Unlike the other past Cincinnati theater professionals I’ve caught up with for this series, Alan Patrick Kenny grew up as a Cincinnatian. His family moved here in 1996 and he graduated from Sycamore High School in 1998. From there, he attended New York University, majoring in vocal performance for musical theater.
Kenny is an energetic polymath who could not be contained by one artistic discipline. Trained as a singer, he excelled as a music director. But he also staged serious dramas with equal flair. Back in Cincinnati after finishing at NYU, he launched New Stage Collective in 2003 with his friend and fellow Sycamore grad Joshua Steele. Kenny was its artistic director.
That summer, in a high school auditorium, they staged their first show, a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along — the story of ambitious young theater artists. I was there to witness that promising start.
After moving from venue to venue — including a stop at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center in 2005 for another Sondheim show, Sunday in the Park with George — New Stage relocated to the upper floor of a Main Street building in Over-the-Rhine. Between 2007 and 2009, Kenny staged such musicals there as Caroline, or Change (2007) and Jerry Springer: The Opera (2008). And he did equally standout work with dramatic plays, including Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (2007) and Tracy Letts’ Bug (2008). His productions won numerous Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, and he was City-Beat’s “Person of the Year” in 2008.
But the 2008 economic downturn doomed New Stage and Kenny regretfully pulled the plug in April 2009. His final production was Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, presented on Know Theatre’s stage in May-June 2009, featuring actress Amy Warner and outstanding regional actor Bruce Cromer.
Then he left, pursuing a master’s degree at UCLA and subsequently teaching and directing at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He occasionally escapes the world of academia aboard a cruise ship, sailing much of the world in show bands.
His principal reason for launching New Stage, he told me in a recent email, was to see if he could actually be a director. “Little did I know that we would survive and thrive through many iterations — seven seasons of productions, (with) so many wonderful artists joining the fray and contributing to the work,” he says. “I’m proud of the consistency of fearlessness and bold thinking that led to so much exciting and explosive work on our stage.”
Kenny returned to town in the summer of 2012 to stage the campy musical Xanadu at The Carnegie in Covington as his thesis project for UCLA.
Asked what he learned from his overall time in Cincinnati, Kenny replied, “What it means to be part of an artistic family and community, something that I miss and long for on a daily basis. I evolved from starting as a budding artist rebelling against a lot of things — personal, academic, the rest of the world — and used the wonderful opportunity of having New Stage as my artistic home to find my voice, build my technique and, most importantly, to test my limits and experiment, trying new things every time I picked a story to tell.
“As hard as it was sometimes to keep New Stage going, I look back on our work with great fondness and pride,” he continues. “I’m so grateful for each of the artists that gave their time, talent and heart to our work. It certainly wasn’t because of the money. The trust they gave me as a young, brash artistic leader was something I will always be grateful for.
“I’m not sure what I did to gain their trust, but I know I worked as hard as I could to keep it.”
Asked for advice for today’s Cincinnati theater scene, Kenny said, “You’re a deeply special and unique place, with tremendous opportunities all around. Make theater that is vital to your community, telling stories that matter to you and your audience in ways that are surprising and eye-opening. Almost all good art has a degree of danger to it. That’s part of what makes it not only essential to our lives , but also what makes it fun.”
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]