LCT’s 75th Anniversary: Serving Kids Through the Ages

By John Lynch

LCT-1Tim Edwards, a 48-year-old tech specialist at Lexmark, grew up in Lexington as a math-science kid, an unlikely candidate for the dramatic world of theater.

But when he was in 10th grade, his parents enrolled him in a Lexington Children’s Theatre summer camp.

“It was a lot of fun, I made friends and it helped me get out of my shell,” Edwards said.

At Lafayette High, he acted in school plays, performing as Linus in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which was the highlight and end of his theater life.

At Brown University, he studied math and returned home to work at Lexmark.

So when his daughter Alice was 4, he remembered his LCT experience and enrolled her in a class.

“She already was so dramatic. She caught the bug and there was no stopping her,” Edwards said.

Now 17, Alice has grown up at LCT and performs in shows at Sayre School.

“I had a great experience there and so has my daughter,” Edwards said. “They have teachers who devote their lives to the theater and really care about kids.”

And so it goes at LCT, which has been a second home for 75 years to children in the Bluegrass while establishing itself as one of the country’s best and most comprehensive children’s theaters.

LCT this spring is wrapping up a year-long celebration of its 75th anniversary, a year marked by special events and recognitions.

Highlights include a reunion last summer on Short Street that drew 500 people; one of the largest casts ever in the Family Summer Musical: “Shrek, the Musical;” an alumni reception in September; an intern reunion in March; a proclamation by Mayor Jim Gray; and a Governor’s Award for the Arts in Education this winter.

The season concludes with “Gossamer” on April 18-30 and the sixth annual Celebrity Curtain Call featuring local public figures in a performance of “Wonderland” April 12.

It’s been an exciting, gratifying whirlwind, but the leadership team, under the direction of Larry and Vivian Snipes, is already focused on year No. 76.

“We are reflective artists, meaning we look at what we’ve done and see how we can make it better,” said Larry Snipes, LCT’s Producing Director.

“Things never get stale. Over the years, the quality has gotten better. Our staff is working here because they are dedicated to the art form. We evaluate everything and that’s what makes it fresh.”

LCT is a vastly different place than when the Snipes came to town 35 years ago, in 1979. Working out of an office in Meadowthorpe, Larry was the only full-time employee for the volunteer-run organization that produced three plays on a budget of $40,000.

Classes were held in the old Lexington Hearing and Speech building on Ashland Avenue and LCT had one overnight camp at Cathedral Domain.

Consider the Theatre now:

  • With a budget of $1.2 million, LCT has 15 full-time employees, uses up to 40 college interns and contract artists each year and produces 10 shows for schools and the public.
  • LCT also stages professional touring productions around the state and as far afield as South Carolina and Illinois.
  • Saturday classes run winter, spring and fall, and LCT hosts up to 65 summer camps.
  • The Theatre Explorers program meets at up to 10 schools for after-school classes on site, and Company B and Junior Company (youth acting troupes) meet at LCT every Tuesday.
  • LCT’s musical group, Starlight Singers, perform all over town on weekends.
  • The Shooting Stars Youth Theatre is a satellite program in Morehead that serves Rowan and Elliott counties, and the Promise Neighborhood program offers arts enrichment workshops and performances through Berea College in Owsley, Jackson and Clay counties.

Given all those programs, it’s no wonder that LCT reaches nearly 130,000 children every year. And the impact on some of those kids is hard to overestimate.

Tim Simons, 34, who stars in the HBO series “Veep,” came to LCT from the University of Maine as an acting intern in 2001.

“I had never been to Kentucky and didn’t know much about children’s theater but I had a wonderful time there,” he said from Los Angeles.

“The thing I love about Larry and Viv is that they treat kids with so much respect. They never talk down to them.”

Emily Gallt, 27, is a copy writer for a fund-raising firm in Washington, D.C. who grew up in Lexington. She still remembers every detail from her first performance in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” when she was a fifth-grader.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “I was really talkative as a kid so [LCT] was a place where I could be myself.

“It was a great learning experience and it gave me and others like me a chance to shine.”

A SCAPA student at Lafayette High, Gallt performed in the marching band, was a government major on a partial drama scholarship at Centre College and remains a fan of the theater.

LCT-2“Although I’m not involved in theater myself, I still use the lessons I learned at the Children’s Theatre. I’m still creative as a copy writer and the theatre gave me confidence that has carried into adulthood.”

Ashley James, 33, also grew up at LCT, attending her first workshop as a 9-year-old.

“My first role was in “Snow White and Rose Red,” she said, “and when I was done I told my parents that this is what I want to do with my life.”

And she has. She continued to act at LCT, served as an intern while in high school and graduated from Kenyon College as a drama and art history major.

She returned to LCT as an acting intern and performed in touring shows.

James now lives in Los Angeles and just appeared in her first starring role in a feature film.

“I was a shy kid and learned to use my imagination, which gave me confidence,” she said. “The Children’s Theatre gave me my career choice and I have had fun doing it.

“I grew up at the Children’s Theatre and it was one of my favorite places to be.”

And so it keeps going for the Lexington Children’s Theatre.

So many lives touched – and changed – by the magic of imaginative play directed by a talented staff of professionals.

“It has been such a team effort and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Larry Snipes said.

“We’ve been able to put together a dedicated team of talented, passionate people who can help young people grow, and it’s been wonderful to be a part of that.”