Love and Loss in Words and Pictures: Meet Curator and Arts Advocate Theresa Kennedy

Updated: Sep 15

By Elizabeth Gracen:

The Lineage Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, CA, is a vibrant cultural hub for connecting the arts with the community. With performances, classes, and a wide outreach, this 501c3 nonprofit arts organization, founded by Lineage Dance Company Artistic Director and choreographer Hilary Thomas, continues to partner with other important nonprofits to raise awareness and funds for their causes.

Performance Studio, The Lineage Performing Arts Center

LPAC's new space at 920 E Mountain Street features a spacious foyer to promote local artists and the dynamic Jeanne and Cliff Benson Family Art Gallery that features exhibits to accompany Lineage's original productions.


"Love and Loss in Words and Pictures" is the latest installation by the very talented Theresa Kennedy, who serves as gallery curator. She has served on the Lineage board for many years and continues to be a vital contributor to the Lineage family. Her latest work offers a visual time capsule that pulls the viewer back to the days when another horrific pandemic plagued our country. Providing both personal stories and historical context, the exhibit accompanies LPAC's newest production, "A New Day: Honoring 40 Years of HIV/AIDS—'Love Letters to Those We Lost.'" Both show and exhibit celebrate and honor those lost in the AIDS epidemic.

As I made my way down the gallery wall during both the performances that I attended, I was struck by the fact that for some, the HIV/AIDs virus and the many lives it destroyed are simply a historical pinpoint on the timeline of American history. For the younger generations who will never quite grasp the impact that it had on the gay community, the images in Kennedy's curation function as touchstones in the long, painful journey that is AIDS and highlights the enormous loss of so many talented individuals to the disease. It is an important reminder of the stigma and discrimination foisted on virtually anyone who was unfortunate enough to contract the virus.


I reached out to Theresa Kennedy to talk Lineage, the show, and her process for creating "Love and Loss in Words and Pictures."


Please Meet Theresa Kennedy!

 

EG: First of all, Theresa, I want to congratulate you on yet another amazingly curated exhibit at the Lineage Performing Arts Center. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you became involved with Lineage?


TK: Thanks so much! It was truly a labor of love on the part of everyone who submitted material. I met Hilary years ago when my kids had her as a teacher in 7th grade at Flintridge Prep—I learned then about her charitable work via Lineage Dance. At the time, I was running my own non-profit online magazine that spotlighted people and organizations making a difference, and we did a story on her and the company. Shortly afterward, I ended up joining their board for 6 years, as they grew into their first community space on Fair Oaks. I’m also a long-time production manager for print projects, as well as a photographer. The thru line for me is that I have a passion to share stories that can help people become more empathetic, educated, and active about pro-social issues. Lineage was just a natural fit; I’m no longer on the board, but I now volunteer to curate the gallery wall in the new LPAC space.



EG: Since LPAC has moved into their amazing new performance venue at 920 E. Mountain Street in Pasadena, the newest addition to the company’s presentations is the Jeanne and Cliff Benson Family Art Gallery that runs along the hallway leading into the black box performance space. Please tell us about the gallery and why it is fast becoming an important component for the fantastic performances, both old and new, that Lineage produces.


TK: I ran into Hil by chance shortly before the E. Mountain location opened and expressed a general dream about wanting to find ways to showcase art locally; and wouldn’t you know it, she and Peggy Burt had always envisioned having rotating art in the new space, and we just kind of had a whole mind meld moment! They generously handed “the wall” over and let me create on it by curating material that complements the show topics (within our very small non-profit budget). We like that it adds additional mediums to the mix of dance, voice, music, and video that the audience sees onstage. We’ve showcased material in the gallery for “Healing Blue,” “The Parenthood Show,” “Ceiling in the Floor,” “Curiosity Tales,” “The Mother’s Place,” and now “A New Day,” which is the most comprehensive one I’ve done.


EG: As I stood admiring your curation at LPAC’s recent original production of “A New Day: Honoring 40 Years of HIV/AIDS—'Love Letters to Those We Lost,'” you snuck up behind me as I was admiring a particular display and said, “Did you have any idea that there were collectible playing cards for HIV/AIDS?” It made me laugh, but I leaned in and realized what I was looking at! Tell me about your process once a show starts rehearsal and is added to LPAC’s performance calendar. How did you begin “Love and Loss in Words and Pictures”?


TK: Usually there is some source material tied to elements or featured characters in the shows Hil creates: writings, photos, mementos, artwork. So I start there. We have a standing set of frames that I rotate material into, and it’s my job to find ways to either edit or expand on these elements in a way that makes sense and fits into our overall space and format. I add explanatory material and captions as needed. Because Peggy Burt had the main idea for “A New Day,“ she shared lots of ideas for content: from the makeup photo she had of Dan in Cats, to her old photo album pics from the 70s, to interesting historical material about the gay bar scene in Indiana where she was from. In addition, we reached out to the actors and interviewees from the show and asked them to share photos if they had them; e.g. Alan’s picture of his brother, Elizabeth’s photos of Julio, Don Thomas’s Malawi pics, Michael’s many friends and lovers. All of the photos were treasures from 20, 30, 40 years ago. In many cases, I have photos enlarged or reprinted in black and white if that’s what works best. And I’ll add a little disco ball if it’s called for 😉.



The HIV/AIDS trading cards were a really fun find: I went on Ebay to see if I could source any mementos or material about the quilt (and did find buttons from tours as well as an actual program from an early DC exhibition). As I poked around, these trading cards from 1993 popped up. I had never heard about them, and so far it turns out no one involved in the show or old enough to remember 1993 knew about them either. We had a lot of dancers and actors covered in our material at that point, and I was looking for ways to broaden the scope, to remind people it wasn’t just white male entertainers who were affected. So I pulled a selection that included a Catholic nun, student Ryan White, two women who were unsuspectingly infected by their boyfriends, Magic Johnson, etc. and found a writeup from The Atlantic about the genesis of the cards. There were 110 cards created originally (and each set of 12 included a condom!). They are a colorful addition to the exhibit but contain a lot of great educational material on each little card.



EG: Your continued curation for Lineage has already become an important aspect of the shows being produced. Why do you think this extra visual and informational component is important to what Hilary Thomas and LPAC are doing to support the arts and charitable organizations?


TK: Well, I think Hilary and I share a general interest in facilitating education and involvement. And a belief that a good way to break down defenses or preconceptions is thru art, whatever the medium. Depending on the show’s topic, we often feature partner organizations, like the Phil Simon Clinic with this show or Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services with “Ceiling in the Floor.”


So it’s an opportunity to promote these orgs to a wider audience in a new and entertaining way and support the work they’re doing in the community as well. That was the original seed for her formation of Lineage Dance Company and was my intent with my own organization years ago as well.


EG: Thanks for talking to me, Theresa. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next for LPAC's upcoming season. Please take me through the "Love and Loss" curation and tell me about some of the individual displays.


TK: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how instrumental Michael Kearns also was in sourcing material. His personal history spans the full 40 years, his own creative work has examined HIV/AIDS in all its permutations, and his circle of influence includes long-time survivors and activists. His written reflection on the left as you enter the theater, titled Four Decades of Creating Art “About AIDS,” is a great taste of what it means to tackle this topic as an artist.



He also reached out to Lucia Chappelle and Ric Parish for me. They both have been on this 40-year roller coaster as well: Lucia as an advocate and minister in Hollywood’s LGBTQ community and Ric as an HIV survivor and activist on behalf of the Black and API communities here in LA. Lucia’s memorable piece, titled “In the Beginning,” is concise and stunning and worked perfectly as the start of the “timeline” along the main wall. Ric’s incisive reflection on his own journey caps it off at the end, bringing the conversation into our current COVID era. So those are three pieces by great writers that were generously created especially for this exhibit but stand on their own, anywhere, in a timeless way.



This show has so many elements to it; it was a real challenge to edit the material that I found and that I was given. It was all interesting and enlightening to me, honestly, so there is a lot to read, spilling onto the opposite wall. Peggy knew we definitely had to include a section on the entire generation of dancers who were lost—all that creative talent—from Alvin Ailey to Joffrey to Nureyev. Most were not open about their disease at the time, so we forget or didn’t even know that they were felled by AIDS.


Michael Kearns & Theresa Kennedy

Michael’s heart is right there on the wall in the form of seven men who died before the age of 50. He pulled out pictures from old albums in front of me one afternoon, and the stories flowed. His crisp distillation of those poignant personal memories from the height of the disease in the 80s and 90s is a must-read, next to his spirited snapshots of loves and lives lost.


Peggy’s pics from the disco era, Leilani’s Broadway friends and coworkers, Elizabeth’s best friend Julio, Alan’s brother Ralph, Don’s colleagues in Africa . . . these informal images and additional details of the real people portrayed on stage help bring their stories further to life and are presented on the gallery wall in rough chronological order from Indiana in the late 70s on thru to 2020 in Malawi.



I think we can all agree that the Cats segment is the heart of “A New Day,” and coming out at intermission and seeing photos of the real Dan McCoy putting on his makeup (re-imagined onstage by Aiden Rawlinson) adds a sort of surreal depth to the show.


Lastly, I’d just like to say it was an honor to hear and share these stories, and to be a part of bringing the memories alive again with Lineage.

 

Elizabeth Gracen is the owner of Flapper Press & Flapper Films.

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