There’s just over a week left in the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. While most of the parts in the festival’s ten world premieres are played by professional actors, every year Actors Theatre commissions playwrights to create a showcase production for the theater’s acting apprentices to perform.
This year’s showcase “Oh, Gastronomy!” is a celebration of the pleasures and paradoxes of food.
In one scene, two farmers selling produce share subscriptions compete in rhyme for a young couple’s business. The musical number “CSA Battle” was written by Matt Schatz, one of production’s five playwrights.
Schatz says he was inspired by an eating tour of Louisville and by the apprentice actors’ musical talents and voices, which helped guide him as he wrote.
“It sort of felt like a reality show, in the best possible way, because we would go on these field trips and would spend time with the apprentices and then actually at night would have to write. The CSA rap was one that I wrote while in Louisville that first time,” he says.
Schatz is joined on the playwriting team by Michael Golamco, Carson Kreitzer, Steve Moulds and Tanya Saracho. Each wrote several short scenes on the theme.
Typically, showcase writers gather in Louisville in the fall for an intense weekend of reading and research, but this year, they tried a different approach.
“We split up in two, and we took half the group to the Douglass Loop Farmers Market and half the group to the Food Truckus Ruckus. Brilliantly, both of those things ended up in the play,” says director Amy Attaway.
It wasn’t a typical work trip for Schatz.
“People have a lot of beards and are wearing a lot of plaid shirts and serving you delicious food at these great farm-to-table places. It’s been a pleasure,” he says.
Louisville’s food and dining scenes were fertile ground for the writers, who wrote both earnest and tongue-in-cheek takes on foodie culture, from “Fear and Loathing at the Food Truck” to “Ordering: Eat What You Kill.”
“Oh, Gastronomy!” was developed by Actors Theatre literary manager Sarah Lunnie and Attaway, the apprentice/intern company associate director. Lunnie says they decided on the food theme because it offers their five very different playwrights plenty of rich material.
“Food brings people together. It’s a great unifier. People mark really important rites of passage in life with food. And it’s also sort of rife with paradox, I think, because you can’t talk about food without talking about plenty on the one hand and the lack of food on the other hand. Food can provide pleasure, and then people also really torture themselves over food,” says Lunnie.
The apprentice/intern company is a rigorous training program for recent college graduates planning a future in professional theater. Attaway calls the showcase the theater’s annual gift to the 22 young actors who work a variety of roles on- and off-stage throughout the nine-month season.
The opportunity to build a personal relationship with five working playwrights is an undeniable perk of the program.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do with the apprentices is set them up to have a career in this business, right? And one of the best things that can happen to a young actor is for a playwright to like them and want to write for them,” Attaway says.
Young actors aren’t the only ones who can receive a career boost from the show. Lunnie says the annual anthology is an opportunity for the theater’s literary department to expand their stable of writers. Both Greg Kotis and Courtney Baron, who have full-length plays premiering in this year’s festival, wrote for past apprentice showcases.
“We have a lot of writers on our radar. We read a lot of scripts every year, and to be able every year to reach out to five of them who are sort of on our wish list – we’d like to know you, we’d like to work with you, we admire what you do – and bring them here is really exciting,” says Lunnie.
“Oh, Gastronomy!” runs this weekend and next.