A Theatrical Feast of New Delights in Louisville

By Pollack, Joe | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 3, 1994 | Go to article overview

A Theatrical Feast of New Delights in Louisville


Pollack, Joe, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


THE annual Humana Festival of New American Plays makes this Ohio River city the theatrical capital of the nation for a weekend, just as the community will be the horse-racing capital when the Kentucky Derby arrives at Churchill Downs next month. Bourbon-chocolate creams by Rebecca Ruth are a tasty companion to both events.

Sitting through the 18th renewal last weekend, viewing 10 plays of varying lengths, was a time of both exhilaration and exasperation, but also a fascinating look at what goes on in what has become a prime nursery for American writers.

The festival, under the auspices of Actors Theatre of Louisville and underwritten by the Humana Foundation to the tune of about $1 million a year, is more than just about writing, acting and direction. It's also about selling and marketing. The festival drew more than 50 critics, based from Providence, R.I., to Portland, Ore., with lots of stops in between. But more important to the writers, actors and directors was the arrival of at least as many agents and producers, all looking for talent to represent or product to put on stage or screen.

ATL, where Jon Jory is artistic director, is Louisville's counterpart to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and it's an extremely successful operation.

The theater complex, downtown and a block from the Ohio River, includes the Pamela Brown and Victor Jory auditoriums, comparable to the Rep's main stage and studio, respectively. The Bingham Theatre, a 300-seat space next door, will be open in the fall, in time for the 1994-95 season. The complex also includes a bar and restaurant in the basement, a public parking garage a few yards away and office space.

The festival brings lots of publicity to the theater and fills a six-week slot in the spring, but it is not representative of the regular season. Almost anything goes at the festival, but the season is more staid, with "A Christmas Carol" a regular holiday feature, and a repertory not unlike what we see here.

The festival, however, is another cup of tea, and Jory expressed his appreciation to the Humana Foundation for never, in 18 years, having questioned a play or its subject matter.

Over the years, the festival has produced 180 new plays by 129 different playwrights. By his conservative guess, Jory estimates they have gone on to some 30,000 productions around the world and a collective audience of nearly 100 million people. Jory said he gets about 900 full-length submissions every year, and twice as many short plays.

The short plays, included in the "10-Minute Play" division, act as an entree for new writers. …

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