The Humana festival officially begins this week and the authors have a lot to say.
This morning, the 36th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays officially began with a press conference bringing together a collection of playwrights and directors responsible for the shows to come. Hosted by the brand new Artistic Director of Actors Theatre, Les Waters, and Managing Director, Jennifer Bielstein, dedication and remarks were also given by Congressman John Yarmuth and Louisville mayor Greg Fisher. Two main points were raised: How much the festival could bring to the city and how much of an impact Louisville can have on the arts.
The Actors Theatre of Louisville began the festival in the 1976 as a way to showcase up and coming plays for a broader audience. A few years later, Humana agreed to sponsor and help produce the festival, widening the scope of what could be presented and the prestige that it could carry. The result has proved almost four decades of growth as many of the featured plays have gone on to award-winning notoriety. Charles Jackson, project manager with the Humana Foundation, said in the press conference that their collaboration is the longest running partnership between a corporation and a theater company in the country. Their longtime adoption has allowed growth that sees this year's festival bursting at the seams with events. Panel discussions, open houses, soirees, galas, one act and ten minute plays dot the calendar beside the full productions, bringing a great amount of excitement to the next month.
Congressman Yarmuth spoke to the crowd about the importance of promoting the festival. He cited numerous studies proving how valuable promotion of the arts can be to the strength of a community. Calling the Humana Festival, "one of the precious few opportunities to find new works," he spoke of how exposing children to the theater has shown that they will be more likely to grow up to volunteer, vote, and generally assist their community. He stressed that enthusiasm for cultural events such as this are vital to a flourishing city and said, "...it is an honor to represent a community that cares so much about culture and the arts."
The Humana festival also allows the continuation of supporting a wider network of actors. For the 40th year in a row, the Acting Apprentice Company takes in 22 young actors who work with the theater throughout the year. Actors Theatre commissioned one of the featured plays this year, Oh, Gastronomy!, specifically for the Acting Apprentice Company. Director Amy Attaway spoke today on how much this offers these aspiring, talented people, bringing them closer to experienced professionals. A few playwrights touched on this topic of cooperation, and how important the Humana Festival has proven. Greg Kotis, author of Michael Von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards, said "the experience of a playwright is very solitary while you create your Frankenstein monster" and how much it meant to him to come to Louisville "and have so much support and see everyone else's Frankenstein monster."
Mayor Greg Fisher began the conversation of how much Louisville could bring to the arts community. "Actors Theatre of Louisville sets a strong leadership tone," he said, "Louisville is not the biggest city in the world, but we should be the best at what we do." He pointed at the Humana Festival as a shining example. More that 30 different countries are normally represented by the audiences that come to Louisville every year, Mayor Fisher and Congressman Yarmuth both spoke on the opportunity the city had to show its value.
Most playwrights alluded to the lack of pretension that Louisville offers the festival and the greater theatrical world. Courtney Baron, author of the upcoming Eat Your Heart Out, spoke of the risks that the Humana Festival took by produce a fantastical play of hers years ago, and thanked the festival for helping her grow into writing this current show which she hopes could speak to everyone. How We Got On author, Idris Goodwin said, "The fact that it is in Louisville is very important to me." His play follows two Midwestern aspiring emcees in the late 80's as they try to find their sound, themselves, and an audience far away from the birthplace of hip hop. Goodwin commented how the Humana Festival reflects his personal experience and the play itself, delivering art to a place that isn't necessarily associated with it and still finding a home there. Both Baron and Goodwin told of the great service that Louisville brings to the theater world every year.
Another topic that kept arising was Louisville's burgeoning food scene. Multiple people referenced the recent Zagat guide that listed Louisville as one of the top 8 cities for food in the world. Oh Gastronomy! director Attaway talked about how delightful a time they had conceiving the multiple parts of the show by visiting "food locations around Louisville and then going to White Castle." And ending her speech thanking the Humana Festival for making her dreams come true The Hour of Feeling author, Mona Mansour, merely said, "Last thing I will say is that the food is very, very good."
Clearly, those responsible for putting on and promoting this year's festival do so with their whole hearts. The next month seems flush with activities that will give a great deal to this community, but also will let Louisville give a whole lot back.
Image: Courtesy Actors Theatre of Louisville