There’s a new neighborhood art space in town and the locals are loving it

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By Leah Bomar
she/her
contact@queerkentucky.com

There’s a new neighborhood art space in town and the locals are loving it.

Highview Arts Center launched its inaugural season with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” directed by Kieth McGill. Starring Derrick Ledbetter, Clarity Hagan, and Jay Padilla-Haytera, the cast of three performs this modern day twist on all the classics packing a punch and the house in Southern Jefferson County, Kentucky.

“I believe art should be available for everyone. I really hope that by having a venue outside of downtown Louisville, more people will be able to experience theater, music, dance, and visual arts. We also hope to keep ticket prices low in order to make art affordable for more people. Not everyone can afford to see a Broadway tour… but hopefully now they can see an excellent show in their neighborhood!” said Emily Gimany, Highview Arts Center Communications Director.

When Grimany reached out and said, ‘Do you know any directors who want to direct the first season?’, McGill was excited to do a complete works. He ‘lives in Shakespeare’, doing Shakespeare with high schoolers, men incarcerated, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Behind bars, and Shakespeare in the Park.

“It’s a goofy play with three goofy people trying to do Shakespeare and getting it wrong and then fixing it and getting it wrong again. It’s a fun play,” said McGill. “I wanted Derek because Derek would be fun. Derek would bring that energy that he brings. And then I wanted Clare, because Clare was a great actor and Clare is non-binary and I wanted that voice in there. And I wanted Jay because Jay is Latina and she’s a good actor. And then I have my black gay voice in there, so everybody’s voice is in this play.”

McGill sat down with people in the show ready to update the complete works script.

“The script was really stuck in 1985. As far as homophobia, lightweight, and not so lightweight racism,

xenophobia, transphobia, misogyny… all the things we’re in now. To be fair, it was written in ‘85 and even though those things were there, people weren’t calling it out. People weren’t saying, ‘Hey, guys, you gotta change your perspective’ or whatever. So they were just writing what they knew. And they were writing from their perspective, you know, three straight guys.” 

Together the cast read the script and started changing the things that needed to be taken out. They added some lines, updated it, and added some jokes. A lot of jokes. 

A successful theater turnout on opening weekend had audience members laughing throughout the 90 minute performance taking them through all the classics, comedies, and tragedies.  

“It’s so communal. Theater itself and art itself is so communal… These people were strangers 15 minutes ago and then they all walk in the door, they all sit down, the play starts, and we’re a unit. We’re all in it. We’re rooting for you. We’re enjoying ourselves. We’re looking at each other and going, ‘That was hilarious, wasn’t it?’ Strangers I’d never met before, but now I’m sitting next to him laughing. And, to me, that is the best moment, that’s it. That’s it for me… We’ve got differences, you know, but there’s more that we have in common.”

When faced with the prospect of bringing theater and more to the Southern-end of Jefferson County, Highview Arts Center was ready to take on critics who might have thought negatively about the location.

“This is the thing that people think about these areas: One, is that people here won’t get it. Two, they’ve never read Shakespeare. Three, we better be careful about what we say because they’ll either be bored or they’ll be offended or they will protest or whatever. They don’t know anything about culture. It’s insulting to literally everybody involved. It’s insulting to the artists, that the artists wouldn’t appeal to these people. And it’s the idea that well, you’re gonna bring the theater here and nobody’s gonna come.”

Far from the truth. On opening weekend 70-80 people per show packed the house, even on a Sunday matinee.  

“The thing is, people don’t go downtown as much, because it’s half an hour away… Putting Highview Arts Center in the heart of Highview makes art accessible. There are people here who I bet would never have come to this play had it not been 10 minutes away. The fact that I can just jump in my car and drive a few minutes to see it, yes, makes a big difference.”

“When we talk about ‘art is for the people’, we really need to mean that. We really need to mean art is for the people and not just for certain types of art, like opera or ballet or a Broadway musical tour or a big name comedian or the orchestra. But a small play or a coffee house type thing in the lounge. Or a dance recital. Or a dance group that’s put something together and they don’t have a space or they don’t want to have to go all the way downtown to rent a space because it’s super inconvenient. But if they can go right down the street and rent that space and put on a show and then show people their art, it’s connecting.” 

“Art needs a connector. Highview Art is one of those connectors.”

Get tickets for the final three showings of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” Friday, September 16-Sunday, September 17 here or at the door.

Casting for the next play “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” will be held September 25th and 26th. Get more info at HighviewArtsCenter.com.

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