• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Donation lets man pay tribute to his father

KEVIN DEARINGER, above, left, will speak today, Thursday, March 23, during a dedication program and exhibition of the John Arthur Dearinger Memorial Theatre Collection, which honors the memory of his father, pictured at right. The collection celebrates the history of American theater. (Photos submitted)

Donating his collection of historical theater items to the University of Kentucky was a way for Kevin Dearinger to thank his father, John Arthur "Jack" Dearinger, who died in October 2006. Kevin Dearinger's only regret was not naming the collection for both of his parents, because his mother, Anna, who died in July 2015, also supported his dreams to become a professional actor. "Most parents are absolutely horrified when they find out their child wants to go into the theater because it's a pretty chancy vocation. But I was very lucky and it was wonderful having supportive parents," says Dearinger, who grew up in Woodford County. A dedication of the John Arthur Dearinger Memorial Collection will happen today, Thursday, March 23, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Margaret I. King Library on the UK campus. Kevin Dearinger will talk about his experiences researching the history of theater and his collection of over 2,000 historical items being donated to the UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center in his father's name. Dearinger began collecting photographs, postcards, playbills, scrapbooks, articles and autographs from the world of theater while doing research for his first book, The Bard in the Bluegrass, published in 2007. That collection has grown while researching the history of theater and its performances for other writing projects. "Quite often, I would've read about an actor or an actress and their performance and imagined it in my head and then found a photograph" of that performance, Dearinger says. Being able to find a photo of an actor "in that role, in that costume was quite an extraordinary feeling," because the play was produced in the early 20th century, he says. A similar emotional experience happened when Dearinger located recordings of "mostly Shakespearean pieces from the actors and actresses that were in my first book. And to actually hear their voices after reading about them (while doing research) is another wonderful feeling for a researcher, for a historian," says Dearinger. He's now working on a fourth book about the life and acting career of Eleanor Robson Belmont "so that collection is starting to grow." "I am a bit of a collector," he continues, noting that his Manhattan apartment and house in Lexington have been home to hundreds of these collected items. "I like to have whatever is left over from a performance in my hand." Collecting costumes (or at least pieces of them), photographs, reviews of plays and posters from theatrical performances in the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries are as close as he can get to seeing actors and actresses - who are no longer alive - breathing life into characters onstage. While his dad's maternal grandfather managed Lexington's Majestic Theatre, Dearinger says with a laugh, "Daddy was probably the least-theatrical person in the entire world." He taught in the civil engineering department at the University of Kentucky, but the elder Dearinger and his wife always supported their son's theatrical pursuits. Instead of discouraging his interest in theater, John Arthur Dearinger told him, "If this is what you really want and you work hard enough at it, I'm sure you'll do well." And he did. Kevin Dearinger's professional theatrical career took him to Broadway, on national and international tours, and on the stages of prestigious regional theatre companies, with actors Bette Davis, Jane Powell, Paul Sorvino and others. Dearinger, who has been a teacher at The Browning School in New York City for 22 years, still watches a lot of plays - two or three a week. "I love watching actors act," he says. "I try to sit in the front row because I want to see their nose hairs ... I don't want to sit in the back and be a passive observer in theater. I'm watching a performance as well as a play." When he retires from teaching at some point in the not-too-distant future, the 65-year-old Dearinger says he will return to his Central Kentucky roots where he'll continue writing at his Lexington home. "I have a lovely little study with beautiful sunlight and a good place to write," he says, "...but I have to confess, I do most of my writing either at Starbucks or Third Street Stuff" when in Lexington. Dearinger has penned a play that has not yet made it to the stage as a full production and two autobiographical pieces, including his life story about growing up in Kentucky. His donation to the Special Collections Research Center at UK includes personal journals, which Dearinger started keeping in the summer of 1964, before his eighth-grade year at St. Leo School in Versailles. "I don't know if it's of any interest," he acknowledges, "but it is complete - a lot of life. And so I wanted a home for that. I didn't want (my journal entries) to just go on a trash pile ... I don't think my life has been that special, but I think having a complete record of a life might be of interest to someone at some time." He describes the John Arthur Dearinger Memorial Theatre Collection as a way to honor his father's memory and years as a dedicated educator at the University of Kentucky.

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