This year’s Kentucky General Assembly approved 114 capital construction projects valued at more than $1 billion. While projects at several universities and the Louisville Zoo did not make the list, one arts entity got a boost. The legislature approved nine million dollars in bonds for the Kentucky Center to upgrade the 25-year-old state-owned facility. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.
My guide on a tour along the labyrinth of catwalks above the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall is Joe Massey, the Kentucky Center’s vice president for internal operations. Below us are more than 2,000 seats and the stage. Massey stops and points to a steel beam running the width of the backstage area. It is attached to a rigging system near the ceiling.
“See these cables? They’re holding this I-beam up, which holds this truss, which holds these clouds,” he says. “These are the acoustical clouds. Depending on who we have in here — opera, ballet, orchestra — the house positions the clouds. For the opera you want them all the way out. For the orchestra you want them all the way in.”
Massey recounts how he began watching this equipment deteriorate 10 years ago, as the cables began to twist and cut into the large beam. Five years ago, the Center immobilized this system with chains and cables for safety. One result has been poor acoustics for all performances.
Nearly half of the $9 million will go towards replacing this system. The new system will be able to move acoustical equipment, set pieces and lights and make room for extra equipment brought in by touring Broadway shows. The rest of the money will purchase new seating, a new stage floor that is springy enough for dancers and a modern lighting system that uses nearly 40 percent less energy.
The Center’s sole owner and custodian is the state, which built the performing arts complex in 1983 to provide the state with a major performance arts venue and stages for the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisville Ballet, the Kentucky Opera, Stage One Children’s Theater and the Broadway Series.
The Center’s president, Stephen Klein, has been telling legislators about the facility’s deterioration since he took his job in 2005. He says he thinks this year legislators realized the extent of the damage. Part of his message was the Center’s financial vitality depended on upgrades.
“Because we were getting behind the eight ball a little bit, we would be less competitive in attracting some of the things that we do or we should be doing,” Klein says.
Those things mean mounting performances that are profitable, especially popular music acts like Lyle Lovett and Broadway shows like “Phantom of the Opera.”
Klein’s message wasn’t lost on legislators, including House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark.
“I think that people feel like this is the state facility,” Clark says. “It does need the upgrading because it’s going to lose the larger shows and productions. So, they done a good job this session lobbying.”
Those larger shows include ones like “The Lion King.” During the production’s run at the Center last June technicians had to do extra work to outfit Whitney Hall with the needed acoustical equipment, which raised the show’s production costs here.
Leslie Broecker is president of Broadway Across America Midwest.
“We’ll be more competitive and certainly make shows want to come here earlier in their tour,” Broecker says.
While the Kentucky Center awaits Governor Steve Beshear’s approval of the budget, it has tentative plans to make the renovations in the summer of 2009.