Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Sad, Sad Loss of Lime Kiln Theatre

Lime Kiln during better days.
It looks like the Theater at Lime Kiln in Lexington, one of the region's oldest and most venerable venues, will close for good this weekend at least partly because of the notion that government has no business supporting the arts--a specious argument at best. It is an argument used almost solely by those in the United States, among First World nations. The others think nothing putting money into the arts, which they consider--properly--an educational venue.

This would be the second significant loss of a theater venue in a little over a month in this region. Recently, Studio Roanoke, a front-edge facility that featured new works in Roanoke, closed for lack of funding.

Lime Kiln, which was quite literally that for many years, was carved into a theater by one Don Baker about 30 years ago and transformed into an outside theater that had few parallels on the East Coast, either for sheer beauty or creativity. Baker, with his friends Robin and Linda Williams, nationally known folk singers, wrote "Stonewall Country," which became the theater's cornerstone for years (I saw it 25 times--swear to god--and it was never bad). Don produced Shakespeare each year (often in Appalachian settings) and the theater produced people like Lee Smith ("Earrings From Oral History") and the wonderful "King Mackeral and the Blues Are Running." Their original productions demonstrated just how good local/regional theater could be when in the right hands.

Baker, however, was too big for Lexington and when the local board began bitching about his techniques, he left for Atlanta and told them to run the theater themselves. There has been a succesion of directors since then, but never a Don Baker and the theater has suffered. It has also help a less exhalted, but solid entertainment and tourist draw spot in the touristy county. It features some fine national music acts and an occasional play of substance and creativity.

But that's not enough, especially without some bucks from the local governments (and maybe the state's and federal endowments for the arts). I'm going to miss the place being there, although I haven't been in several years. It said "good theater" to all who know this region and its theatrical heritage.

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