Forward, ho: Holloway leads MTL to new heights

May 23, 2006 at 8:17 pm

It’s hardly news that arts groups in Louisville and beyond have struggled to bring in audiences and meet budgets in recent years. And while there are no panaceas on the horizon, one organization has been making an upward climb in recent years.

During the past year, Music Theatre Louisville has increased ticket sales by 20 percent and extended its 2006 season to September. Add in a fabulous new venue — the beautifully renovated Iroquois Amphitheatre — and MTL looks to be on a forward plane that would have seemed impossible just three years ago.

It all began with the $10 million amphitheater remodeling project in 2003, and the subsequent challenge of luring the public back after a two-year sabbatical. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, MTL’s artistic director left unexpectedly at the end of 2004.

Enter Peter Holloway, who portrayed Captain Hook in MTL’s 2004 summer production of “Peter Pan.” At the end of 2004, the MTL board hired him as MTL executive director. The move has been a boon to the organization. Because, you see, Peter Holloway is not your run-of-the mill actor.

While he began his career as an actor, his professional life took him in many other directions that gained him experience that’s proven useful in his current role.

Holloway began acting in the 1970s. It’s a turbulent profession by nature; he lived in New York and other places during those years, eventually spending time in Southern Indiana with Derby Dinner Playhouse. When ownership changed hands in 1985, Holloway was at a crossroads.

He considered returning to New York but decided to make Louisville home and begin the next stage of his life. He fell back on his writing skills and built a successful advertising career. Later he was Papa John’s first vice president of marketing (1990-91).

A few years ago, the acting bug bit again, and Holloway found opportunities in local productions. One was the role of Captain Hook in MTL’s “Peter Pan.” Asked about the curious succession of events, Holloway confesses, “Sometimes the job finds you.”

Last season was Holloway’s first as executive director, and the community felt an immediate impact. Working with business manager Toby Roberts and education director Steven Rahe, Holloway expanded MTL’s season from three shows to four. Last year, it also produced “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” the first MTL production as part of its Field Days program, which lets school children see a show and spend a day in Iroquois Park.

Holloway also tweaked the Rising Stars program. Previously, MTL scouted area high schools and chose one school to work with to produce one show in the middle of the MTL season. Holloway thought that approach was too exclusive. “There is so much talent in the area,” he says. “We wanted to give kids from every school a chance.” So this year’s Rising Star production — Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” — will involve actors, technicians and musicians from more than 20 local high schools.

With these new changes in place, indications point to a successful 2006 season. This summer’s opening production of “School House Rocks Live!” outsold last year’s opening (“You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”), and this season’s ticket sales has already topped 1,000, compared to 700 sold last year.

Still, Holloway insists more work is to be done. “One of our biggest problems is the community does not know who we are,” he says. While most people seem to know the Iroquois Amphitheatre, due to its long and illustrious past, they may not realize MTL is the venue’s resident theater company.

Ultimately, Holloway says his organization has an important role to play in the community. “ is family entertainment for the community and by the community,” he says.

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