifying at first, but now it is exhilarating.”

To Kill a Mockingbird audiences can expect to see prominent local actors Shayne Brakefield and Patrick Mitchell alongside regional professionals Kevin Crowley, who plays Atticus. Crowley is one of two Equity actors in the play.

Crowley, who commutes from Cincinnati, has enjoyed a long career on stage and in film, spending more than a decade working in Los Angeles. He appears in Cate Blanchett’s latest film, Carol, which opens in many markets (but not Lexington) the same night as To Kill a Mockingbird.

“I applaud them,” Crowley says of AthensWest’s efforts to create a theater where Equity actors can work alongside non-Equity actors, who earn points toward membership in the Equity union.

“I’ve been impressed and really enjoyed my time here,” Crowley says of not only the theater but Lexington itself, which he got to see in all its Breeders’ Cup glory.

Crowley says he would be glad to work with AthensWest again, as an actor or a director.

Maitlind says the experience has been an important way for her to begin to put down roots in the Bluegrass. She auditioned to make friends.

“I remember saying to the director, ‘I’m new here and I need normal people,” Maitlind says. “To me, normal people are actors. They’re creative and they’re outgoing and they’re fearless people.”

List says a familiar show like To Kill a Mockingbird is a good way to begin building a relationship with its audience.

“The fact that this story has been so much in the public mind with the release of the new book is what first got us thinking about it,” says List, who said he hopes that audiences will be enticed to return for the season’s second and third productions. “As a way of introducing ourselves, we want to say, ‘Here is something you find familiar and very compelling, so when we offer something new, you trust us.’”

If You Go

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

What: AthensWest Theatre Co. production of the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 20, 21, 27, 28 and Dec. 3-5. 2 p.m. Nov. 22, 29, Dec. 6.

Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.

Tickets: $25 general public, $20 senior adults, military and students.

Online: Athenswest.org.

Phone: (859) 425-2550.

The phone number was corrected from an earlier posting of this story.

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