Stonewalling: Scrambling to save Lime Kiln"


The news came as a bit of a jolt to fans of the Theater at Lime Kiln.

"You just expect a community treasure like Lime Kiln to always be there," says Victoria Pannell, executive director of the Lexington Downtown Development Association, referring to reports that the outdoor theater was in danger of closing.

The board of directors that runs the nonprofit theater announced November 21 that it would consider suspending operations if it was not able to retire $175,000 in accumulated debts by the end of the calendar year.

"We believe things are moving in the right direction. The board is committed to getting out of this situation and getting Lime Kiln back to its roots," Mary Sayre, the chairman of the board that oversees activities at the two-decade-old Lexington theater, said at the time.

While the theater's fundraisers were not able to meet the goal by the deadline, "the significant support received so far from the arts community, businesses and individuals" has encouraged the Board of Directors to continue to seeks ways to keep the theater viable, Sayre said on New Year's Eve.

The board also announced in December that it had decided to terminate the theater's two remaining staff members as part of the move to get the facility back on its feet.

"We're doing what we need to do," Sayre says. "We've released the staff, we've shut the doors. Now we're cleaning up the mess."

A big part of the mess is a decline in attendance at the theater– something community theaters are dealing with nationwide.

"Everybody is talking about how home-entertainment options are growing, and how that affects just about any place that relies on people coming out and sitting down in the evening and spending money," says Reid Oechslin, a Staunton-based theater consultant.

"There's a contraction in the market," Oechslin says, "but I don't see it getting so bad that it's going to knock everybody out of business. It will affect some providers of live entertainment, certainly."

The Lime Kiln board will examine those issues in the coming weeks as board members look to develop a business plan for the theater.

A key component to the business plan will be programming, Sayre says. "Attendance at our concert series was on target. But attendance at plays was down, and down sharply.

"First and foremost, we have to examine whether we keep Stonewall Country retired forever, or bring it back some years, or even bring it back full time," Sayre says.

"The theater is an economic engine for downtown Lexington," says Pannell. "Lime Kiln draws thousands and thousands of people to the area and to downtown Lexington. The loss of the theater would be a blow to the downtown district and to the city and community as a whole.

"The LDDA has been playing an active role in trying to make sure that the theater survives and thrives. We certainly don't want to see it go."

Upcoming fundraisers include a "Monte Carlo Evening" on March 11 at VMI's Moody Hall.

In July 2004, the production synonymous with Lime Kiln,
Stonewall Country , ended its 20-year run.

Robin and Linda Williams, who wrote the songs in Stonewall Country, often perform on Prairie Home Companion.