(Click on Listen to the story to hear the comments from members of all of the full-length productions in this year’s festival.)
This year’s festival has seven full-length plays and includes playwrights from throughout the country. At the kickoff, many of them spoke about how rare it is in American theatre to have an event like this that focuses on fulfilling a playwright’s vision.
That included Deborah Zoe Laufer, who wrote the first play to open in the festival, called “Sirens.”
“The minute it hit the paper that I had a new play that was showing here, that week I got 20 requests for the play,” Laufer says. “I mean, people respond. This is the place. There aren’t that many places that only do new work.”
Laufer compared the festival to the Kentucky Derby for playwrights.
This Thursday, the theater has planned a festival opening party for the community.
In 1976, Actors Theatre launched the festival that received funding from the Humana Foundation two years later.
Artistic Director Marc Masterson says nearly 90 million people worldwide have seen a play that began at the festival. And he credits that success with the festival’s focus on playwriting.
“What separates Actors Theatre and the Humana Festival from all other theaters in America is the commitment to process in putting the playwright’s imagination at the center for our work,” Masterson says. “The playwright has great power here. We believe in the playwright’s imagination.”
Some past attendees are playwrights with work in the festival that starts this week.
One is Kirk Lynn, of the Austin-based ensemble company Rude Mecs. He talked about how for many years he and his colleagues used to pile into a van to travel to see new plays in Louisville.
“It was a way in which we were able to measure ourselves, sort of feeling geographically isolated,” Lynn says. “We could either read in a newspaper about plays that were being done across the United States or we could travel here and see at one stop six or seven plays. And it helped us, as a company, set benchmarks for ourselves and grow.”
Over the years, the Humana Foundation has invested nearly $20 million into the festival.
The theatre will have a party for the community Thursday to celebrate the festival.