Wednesday, November 13, 2019
By Kathryn Gregory | Courier Journal
The future of theatre is in Louisville.
For the 44th year, the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville will stage five world premiere productions that touch on issues of race, immigration, fat-shaming, grit and more.
The productions, held March 1 to April 12, 2020 at 315 W. Main St. in downtown Louisville are: "Are You There?" by Vivian Barnes, Jonathan Norton and Gab Reisman, "Nicole Clark is Having a Baby" by Morgan Gould, "Where the Mountain Meets the Sea" by Jeff Augustin, "FLEX" by Candrice Jones and "Grace" by Nolan Williams, Jr.
The annual festival, the nation’s leading incubator for new play development, is a longstanding cultural highlight for theatre lovers, artists and producers from across the country. The 2019 Humana Festival was attended by more than 38,000 people, with visitors from 41 states and 52 colleges and universities represented in the audience, according to a news release announcing the 2020 lineup of shows.
For more than four decades, Actors Theatre of Louisville has introduced more than 450 plays into the American theatre repertoire and represented the work of more than 400 playwrights and ensembles, the news release states.
“The Humana Festival of New American Plays is at the center of the genesis of the new play movement in our country. While it is with a heavy heart we face our first Humana Festival of New American Plays without our ardent Actors Theatre of Louisville friend and supporter David Jones, Sr., we are confident the brilliance of the fresh voices included in this slate of theatrical experiences will honor his legacy of inclusive support and patronage of diverse voices," said Actors Theatre of Louisville and Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming.
We had a chance to catch up with Fleming to get his perspective on the 2020 festival, including what audiences can expect from this new round of shows and how Actors Theatre keeps this festival new and innovative after more than four decades:
Fleming: Playwrights are (and have always been) sharply perceptive observers of the cultural moment they’re bearing witness to, and we see that reflected in the script submissions we read and in the new plays chosen for the Humana Festival every year. One of the most exhilarating things about programming a festival of world premieres is seeing how writers are channeling the zeitgeist, reframing recent history, and deepening vital conversations that are in the air. By its very nature, a festival celebrating the creation of new work involves a spirit of adventure; so many discoveries are made in the process of bringing these plays to life for the first time, and the joy of that energy is palpable.
Fleming: Our search starts with Actors Theatre’s literary and artistic staff reading as widely as we possibly can, and elevating promising new plays for discussion with the rest of the team. So as the selection process unfolds, we’re engaged in a thoughtful ongoing dialogue about the plays that are striking a chord, and thinking about how a festival might be curated from the work we’ve read together. From the plays we can’t stop talking about — that really capture our imaginations, and that speak to conversations that we think will be meaningful here in Louisville — we then aim to choose a slate of projects that feels like an invigorating mix of stories, voices, and theatrical adventures.
Fleming: We really don’t program the festival according to a theme or concept — on the contrary, we value the inclusion of a diverse mix of voices, cultural backgrounds and perspectives, so the artistic team aims to curate a collection of stories that feel quite different from one another.
Part of the fun of attending the festival is taking in such different stories and artistic sensibilities in juxtaposition, and enjoying the lively conversations they provoke — not to mention the thrill of discovery that comes from being an original witness to a play’s first production.
And it’s always fascinating to be surprised by the patterns the audience sees and what connections they inevitably draw between the plays.
Fleming: As a collection, audiences can expect captivating storytelling across the board; plays with strong resonance in this part of the country; experiences that are moving, thought-provoking, conversation-starting, and laughter-inducing; and several of the pieces this year have wonderful original music.
Fleming: We’re thrilled to welcome back Jeff Augustin ("The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield" 2017, "That High Lonesome Sound," 2015 and "Cry Old Kingdom" 2013). Jeff’s new play, "Where the Mountain Meets the Sea," was commissioned by Actors Theatre, which means that he wrote the piece specifically for the Humana Festival, with Louisville in mind. It’s exciting that the festival has the breadth to both introduce amazing voices that are new to our audiences, and to bring back playwrights whose work we love and want to support over time.
Fleming: Theatre lovers, artists, journalists, and producers may flock to the festival for an immersive weekend marathon of world-class theatre, networking, and special events. But Kentuckiana residents truly get to enjoy the best of festival as it runs for a full six weeks. You can see one play or all six, enjoy a panel conversation or dance party.
My recommendation? Definitely don’t miss the official Humana Festival Kickoff event on Feb. 26 — you’ll get a sneak peek at all six plays and join in welcoming these amazing artists to town in our signature Louisville style.
Actors Theatre celebrates the 44th Humana Festival with underwriter the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana, Inc. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust
WHAT: A soaring musical celebration of family, faith and African-American food traditions. Every plate holds a story in this celebration of a family’s long history with African American cooking — inventing recipes to survive hard times, to keep the memory alive, and to gather together with love. Created by acclaimed composer Nolan Williams, Jr., whose vast musical palette ranges from rousing symphonies to jazz and from gospel to R&B, Grace unfolds entirely through gorgeous original songs. A soaring tribute to the dishes that carry a complex legacy, infused with a warm spirit of community.
CREDITS: By Nolan Williams, Jr. Directed by Robert Barry Fleming.
WHERE: Pamela Brown Auditorium
WHEN: March 25 to April 12, 2020