is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

SummerFest: Behind the Scenes With Natalie's Merchant

In my role as an observer of the local arts scene, I have the good fortune to see some of the same talented and friendly faces time and time again.  

The actors and directors well known for their professional stamps are always a delight to see in action, but I've also noticed there are a few behind the scenes folks that all the area's great stage productions have in common. These people, in my view, are the glue that holds it all together, on stage and off.  

Two people who come to mind are Henry Layton, whose expertise in stage combat choreography is consistently praised by everyone in involved in local theatre, from Studio Players to Bluegrass Community & Technical College - and I'll be talking more about him soon and his involvement with KCTC and SummerFest's second show, Pride & Prejudice - but the other name that I consider as a supportive pillar of the Lexington theatrical community is stage manager and props princess Natalie Cummins. 

Cummins, too, is in demand by area directors, most likely because she's known for her attention to detail, her willingness to find THE prop that makes the play complete, and her patient but precise sense of timing, which is imperative for someone who takes up the task of stage management.  So it was a great pleasure to learn that Natalie is working behind the scenes to ensure the best opening possible for SummerFest's first venture, MERCHANT OF VENICE, which opens next Wednesday at the Arboretum.

Although it seems to me she's done something more recently, because Natalie's supportive presence is central to so many local efforts, she advises me, "The last play I stage managed was TRUE WEST, directed by Eric Seale for Studio Players back in January. I don't have anything else lined up after MERCHANT, but I'll somehow be involved in the remount of TOMMY in early August for AGL. In fact, I'm probably going to audition for THE JUNGLE FUN ROOM, to be directed by Bob Singleton at Studio Players. I like to put on my 'acting hat' when I can and have some fun." 

What sets MERCHANT apart from her other stage managed work?  "Hard to believe, but this is the first Shakespeare show I've ever worked on. It's been a bit of a challenge with the language, but not nearly as difficult as I'd imagined."  She also credits MERCHANT's Director, Ave Lawyer with anchoring the performances.  "Ave gave us all a good grounding in the language at the beginning of the rehearsal process. The other major difference is that I'm working the first show this time, which means we have more time on the actual set. The other two shows typically have less stage time (my previous experiences have been with the third show, which sees the least)."

"I think it's outstanding that SummerFest chose all female directors this year, although it's really not as gimmicky as one might expect. Lexington is blessed with several very talented female directors. In addition to the ones this summer, we have Tonda Fields and Margo Buchanan. This is my first time working with Ave. I've been astounded at her attention to detail at every level of the production, from the performances to the technical cues. She's put hundreds of hours of thought into this production, and I think the audience will be suitably impressed."

This is Cummins third time in the Arboretum, "and my fourth time doing outdoor theatre. In 2003, I was assistant stage manager and props mistress at 'DANIEL BOONE: THE MAN AND THE LEGEND.  That was a professional job lasting 12 weeks, as I recall; we performed that show 6 times a week, and I was backstage doing whatever needed to be done. In 2004 I stage managed JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR for the old Lexington Shakespeare Festival, and in 2008 I stage managed HAIR for SummerFest."

She admits the biggest challenge outdoors is dealing with the weather. "Heat is one thing, but if storms are brewing, then a chain of decisions must be made to ensure the safety of actors and patrons. I also have to make sure that my actors have sunscreen, bug spray, water, and whatever else they need to be comfortable and do their jobs. Also, the SummerFest stage is always a beast in size. Getting actors used to all those stairs and levels takes time and practice. Technically, it's about the same as doing a show indoors. Lights and sound (and, in our case, projections) all flow the same way. I love the audiences in the Arboretum, since they're always so relaxed and appear to be having fun with their wine and picnic dinners as the sun goes down and the evening breeze blows in. That vibe from the audience spills over to everyone, and we invariably end up having a good time. Ultimately, I think that's what SummerFest is about: we produce quality theatre that is fun to take in under the stars."
What you may or may not know about Natalie Cummins: 
Something I've taken a shine to doing lately here in KimmyVille is asking folks if they have some sort of gift that no one knows about.  When I asked her, Natalie was typically humble. "I don't know if I have a secret talent...probably the closest is that I love to bake, and I bake well :-)  

Natalie makes everything look easy as pie, so I believe her!

[NOTE: All photos of Natalie Cummins and rehearsal shots of MERCHANT OF VENICE were pinched from Natalie's and Adam Luckey's facebook page. I hope they forgive me for that.  The photo of Adam, Bob Singleton and Kim Dixon was taken at last year's rehearsal for JEKYLL & HYDE, courtesy of Tom Eisenhauer Photography.  I want to thank all these kind people for their understanding and cooperation.  Adam and Bob will team up again in MERCHANT, along with other great performers.  Actor Kim Dixon's a fine stage manager as well, and this year is working with PRIDE & PREJUDICE as Assistant Stage Manager to the fabulous Gretchen Shoot. I'll have a blog posted about RENT's stage manager, Tressa Bowling soon. So stay tuned, willya?  kjt ]

SummerFest continues a 29-year tradition of outdoor summer theatre at The Arboretum: State Botanical Garden in Lexington, KY. This year's season includes:

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ave Lawyer

PRIDE & PREJUDICE (July 14-18)
adapted by Jon Jory
Directed by Sullivan Canaday White

RENT, THE MUSICAL (July 21-25)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed & Choreographed by Tracey Bonner
Music Direction by Mark Calkins


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare will open 2010’s SummerFest on July 7 and play through July 11, 2010. Ave Lawyer (recently seen directing On The Verge’s productions of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest) will make her SummerFest debut directing one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing tales of love, greed and revenge. Audiences can look forward to a unique and timeless interpretation of this classic that hasn’t been produced in Lexington for over 20 years.

The Merchant of Venice Cast Includes:

Shylock - Adam Luckey
Portia - Lisa Thomas
Antonio - Carmen Geraci
Bassanio - Bob Singleton
Gratiano - Evan Bergman
Salarino - Ryan Briggs
Lorenzo - Tanner Gray
Jessica - Joe Elswick
Nerissa - Rosanna Hurt
Launcelot - Patrick Davis
Duke - Jack McIntyre
Aragon - Jeff Sherr

Sullivan Canaday White (2008’s The Lord of the Flies) returns to SummerFest to direct a critically praised adaptation of one of the most beloved novels of our time, Pride And Prejudice. The adaptation is written by Jon Jory, well known in Kentucky as the celebrated, former, longtime Artistic Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Pride And Prejudice will play July 14 through July 18, 2010.

Pride And Prejudice Cast Includes:

Mrs. Bennet - Trish Clark
Elizabeth Bennett - Ellie Clark
Jane Bennett - Holly Brady
Mary Bennett - Annie Barbera
Kitty Bennett - Erin Cutler
Lydia Barrett / Georgiana - Avery Wigglesworth
Mr. Darcy - Tom Phillips
Charlotte - Sarah Levy
William Lucas/Mr. Collins/Mr. Gardner -Tim Hull
Miss Bingley/Mrs. Gardiner - Vanessa Becker
Lady Catherine - Stephanie Peniston
George Wickham - Drew Davidson


SummerFest concludes with the show that transformed the definition of musical theatre, rocked a generation and changed Broadway forever, Jonathan Larson’s blockbuster musical, RENT, playing July 21 though July 25, 2010.

Tracey Bonner, no stranger to the Lexington musical theatre scene, makes her SummerFest directing debut with this Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning musical.

RENT Cast Includes:

Mimi Márquez -Jessica Lucas
Roger Davis - John Dawson
Mark Cohen - Chip Becker
Maureen Johnson - Caroline Griffeth
Angel Dumott Schunard - Emanuel Williams
Tom Collins - Nick Vannoy
Joanne Jefferson - Sheronda Piersall
Benjamin 'Benny' Coffin III - Thomas Gibbs
Seasons Of Love Soloist - Andrea Johnson

The Ensemble Includes:
Casey Mather
Justin Norris
Sarah Matthews
Brandon Smith
Cate Poole
Beth Kovarik
Wood Van Meter
Katie Berger
Nick Covault


All SummerFest 2010 performances will begin nightly at 8:45 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, at the Arboretum: State Botanical Garden of Kentucky on Alumni Drive. SummerFest tickets will go on sale in June 2010 and will once again feature very affordable single ticket prices of $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Season Passes to see all three shows will also be available at $25 for adults and $12 for kids.

For more information on SummerFest, or the Conservatory programming, please visit them the web at

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