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Humana Festival introduces new plays

Humana Festival introduces new plays photo
“Astronauts flew in ‘nightnight,’ a play by Lucas Hnath. ‘My immediate impulse was to link sleep and flight via space travel,’ said the playwright, who was commissioned to write a short play about sleep that would require aerial choreography. Contributed photo
Humana Festival introduces new plays photo
Claire E. Jones


By Meredith Moss


Theater buffs from around the nation and around the world flock to Louisville each spring for the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The prestigious festival, now in its 37th year, has introduced more than 400 plays over the years, including three Pulitzer-Prize winners.

The Festival, which opened on Feb. 27 and ran through April 7, can always be counted on to give each new play its best shot — with top-notch directors and actors and terrific sets and costumes. On the two final industry weekends, representatives from film, television and theaters of all sizes descend on the state-of-the-art Actors Theatre to check out the new scripts.

This year’s offerings ranged from a humorous adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century masterpiece “Peer Gynt” titled “Gnit” by Will Eno to two family relationship dramas —“The Delling Shore” by Sam Marks and “Appropriate” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. The struggle for freedom was the subject of “Cry Old Kingdom” by Jeff Augustin, set in Haiti in 1964 at the time of revolution.

There are always some surprises at the festival. This year, in the middle of “O Guru Guru Guru, or Why I Don’t Want to Go To Yoga Class With You” by Mallery Avidon, audience members were invited to remove their shoes, come to the stage and participate in a chanting/meditation session. (Some audience members were so relaxed they fell asleep.)

The most creative idea of the weekend came with “Sleep Rock Thy Brain.” The challenge to three well-established playwrights was to create a short play on the subject of “dreams” that would include flying segments. Audiences were shuttled to a nearby school where the theater’s apprentice acting company achieved lift-off in partnership with Louisville’s ZFX Flying Effects company.

These were not your typical Peter Pan flying segments; these talented young people had obviously been training for months and looked perfectly at home in the air in their beautifully choreographed scenes. In “nightnight” by Lucas Hnath, for example, three astronauts were forced to deal with the consequences of lack of sleep and how it might jeopardize their mission. Their space walks and tumbles in the air were mesmerizing.

ATCA awards announced

It’s at the festival each year that The American Theatre Critics Association recognizes playwrights for outstanding scripts that premiere outside of New York City.

For 2013, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award of $25,000 went to Robert Schenmkkan’s play “All the Way.” The drama, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, tells the story of Lyndon Johnson’s campaign to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Two citations of $7,500 each were presented to Lucas Hnath for his play “Death Tax” and Johnna Adams for her play “Gidion’s Knot.” “Death Tax, a drama that focuses on the issue of dying in a 21st century America where it’s possible to keep individuals alive indefinitely, was introduced to the public last year at the Humana Festival. “Gidion’s Knot”    is the drama that revolves around the mother of a dead student who visits his teacher seeking the back story behind his death. The play premiered at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, W.V.

Cincinnati intern kept patrons happy

Claire E. Jones, an art history major from Cincinnati, has been serving as audience development and festival management intern for Actors Theatre this year.

Her responsibilities have ranged from coordinating airport pick-ups and hotels for the hundreds of industry professionals over special weekends to planning social media nights during the theater’s regular season.

“It’s our effort to reach out to broader, more technological audiences,” she says of the targeted evenings where tickets were available for just $20 and audiences were welcome to use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest during the show. “The actors and stage managers loved the idea, though some theater purists felt the audience should lose itself in the darkness. But overall it was wildly successful; we even had actors tweeting backstage during “Romeo and Juliet.”

Jones, who previously worked as an intern at the Seattle Art Museum, also planned evenings where food and a bar were set up in the theater balcony.

“We talked to audience members afterwards and offered them drink tickets if they’d stay and talk to us,” Jones said. Some told her they’d never been to the theater before.

Jones says theaters have been forced by the recession to think outside the box.

“Previously there was a built-in audience of museum and theater-goers,” she said. “But now we need to attract new patrons, make it a more casual experience, and find ways to connect to people you might not think would be interested.””


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by | April 14, 2013 · 5:43 pm

Louisville, Start Your Engine!




MARCH 29, 2013 BY facebook_-559339403

“We, the intrepid first two Engine31 journalists, blew into Louisville around 5 p.m. on Thursday and found our Marriott hotel.

Which was not as easy a task as you might think. There are, we quickly discovered, NINE different Marriotts in downtown Louisville.

We got it on the second try.

Of course, all those hotel rooms, Marriotts and non-Marriotts, are not filled entirely with visitors here to see new American plays. More’s the pity. Sports stadiums and office towers and the factory that makes Louisville Slugger bats don’t just monopolize attention here, they also seem to dwarf the relatively unassuming yet sparkling and attractive Actors Theatre of Louisville building.

But step inside the lobby and wander around a bit and you’ll feel as Alice did falling down the rabbit hole. If Alice was a theater geek. And the hole led to one large arena stage, one black box space and one small proscenium. And a massive, multi-part lobby. And a recently upgraded restaurant crafted by a “Wait, didn’t I see you on Iron Chef?!” owner.

Those are the sort of resources that come in very handy when you produce six new works, in full productions, simultaneously.

Plus, on “industry weekends” like this one, there are panel discussions, interview opportunities for journalists and various other tangential gatherings.

And bourbon drinking. Let us not forget bourbon drinking.

The Humana Festival of New American Plays is a grand endeavor. You’re in Louisville, but for the most part you’re really just in that one ATL building, until you need to head back to your hotel or a watering hole.

Hopefully you’ll get a taste of that intensity through Engine 31’s exhaustive coverage of the fest, which begins in earnest tonight. Lou Harry and I are the advance team for this Engine. We met on the first of these new-models-of-arts-journalism projects, Engine 28, in Los Angeles two summers ago. Lou lives a few hours away from Louisville in Indianapolis, Indiana, and has been to Humana regularly for over a decade. Chris is based in New Haven, Connecticut, and visited the festival last year on a whim. It’s a hike for an East Coast critic, but experiencing it once spoiled him.

The Humana Festival of New American Plays is a place you have to seek out amidst the city. But once you find it and step inside, you are overwhelmed and awed. A part of you never leaves.
When all the other parts of us two leave on the final day of March, wait a few days and then brace yourself for a swarm of other Engine 31 journalists, who’ll fly in from all over the U.S on April 5 to complete the job, adding oodles more reviews, features and videos to this site. Most of them hail, as we do, from Engine 28, for which we dashed around Los Angeles writing stories about 2011’s L.A. Radar Festival, Hollywood Fringe Festival Theater Communications Group conference. You can still see that site over at www.engine28.com. (Yes, we know, we went from a .com to a .org. It’s not a typo.)

It is our collective goal to cover the Humana Festival the way it deserves to be covered. To review the plays but also to explain how the productions came to be. To interview stars and directors, but also designers and apprentices and audience members (and maybe even ushers, waiters and the person who makes sure the lobby is cleaned up by the time the doors open).
In short, to make you wish you were with us, while, at the same, enriching the experience of those who are here. We’ll be doing audience engagement experiments, and as you can see elsewhere on this page, we’re aggregating the stories everyone else is doing.

We’ll do everything that’s Humanally possible.”

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by | April 1, 2013 · 6:31 pm

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Wins Sundance’s Inaugural Tennessee Williams Award

By Adam Hetrick
27 Feb 2013 

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

“Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, whose plays include Neighbors and The Octoroon, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Sundance Theatre Institute’sTennessee Williams Award, which will be presented April 8 in New York City.

The $10,000 grant was created to support new work for the stage, recognizing “an emerging playwright who embodies visionary storytelling and is developing a project that engages audiences in a fresh and exciting way.”

Jacobs-Jenkins will be presented with the honor by Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field during an April 8 Sundance benefit at the Stephan Weiss Studio in Greenwich Village.

“Branden’s burgeoning body of work already heralds a dynamic career; his audacity and poetic language are reminiscent of many of the qualities that define Mr. Williams’ writing,” said Sundance Institute Theatre Program artistic director Philip Himberg in a statement. “Following his wildly entertaining and dangerous Neighbors, his most recent play,Appropriate, reveals him to be an author willing to take substantial risk, and to fearlessly explore familial rage and personal emancipation. We look forward to his future output which will undoubtedly continue to reflect a singular sensibility, with humor and passion.”

During the benefit, Jacobs-Jenkins and Tony-winning actress Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie) will perform selections from the playwrights’ new work Appropriate, which will premiere at the Humana Festival in March. The evening will also feature selections from the new Sundance-nurtured musical Fun Home by Lisa Kronand Jeanine Tesori, featuring performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy KuhnDavid Hyde Pierceand more.

Jacobs-Jenkins work has been seen at The Public Theater, PS122, Soho Rep, The Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles, Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, CompanyOne in Boston, Theater Bielefeld in Bielefeld, Germany and the National Theatre in London. He is currently working on commissions from Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3 and the Yale Repertory Theatre. He is an alum of the 2012 Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross Foundation and the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort.

The University of the South, the beneficiary of the Williams’ estate, granted Sundance permission to use the playwrights’ name for the honor. Williams’ body of work in includes A Streetcar Named DesireCat on a Hot Tin RoofSummer and Smoke and The Glass Menagerie, among others.

For information on benefit event tickets and tables or sponsorship opportunities, contact celebrate@sundance.org. Individual tickets are $500. Visit Sundance.org.”

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by | March 1, 2013 · 5:12 pm

Humana Festival College Days

Humana Festival College Days

March 22-24, 2013

College Days weekend is a three-day immersion into the world-renowned Humana Festival of New American Plays. College students and faculty are invited to explore the Festival and connect with people at the forefront of the field.

College Days attendees:

-See astonishing world premiere plays
-Participate in career development workshop
-Meet Actors Theatre staff and Humana Festival creative teams
-Audition for Acting Apprentice Company
-Interview for Professional Internships
-Rub elbows with the best in the field!


Only $125 per package. Groups of 11 or more receive a FREE package valued at $125.

College Days packages include tickets to four productions, workshop participation, networking events and an opportunity to auditon for Actors Theatre’s Apprentice Company or interview for professional internships.

Contact Sarah Peters at 502-585-1210 or SPeters@ActorsTheatre.org for details.

To view the full College Days schedule, click here!


Package A:
Friday, March 22
8 p.m. Gnit
11 p.m. Sleep Rock Thy Brain
Saturday, March 23
3 p.m. Cry Old Kingdom
7:30 p.m. Appropriate
Guru & Shore not included
Package B:
Friday, March 22
7:30 p.m. The Delling Shore
Saturday, March 23
2:30 p.m. Gnit
7:30 p.m. Appropriate
11 p.m. Sleep Rock Thy Brain
Cry & Guru not included

Package C:
Friday, March 22
8 p.m. Gnit
Saturday, March 23
12 p.m. O Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you
3 p.m. Cry Old Kingdom
8 p.m. The Delling Shore
Appropriate & Sleep not included

Please stay tuned for updates and announcements!

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by | February 20, 2013 · 9:15 pm

REVIEW | ‘Girlfriend’: Fine, Fizzy Romance with Killer Soundtrack

Credit Alan Simons / Actors Theatre of Louisville
Curt Hansen as Mike and Ryder Bach as Will in “Girlfriend” at Actors Theatre.


“Let’s flash back to 1993, to the days before texting and ready Internet access, when living in a small town really could feel like living on the moon. We are in Nebraska, but it might as well be any small town in Kentucky, Indiana, England. Let us say we are dorks, friendless and stilted, moving through high school like occasionally kicked stray dogs. Or. We are wearing someone else’s life, someone popular and ambitious and accomplished and right, holding our breath until we can leave this town and shed the fake skin like a bad sweater.

Let us say that one of us grew up and wrote a lovely play about this corner of the moon, and set it to the music of our favorite tape, beginning with Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting,” the sweetest song this side of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”

Todd Almond’s “Girlfriend,” a rock musical set to Matthew Sweet’s iconic 1991 power pop album of the same name, opened last night at Actors Theatre of Louisville. “Girlfriend” is a winsome crowd-pleaser, a finely acted, delicate and charming romance between two adorable protagonists, Will (Ryder Bach), a nerd who finds himself being courted, sort of, by Mike (Curt Hansen), the handsome jock who turns out to be much more. Almond’s intelligent, witty and unabashedly romantic scriptbrims with authentic dialog, astute observations and heart-stopping moments of pure vulnerability – every muttered “whatever” contains multitudes. 

In his brief pre-show speech, artistic director Les Waters, who directed this production as well as the 2010 world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, entreated the audience to “open your hearts very wide” to “Girlfriend.” The house complied – I haven’t witnessed such an openly appreciative group in the Pamela Brown in years. For once, the standing ovation felt spontaneous and  genuine, not obligatory, a satisfying end for an audience whose laughter and audible oh!s rang throughout the performance.

In an impressive season brimming with skillful and heartbreaking depictions of doomed, tragic dysfunction, “Girlfriend” is a sweet, fizzy treat, a show I can recommend without qualifying first that “it’s excellent, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’sfun.”

Let me say that I graduated high school in the flannelled late spring of 1994 and I am a sucker for watching cute boys fall in love, so “Girlfriend” pretty much had me from the overture. Like Sweet himself, this is a Nineties show with a hefty dose of New Sincerity, missing most of the weary cynicism and all of the bad haircuts of our actual youth. It’s a musical for the baggy cardigan, hands-stuffed-in-pockets shuffle-swaying at the show set, hearkening back to the days pre-“Glee” and “Smash” and whatever else that’s made musical theater cool again.

“Girlfriend” really is fun, from Will and Mike driving the back roads screaming along to their favorite songs to nearly every bizarrely funny thing that comes out of Will’s mouth (“I’ve been waiting my entire life for a boy to ask me to run errands with him.”). Their romance is so delicately wrought that to simply watch their hands inch close, only to retreat in haste, is as satisfying as the most epic on-stage journey.

Bach originated the role of Will in the Berkeley Rep production, and it’s hard to imagine another actor so fully embodying this character. This isn’t a heavily choreographed musical – Joe Goode has wisely designed dance moves that feel more like private goofing around than full-blown gotta-sing-gotta-dance numbers – but Bach moves at all times with the kinesthetic intelligence of a born dancer, allowing his body to react when Will’s face and voice cannot. And he’s hilarious – his deadpan delivery of Almond’s witty lines allow the private Will to shine, even as public Will shrinks in fear of the future and the wide world. Hansen is a charming foil, his bravado melting as he slowly makes himself as vulnerable as Will has been all along. 

Both are strong singers, but they steer clear of that familiar musical theater gloss, allowing their vocals the raw emotion of the shotgun seat aria and the shared, half-hummed chorus. Bandleader Julie Wolf strikes a nice balance between faithful renditions of Sweet’s classics and new arrangements that better fit individual scenes, and with Sara Lee, Kelly Richey and Jyn Yates, the band is on point and ever-present, but never overshadows the action.

David Zinn’s dual-hemisphere set is suitably spare up front where the action happens. A couch functions as Mike’s car, home base for their romance, as well as the centerpiece of his bedroom. Behind them, though, an authentically cluttered basement practice room, complete with wood paneling, overlapping posters and Christmas lights, houses the band. It looks like a music video set from the early Nineties, straight out of “120 Minutes,” – which is to say, perfect.

Social media buzzed with “remember your first love!” after opening night, but I’ll go one further and say that “Girlfriend” gives audiences, gay and straight, the first love experience any lonely teen could have wished for, minus any of the awful, selfish, mean, regrettable things we might have actually said and done to one another in our awkward pasts. It’s absolution with an amazing soundtrack. Will and Mike are good guys who like each other, so sit back, roll down the windows, and enjoy the ride. 

“Girlfriend” runs through February 17.”

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by | February 1, 2013 · 7:57 pm


book by Todd Almond
music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet
directed by Artistic Director Les Waters

January 29 – February 17, 2013
Presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Brown-Forman Series
Nebraska, the 1990s. Two teenage boys—one a social outcast, the other the quintessential jock—explore a relationship during a summer of self-discovery between high school graduation and the rest of their lives. Set to irresistible songs from Matthew Sweet’s landmark pop album of the same name, this rock musical gives voice to those of us who grew up in small towns, those of us who didn’t quite fit in and learned we were somehow different, and anybody who remembers the terror and thrill of first love.

Recommended for High school and up (Grade 9)
Contains strong language

For tickets and more information visit http://www.actorstheatre.org or call 502-584-1205

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by | February 1, 2013 · 5:28 pm

Humana Festival College Days

March 22-24, 2013


College Days weekend is a three-day immersion into the world-renowned Humana Festival of New American Plays. College students and faculty are invited to explore the Festival and connect with people at the forefront of the field.

College Days attendees:

  • See astonishing world premiere plays
  • Participate in career development workshops
  • Meet Actors Theatre staff and Humana Festival creative teams
  • Audition for Acting Apprentice Company
  • Interview for Professional Internships
  • Rub elbows with the best in the field!

Only $125 per package.  Groups of 11 or more receive a FREE package valued at $125.
College Days packages include tickets to four productions, workshop participation, networking events and an opportunity to auditon for Actors Theatre’s Apprentice Company or interview for professional internships.
Contact Sarah Peters at 502-585-1210 or SPeters@ActorsTheatre.org for details.

To view the full College Days schedule, click here! 

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by | January 22, 2013 · 4:26 pm