Any good performer, actor or director knows every great production must eventually come to an end. The Paris Center of Fine Arts recently waved adieu to the organization’s manager, Kristin …
Any good performer, actor or director knows every great production must eventually come to an end. The Paris Center of Fine Arts recently waved adieu to the organization’s manager, Kristin Chittick, whose departure sets the stage for her successor to step into the spotlight.
After spending 32 years in Paris and six as the PCOFA manager, Kristin Chittick is preparing for the next chapter of life as a Peace Corps volunteer with her husband, John Chittick. The Chitticks traveled south earlier this week for training and will eventually deploy to Jamaica for 27 months.
She will work with students, teachers and families to increase literacy, while he will try to establish sustainable agriculture solutions for local communities.
“It’s John’s dream, and it’s my adventure,” said Chittick.
In her wake, Chittick leaves an impressive operation, one that her replacement, Bethanny Lawson, hopes to maintain and improve upon.
“She (Chittick) has such a professional presence,” said Lawson. “I think it’s really big shoes to fill.”
Lawson, who was raised in Paris from age eight, was one of the first people to apply for the position. An opportunity to do meaningful work in her hometown was a draw for her.
“I think what made the position attractive is that it’s a way to give back to the community, in a way that is already really tangible,” Lawson explained.
Chittick’s prior work paved the way for Lawson to embrace her new role.
“She already developed the position of the theater so much,” said Lawson. “I get to step into a role that has already got some structure to it, but also has a lot of creativity in that we get to design each season from the ground up.”
While 2023’s lineup was set in stone before Lawson arrived on the scene, she looks forward to crafting compelling schedules for the PCOFA in years to come. Lawson hopes to strike a balance between performers who are fan favorites and new, fresh acts.
“I really want to explore the data coming back from this season and the next season in-depth and find out what this area wants to see,” she explained.
As someone with childhood experience in theater and drama productions in Oakland and Charleston, Lawson hopes to find ways to pique the interest of other potential patrons in her age group.
“I would like to see people in my own age demographic come to the theater more,” she said. “I think there’s a big middle zone that we’re missing. Maybe 18 to 30 is an age group that I don’t see show up as much.”
For Lawson, the PCOFA has provided entertainment and enrichment in her life from the very first show she attended.
“I really liked REZA,” she said. “He’s a magician, I think it was the first show I ever saw at the Fine Arts Center, and it just blew my mind.”
Now she hopes to spread the word about other experiences the Center has to offer.
“I don’t think people realize what we do out there, or how big and how cool it can be,” said Lawson. “That show was just really mind-bending and enthusiastic, and I thought it was amazing.”
Lawson’s past involvement in the arts suits her new position, but her previous work experience solidifies her in the role.
Previously, Lawson interned at the White House and worked as a correspondent for the Department of Agriculture. Now she works as a training manager for Chick-fil-A in Terre Haute and sometimes travels to other locations to train employees as well.
Among other things, patience is a trait Lawson had to learn quickly in order to survive as a correspondent.
“There is something to be said about insisting on doing something correctly,” said Lawson. “I think those of us who like to do things quickly can sacrifice perfection for speed and can learn a lot from people who sacrifice speed for perfection. That’s why both types of us have to exist in the world.”
Event planning was a responsibility of Lawson’s in the White House — she is no stranger to the last-minute panic that comes with the trade.
“It’s always fun when you get to five minutes before a meeting and you realize something’s missing,” Lawson chuckled. “You’re at the White House and it’s supposed to be professional, and you can’t let anyone find out.”
Perhaps the most important tool in Lawson’s belt is her people skills. As a training manager, Lawson has to support a diverse cast of characters.
“I think you just learn to see people for what they are and see each moment for what it is,” Lawson explained.
“Relationships are everything, everywhere you go — every job is about relationships,” she continued. “I take care of 140 employees at Chick-fil-A, so they all have different wants and needs and dreams and feelings and (they) expect me to handle and take care of all of them. I think being able to care about all of those people will translate over to caring about all the people I interact with at the Fine Arts Center as well… everybody really wants to be seen and heard and valued.”
Lawson’s emphasis on care is reflected in her mentor as well.
“(Chittick has) really genuine care for and understanding of what goes into everything. She really seems to appreciate everything the artists do and what a labor of love it is for them. The appreciation she has for them is really genuine, and I think that’s cool to watch too,” said Lawson.
So far, Lawson has enjoyed hearing stories from patrons about how different shows have affected them.
“The part I’ve enjoyed the most is probably talking to people about how the shows we’ve already put on have affected them,” she said. “The people who attend the shows create such a welcoming community and they have so much to say about everything, and I really enjoy hearing everyone’s individual stories.”
At the heart of each of those stories lies Lawson’s predecessor, Chittick.
Chittick, a native of Logansport, Ind, earned her degree in music therapy and traveled to Houston, Texas, then Pheonix, Ariz., before landing in Paris. Chittick worked at the Human Resource Center before accepting her position at the PCOFA in 2017, where she quickly grew to love it.
“It was kind of the perfect blend of music and community for me,” said Chittick. “It combined my interests and my education, and my passions.”
Chittick has witnessed the PCOFA’s growth and is excited to see where her protege and the PCOFA board take the organization in the future.
“I am really pleased with Bethanny, the board made a really good decision,” Chittick explained. “I think Bethanny will receive a lot of support from the community.”
“That theater is such an amazing addition to our community,” she continued. “Was there a little bit of ‘ouch’ because I’m leaving? Yes. But I’m leaving it in good hands. I’ll be anxious to see how it grows when I’m gone.”
Growth has been a common theme during the PCOFA’s eight-year history. For Chittick, the progress made by the board brings her a sense of accomplishment.
“We started with very trusting board members who have moved to very knowledgeable board members,” said Chittick. “They learned the vocabulary, they helped with the artists… they learned how to sweep a stage, clean a theater, move people in and out, they took the time to learn about the technology. We’ve started to build a business, which was a goal.”
The community has kept the PCOFA afloat as well, with donations and endowments from supporters like Joe and Nila Hasler. Volunteers have also been critical to the PCOFA’s success.
“I really think that the show is not just the people on the stage,” Chittick remarked. “The show is all of the people (who contribute to) the preparation for it. There are 20 to 40 people involved with every show.”
PCOFA’s new focus has been to entertain, enrich and educate its audience, but the facility has also provided an environment where volunteers and students can learn as well.
“I think that facility is a perfect training ground for the students,” said Chittick. “Every business out there has trainings, presentations, and conferences. They need somebody who knows how to do the technology. They (students) can transfer that to the next industry they choose.”
Chittick hopes to see the community continue to unite around the PCOFA and the programming it brings to Edgar County.
“Just keep supporting the arts, it’s really important,” she said.
Lawson encouraged locals of all backgrounds to participate in the theater.
“If you haven’t come to the theater before, pick one show that seems the most interesting and give it a chance, because you’re probably going to have a more enriching experience than you think you are,” said Lawson. “For everyone who is already a part of it, thank you for creating such a warm place and for maintaining something that is such a gift to our community.”
The Paris High School Drama Club is using the PCOFA stage for three performances of “Les Miserables” March 24, 25 and 26. Visit pcofa.net or stop by the box office for more information.