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    Photos by Tom Fougerousse
    ​Cover Photo: 
    Our Country's Good, staged last year by the U of L Theatre Arts Department.


    Photo: Miss Ida B. Wells, staged last year by U of L.

    In the spring of 2008, when I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University, my gothic-literature class drove the two hours north to the University of Louisville to see Titus Andronicus in the Thrust Theatre, part of a building that houses classrooms, rehearsal spaces and even a ceramics studio. The Thrust’s stage stands less than a foot off the ground, the edges zigzagged instead of square. Areas of the wooden platform have been worn to a rubbery black. One hundred and sixty-four fold-down stadium seats form a U, with metal railings separating the audience from the action — there were so many buckets of “blood” in Titus Andronicus that the playbill designated a couple of stagehands as “blood moppers.”

    The Theatre Arts Department, started in 1923 with the founding of the University Dramatic Club, offers an MFA program and an undergraduate degree, including coursework in stagecraft, acting, costuming, sound design and playwriting. (One alumna, Jessi Eichberger, worked on costumes for the movie La La Land.) The casts are mostly graduate students, along with a few undergrads and even occasional alumni. Faculty or visiting directors helm the productions.

    This past fall, the department staged Our Country’s Good (a true story about convicts-turned-actors in late-1700s Australia) and Miss Ida B. Wells. Eurydice, a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus from the wife’s perspective, will close Feb. 4, followed by a modern tale with mystical undertones called Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine from Feb. 23-March 4 at the larger Playhouse, a former chapel. (The season closes in April with The Long Christmas Ride Home, performed with puppets.) The eclectic mix has a unifying thread: women playwrights.

    “We did this season of women playwrights to make a statement that says you can put together a high-quality season, and various genres and production styles, all written by women,” says Kevin Gawley, acting chair of the department.

     


    Photo: U of L will stage The Long Christmas Home
    beginning in April.

    Nearly ten years after graduating with a bachelor’s from Clark Atlanta University, Jackie Thompson arrived at U of L in 2009 to obtain her MFA from the Theatre Arts Department. One of her late professors had connected with the U of L African-American Theatre, where many of her former classmates had studied. “And the rest is history,” she says.

    Thompson now teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, but she will be heading back to Louisville this month to direct Fabulation, about a woman named Undine who rises to the top of her field only to fall after her husband leaves her. She is forced to return to the family she disowned. “It’s basically about her coming to grips with where she comes from and having to go back to her roots,” says Thompson, who researched other work by Fabulation playwright Lynn Nottage, including her contributions to Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. “There’s heavy topics in it, but it’s all done in a very satirical fashion.”

    Thompson says Fabulation will be a challenge for the student actors. Not only will they rehearse the fast-paced scene changes with only tape on the floors indicating blocking, but many of the actors will take on multiple roles. “Some actors might play five or six different roles,” Thompson says. “If I were acting in this, that would be tough for me.”

    Thompson uses the word “monumental” when talking about being a part of this season of plays written by women and getting to direct of one of the African-American productions. “It’s important to have that representation,” she says. “In art and theater, we need to be represented. Our voices need to be heard.”

    Check out Thrust Theatre's upcoming season here.

    This originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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