KENNETH F. CARTER JR., isn’t the kind of guy who rests on his laurels. Last Friday night, while novelist Terry Kay was still signing books in the Lucas Theatre lobby after his keynote address for the Savannah Book Festival, the Lucas’s Executive Director and his staff were already busy outside, updating the event notices on the theater’s marquee.
Thanks to Carter and company, all evidence of the Terry Kay/John Berendt lecture had vanished from the theater’s lighted façade less than an hour after it ended, replaced by “Mavis Staples, 8 P.M.,” announcing Saturday night’s sold out Black Heritage Festival concert.
Keeping the marquee up to date is important to maintaining a sense of currency to the theater, said Carter, as he stood in Abercorn Street in his suit trousers, shirtsleeves and tie, deftly replacing letters high overhead with an unwieldy-looking aluminum telescoping grabber tool. Managing Director Meaghan Walsh and Events Coordinator Bridget Tunstall took turns backing up their boss.
Carter and his staff have obviously performed this task often enough that he was able to comment on the Book Festival’s first year efforts with nary a misspelling on the lighted signboard above him.
The pre-book festival publicity, the keynote event attendance (470 people), and especially the buzz of the crowd outside the theater after Terry Kay’s lecture all added up to success for the first time event in Carter’s estimation.
Replacing the marquee letters is just one of those “other duties as assigned” in Carter’s Executive Director job description. Less than an hour before Kay’s Friday lecture, Carter cruised through the theater, smoothly coordinating electrical outlets for the booksellers, double checking Green Room lights, emptying trash cans, and answering questions about backstage refreshments.
Friday night, Carter and his staff all doubted they’d be attending any other book festival events, since they had additional preparations for the Mavis Staples concert to handle. Carter noted that while he misses many events around town getting ready for Lucas shows, he and his team are treated to lots of behind the scenes, one-of-a-kind moments, like the time a troupe of internationally recognized jazz musicians rented the Lucas to record a TV soundtrack, and then returned at night for an hours-long jam session witnessed only by theater employees.
The busy winter schedule at the Lucas will give Carter, Walsh and Tunstall plenty of practice at switching out the overhead lettering. It’s probable that by midnight this past Saturday, the Lucas team had replaced Mavis Staples with an announcement for the Savannah Film Society’s Tuesday night screening of Honeydripper, the John Sayles film that debuted in Savannah at the film festival in October.
The Lucas staff was excited about this Saturday’s live version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and gave reassurances that even though there won’t be Rocky Horror “prop kits” for sale (baggies of toast, rice, and other items to be thrown at specific times during the play) the show is destined to make local theater-going history.
Later this month there’s the Black Maria Film and Video Festival on February 16; and on the 22nd there’s The Civil Rights Generation Meets the Hip Hop Generation, a performance by AWOL, Inc. Classical piano rising star Dmitri Levkovich, Celtic music legends The Boys of the Lough, and country music heartthrob Craig Morgan all perform at the Lucas during the latter part of February.
With so many acts at the Abercorn Street theater, it was bound to happen that Carter’s frequent turns at the marquee would become something of a local landmark. Perhaps he’s not as famous (yet) as Paula Deen or the Bird Girl, but recently Carter was told that in a shop on River Street, among the photographs of the Forsyth Park fountain and the twin spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a tourist spotted a photo of Carter, sporting his suit and tie, switching out the marquee letters of the Lucas, spending just another day at the office.
Check the Lucas Theatre’s website for details on upcoming events:
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