Theater keeps cultural legacy



By Simon Olagbaju

[email protected]

You may have heard of the Kentucky Theatre, or the Lexington Opera House, but one other center of the arts in Lexington that may not initially come to mind is the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, located on the corner of Elm Tree Lane and Third Street, by downtown Lexington.

“Back when it opened, society here was still segregated, and The Lyric was the only place for Blacks to find entertainment,” said Jack Lee Woolman, Jr, box office manager at Lyric Theatre. “Blacks were either not allowed in the Kentucky Theatre and the Lexington Opera House, or they were forced to sit in areas separated from Whites.”

The theater opened in 1948, and locals call it The Lyric. It’s first film was George Sherman’s “River Lady.”

Between its opening and 1963, the year it closed down, personalities such as Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Count Basie performed at the Lyric Theatre. Coupled with The Lyrics’ close proximity of clothing stores and ice cream shops owned by Blacks, it managed to sucessfully draw in the African-American community.

“The Lyric remained dormant from 1963 until 2005, the year a taskforce was set up to revive it,” Woolman said. “This taskforce was challenged with redesigning The Lyric, developing a working structure, and to solicit funds from the state legislature.”

As a result of the work started by this taskforce, The Lyric was able to reopen in 2010, not only as a theater, but also as a Cultural Arts Center.

The Lyric was tasked with promoting diversity and community inclusion, with an emphasis on African-American culture. It is run as a non-profit by a Board of Directors.

“We produce some of (the plays), and occasionally hire outside groups to rent The Lyric and host their own plays which are produced by them,” Woolman said.

The Lyric shows plays as well as movies and concerts, and it focuses on African-American culture, Woolman said it is open to all.

“One thing I can say is special about The Lyric is how we strive to reach out to groups who do not seem to have a voice in Lexington, or Kentucky, such as the LGBTQ community, Muslims and Hispanics,” Woolman said. “We also work with university groups such as fraternities, sororities.”

Upcoming events at The Lyric include the Lexington Music Awards, a concert by the jam band Galactic, and the weekly Kingdom Center Worship program.