In its 12th successful year, Berea Arena Theater is being forced to close their doors at their longtime home, the former US Forestry Service Building on Big Hill Road in Berea.
Eddie Kennedy, managing producer and artistic director, has years of fond memories and an endless amount of gratitude for all those who have been a part of the theater’s history. Kennedy notes that the theater started out as a group effort between the City of Berea and Berea College.
In 2007, Kennedy was asked by Steven Connelly, Berea’s then mayor, and the city council to create an active community theater to serve as a year round entertainment venue for the area. Then Berea College President, Larry D. Shinn, was an immediate supporter and offered the old US Forestry Building for the theater’s use. The Berea Arena Theater joined a group of nonprofits that were using the building as their office space. The purpose of the building was to provide an opportunity for nonprofits to have office space that they may not otherwise have been able to maintain.
Berea Arena Theater was founded by Kennedy and his wife, Norma, in 2008. It has always been their mission to be an independent, not for profit theater, that provides year round quality productions featuring the most professional local and regional talent available. The entirety of their funding comes from ticket sales, grants and gifts to their organization from members of the community. All of these funding sources have been crucial over the years, allowing the theater to prosper and grow.
Kennedy, a retired school teacher with Berea Community Schools, held theater education dear to his heart. It has always been incredibly important to him to make sure that both children and adults that were new to theater were involved and were able to attend.
Berea Arena Theater productions have become community staples over the years. Every year, the group has produced a version of The Christmas Carol that Kennedy created himself. This production has been put on every year since 1985. We Got Talent, a local version of the national television show America’s Got Talent, is also a popular yearly production. Each spring, the group has produced a musical including Showcase!, a musical revue. Productions of all kinds are woven in between these events. Noel and Reb, a production put on this season, served as a scholarship fundraiser for Berea College.
Kennedy is thrilled that Berea Arena Theater has been a proud and deliberate forum for new writers. They have also served as the home base for the group, Kentucky Women Playwrights. Berea Arena Theater has often collaborated with local artists, including Gary McCormick, former general manager of Boone Tavern and staple at Studio Players. Kennedy and McCormick wrote a play together called Swap Talk on WSLOW Radio.
This is Berea Arena Theater’s final season as their theater space is being closed down. Berea College has chosen to close the US Forestry Service building that Berea Arena Theater calls home after several of the organizations that were once housed there are no longer using the space. Even though there are plans to close the building, Kennedy says there may be hope that Berea Arena Theater can continue. Berea Tourism is looking for a campus to host their Festival of LearnShops that have become increasingly popular. Kennedy says that President Roelofs, current president of Berea College, seems to be open to having that discussion, which would allow for the theater to continue using the space.
Regardless of what happens with their space and the operations of the Berea Arena Theater Kennedy and his wife Norma will continue to be active members of their community. They also have an organization named The SaraCare Fund, in honor of their daughter. According to The SaraCare Fund’s official website, it is a “memorial fund in honor of Sara Elizabeth Kennedy who with tremendous hope, gracefully fought Rhabdomyosarcoma (an aggressive childhood cancer) from June 16, 2004 until March 23, 2005 when the battle was lost.” This fund benefits Kentucky Children’s Hospital to give support to ill children. Kennedy has also committed to producing some cabaret performances at Churchill's. He wants the community to know that they have every intention to continue The Christmas Carol.
Kennedy is glad that if it has to end that the theater is ending this way. He says it is unbelievable the amount of support that the community and their audiences have given them over the years. When looking back at all of the performances and events they have put on, he always knew he could count on the community. He says in a nation where arts are often one of the first programs to be eliminated from budgets, he is grateful for a community that fiercely supports the arts.
“We have had a tremendous amount of support and have met so many wonderful new friends,” Kennedy said.