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Arts and Humanities Local News

Looking for Lilith Celebrates 10 Years with Motherhood Play

Louisville’s Looking for Lilith Theatre Company celebrates a decade of productions with a staged reading of a new play, “Becoming Mothers,” and a revue of old favorites titled “10 Years, 7 Stories.” The shows open Thursday and run in repertory at The Bard’s Town through June 10.

Looking for Lilith is a feminist theater ensemble that uses a collaborative process to create original plays based on women’s stories and women’s perspectives on history. The company built their new play “Becoming Mothers” by conducting interviews with several generations of local women on topics surrounding pregnancy, birth and motherhood, from fertility treatments to changes in consumer culture throughout the years.

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Rock Opera ‘Bare’ Explores Teen Sexuality, Religion

Pandora Productions explores the secret lives of Catholic high schoolers this week in the rock opera “Bare,” a dramatic musical about gay and straight boarding school students struggling with their sexuality.

Written by Jon Hartmere, Jr. (book and lyrics) and Damon Intrabartolo (book and music), “Bare” opens Thursday in the Bingham Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

At St. Cecilia’s Boarding School, altar boy Peter and his roommate Jason keep their love affair quiet, but secrets are threatened when a school production of “Romeo and Juliet” casts their classmates’ fears and unrequited desires into sharp relief.

Critics have compared “Bare” to “Spring Awakening” and “Rent.” Though it has moments of hip levity, it’s an intense drama with a tragic ending. 

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Savage Rose Stages Reading of Marlowe’s ‘Edward II’

Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company ends their season Sunday with Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II.” The company will present a staged reading of the Elizabethan history play as part of their Words, Words, Words play reading series.

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Le Petomane Ensemble Goes Gonzo for Derby

Whether you go all-in for every party or you consider it a badge of honor to ignore the big race, if you live in Louisville, you have opinions about the Kentucky Derby. Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble celebrates Louisville’s season of pageantry and parties with “A Derby Carol,” a rousing send-up of the most exciting two weeks and two minutes in our city’s year that could easily become an annual tradition to rival the Charles Dickens classic it lampoons.

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Broadway Series Announces Season with Retro Rock, Classics

Louisville theater audiences may see the new stage musical adaptation of the film “Flashdance” even before it opens in New York. The show is planned to open on Broadway for a limited run on a date yet to be determined, but the touring production is already confirmed for the upcoming Broadway in Louisville season.

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Tom Sawyer, “A History of a Boy,” Comes to Actors Theatre

Tom Sawyer is one of literature’s most celebrated children; a character who has inspired adaptation for more than a century.

The first U.S. film version appeared in 1907. The first Soviet Tom Sawyer film debuted in 1936. There are musical, cartoon, theme park and video game incarnations of Tom, and thousands or even millions of Japanese middle-schoolers have studied English by reciting Tom Sawyer dialogue adapted for a series of textbooks:

Aunt Polly: You’re a bad boy! You must work tomorrow.

Tom: On Saturday?

In the new stage adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that opened last week at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the eternal tension between child and adult, present and past, plays out in both the story and the production itself.

The Actors Theatre website says, “Relive all that is grand and glorious about childhood,” and recommends Tom Sawyer for ages 10 and up. There is plenty of wonder and joy in this play as Tom (Tim McKeirnan) hunts for treasure with Huck (Robbie Tann) and talks Becky Thatcher (Hayley Treider) into giving him a kiss and getting “engaged” (though neither seems entirely clear on what this means).

Aunt Polly’s iconic fence is the play’s only permanent setpiece. The production creates the illusion of whitewashing through a combination of mime and lighting; with each dry brushstroke, a bright, white light illuminates its way inch-by-inch across the fence.

Like any childhood, though, Tom Sawyer’s has its dark moments, and the show embraces them. Children at a recent performance (some of whom were clearly younger than 10) squirmed during the first-act murder and in Tom’s vivid nightmare scene that opens Act Two. Also, every parent who’d brought a younger child to the theatre probably shuddered when Injun Joe (Michael D. Nichols) described his plans for the Widow Douglas by saying something along the lines of, “If you want to go after a woman, you don’t kill her. You go after her looks. Slit her nostrils,” he says, brandishing a knife.

The plot is somewhat episodic and as a result the sequence and structure work differently than that of many contemporary plays. If The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were written today (or adapted less faithfully by playwright Laura Eason), Tom would hold off on embracing maturity until somewhere in Act Two, most likely in close narrative proximity to a final confrontation with Injun Joe. Instead, Tom’s major turning point (where he admits to witnessing a murder) happens in Act One and the faceoff with Injun Joe never occurs at all.

It’s worth noting that Mark Twain made Tom Sawyer the hero in two later books (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective), but those incarnations didn’t resonate like the original. The play ends happily, with Tom’s dreams of treasure realized and the ensemble cast reciting a version of the words Twain used to close the novel in 1876:

“So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a BOY, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a MAN.”

And with that, the lights come up and we leave Tom Sawyer where we like him, forever in childhood.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Sense and Sensibility Opens at Actors Theatre of Louisville

Maybe you remember the story of Sense and Sensibility from English Lit, or your own reading, or one of its many TV and film incarnations. If not, playwright and director Jon Jory has a primer:

“This is a story that pits passion against rationality.”

Jory’s words appear in the program for the new Actors Theatre of Louisville production of Sense and Sensibility. Jory adapted the script from Jane Austen’s classic novel. The book turns 200 this year and what’s clear from the first moments of this production is that the struggle between rationality (sense) and passion (sensibility) is as relevant today as ever.

Look around: How many of the millions of Americans who are out of work know this struggle, for example? How high a priority can the unemployed place on preference as they look for work? How many of the people who are underwater on their mortgages or grappling with credit card debt have looked back on their own decisions and wished they’d given more weight to sense than sensibility?

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In Depth: At Humana Festival, the Play’s the Thing

When you go to the theatre to see a production of a classic, think Shakespeare or even A Christmas Carol, your focus is probably on the actors. Or the director. Or the costumes and set design.

That’s because those stories are well known and part of the reason people see familiar plays is to see how an old story is being retold.  But that’s not how it works at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

The 35th edition of the festival opens at Actors Theatre this week. At the Humana Festival, all the stories and characters are new, and the focus is on the playwrights.

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You won’t find a particular theme at this year’s Humana Festival. Not among the actual plays, anyway.  Just ask some of the playwrights:

“It’s a play about three kids who are abandoned on a farm.”
“About a New York couple.”
“A young girl who is sixteen.”
“Bob was born on Valentine’s Day in the bathroom of a White Castle restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky.”
“It’s a comedy.”
“We have zombies.”
“It’s comedic and dramatic. It’s that kind of dark, midway kind of play.”

The plays may not have much in common, but the playwrights are a different story. They come from different places and have reached different stages in their careers, but they’re in Louisville this month for the same reason. During the Humana Festival, Actor’s Theatre isn’t just a theatre space. It’s a marketplace.

“Coming here, it’s like the Sundance Film Festival for new plays,” says Molly Smith Metzler, a playwright from New York City. Her play Elemeno Pea, debuts at this year’s Humana Festival. “It’s as high-profile as it gets. Directors and artistic directors and board members and funders and agents and they all come to Louisville and come see these plays and sort of shop. And for me, this is my first professional production. Ever! So, I’m really excited.”

Theatre professionals come from all over the U.S and as far away as Russia and Bangladesh. They’re looking for plays to fill out their season calendars. Not that the market for new plays is booming. Jordan Harrison wrote the festival production Maple and Vine. He says, “Often what happens with a regional theatre is maybe their season has an O’ Neil play or an August Wilson play or A Christmas Carol. And there’s one slot for the new play.”

Harrison has become a role model for what the Humana Festival can do for a playwright. He had his first professional production at the festival in 2003. Since then, he’s been produced dozens of times and won numerous awards. The start he got at Actor’s Theatre was crucial to helping him become a full-time playwright. Although it wasn’t just the festival. Harrison also got the one thing every playwright wants for their play after its debut.

“You want a second production,” says Amy Attaway, a theatre veteran who works with the apprentice company at Actors Theatre. She’s also co-director of the Humana Festival production of The End. “Playwrights will tell you that the hardest thing to get in the American theatre is a second production.

That’s the key. If you can get that second production, then your play is going to have a life.”
Most Humana Festival plays do find life after Louisville. Since 2001, 85 percent of the plays that have debuted at the festival have been produced later by other theatres. That’s why Actors Theatre received more than 700 play scripts from playwrights hoping to land one of the seven full productions in this year’s festival.

But even for those who’ve made it, success can be hard to measure. Anne Washburn is the playwright of A Devil at Noon. “I’ve had plays that have been done bunches of times and I have plays that have only been done once. And if the once has been a really great time, that’s – it doesn’t make me any money and only a few people have seen it, but it’s part of what helps me to keep writing. Gives you the strength to write on.” A

Devil at Noon is on stage this month at Actors Theatre. Washburn is already at work on her next play.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Humana Foundation Pledges $2.1 Million To Festival Through 2013

The Humana Foundation has renewed its commitment to Actors Theatre and the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

The Humana Foundation has approved a three-year grant totaling $2.1 million to fund the festival through 2013. It includes funding for this year’s festival, which opens this week.

Virginia Judd is the executive director of the Humana Foundation. She says the association between Humana, Actors Theatre and the festival has been beneficial for all sides.

“People just talk about it as Humana. Wonderful recognition for us, even if they don’t know, especially visitors from out of town, exactly who we are. And the festival generates so much excitement in the community and provides a boost to the local economy. It’s something we’re very proud to support,” she says.

Since Humana began supporting the festival in 1979, the company and its foundation have given Actors Theatre more than$21 million, most of it dedicated to supporting the Humana Festival.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Humana Festival Begins

Theatre professionals from around the country will be in Louisville over the next few weeks for the 35th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre.

The festival begins Sunday. It has become one of the premiere events in American theatre, and Actors Theatre Artistic Director Marc Masterson says competition to get into the festival is high.

“We read seven or eight hundred scripts a year and we talk about them, we debate them and we choose seven full-length works and what I try to do in that mix of plays is to provide a spectrum of different kinds of writers and different kinds of work.”

Last year’s Humana Festival sold over 36,000 tickets. About 4,000 of those went to visitors from outside the Louisville area.

The festival continues through April. This is Masterson’s last Humana Festival in his current position. He has taken a job with a regional theater in California.