Megan Massie in 2-actor Hamlet. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Shakespeare.


By Kathi E.B. Ellis

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.

Happily, there is much to take note of in Louisville theatre, and any attempt to summarize the full year in quickly becomes a fool’s errand: there are always, inevitably, omissions. Probably the biggest theatre-related story in the Louisville area this year was the change in Kentucky Shakespeare Festival leadership. Print and social media fervently followed the demise of former Producing Director Brantley Dunaway this summer and the speedy installation of Matt Wallace as the current Producing Director. Mr. Wallace moved swiftly to reassure sponsors, individual donors, artists and the community at large that the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival will be viable into its 2014 season and well beyond, and the announced 2014 season is designed as a recommitment to the ideals that established the company’s reputation. Here’s to continuing a great Louisville tradition: the oldest free outdoor Shakespeare Festival in the country!

Actors Theatre of Louisville is celebrating a significant milestone this year with its Fiftieth Anniversary season. The company literally took to the streets with a community-wide block party this August. The day-long celebration included live performances by several other local theatre companies, arts activities for young and old, food and drink, music, tours of the theatre and much more! A prelude to a season which opened with a reprise of the ultimate theatre-insider script, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and, of course, will include the 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays – a reminder that in a couple of years we’ll be celebrating another impressive anniversary.

Local theatre companies continue their own traditions of new works. “Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun” and the more recently-established “Ten-Tucky Festival” at The Bard’s Town Theatre are both highlights in the theatrical community. The Alley Theater continued its commitment to “In Human: A Festival of New American UnDead Theatre” into its second year garnering submissions from around the country. Pandora Productions unveiled a full production of the winner of its national new play competition, Bixby Elliot’s Abraham Lincoln Was a Fag. Looking for Lilith Theatre Company and Stage on Spring both joined the ranks of companies boasting world premieres with, respectively, Robin Rice Lichtig’s Alice in Black and White and local playwright Larry Muhammad’s Henry Bain’s New Albany. Looking for Lilith also produced its eighth originally-devised script Becoming Mothers.

The Vault 1031 became the newest addition to theatrical spaces in Louisville with a much-needed and appreciated venue that includes a newly-finished dance studio also used for the regularly-scheduled New Play Slam and a still-funky performance space which has been used for special events, readings and music performances. This multi-purpose space, imaginatively re-purposing the Armored Car Company’s plant in Old Louisville, is quickly becoming a staple of the performing arts scene.

Becca Willenbrink & Eli Keel in The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn. Photoi-Theatre[502].

Two theatre companies took innovative approaches to their programming this year. Theatre [502] proposed a script that would take a full year to unfold: a series of fifteen-minute episodes of The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn by Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds. Audience and writers alike have the opportunity to ponder on how this quirky story will play out – with a promise of a fully-staged production of the whole story sometime next year. Pandora Productions embraced the quickly-changing face of gay marriage by dedicating their whole 2013-2014 season to an exploration of how artists are writing about this issue. From the funny and quirky to the heart-breaking and heart-warming, Pandora’s plays this season are a reminder that art and life are absolutely entwined.

The Slant Culture Theatre Festival entered its sophomore year and introduced new aspects to its programming. In addition to the founding theatre companies, Slant opened its doors to guest companies whose production submissions were juried into the 2013 Festival. November proved that “the” place to be for theatre artists and aficionados alike was Slant. A total of eleven companies participated in the Festival over ten days with a wide range of theatrical genres and styles. An added highlight of the Festival was the presence of the Moth Storytelling Slam. Walden Theatre was abuzz with memorable theatre, lively music, tasty food and drink. Here’s hoping that Slant will become a fixture of the Louisville theatre season.

Savage Rose broadened their horizons with a program of 3 American One-Acts, CenterStage confidently pushed the outside of its envelope with the one local production of Les Miserables we are likely to see anytime soon (an upcoming Broadway revival will again restrict the rights), The Pirates of Penzance at Iroquois made us wish for an annual Gilbert & Sullivan summer production, and StageOne Family Theatre managed the first sensory-friendly production in Kentucky when it made a matinee of House at Pooh Corner truly accessible for everyone.

Further afield theatre news was mixed in Kentucky during 2013. Kentucky Repertory Theatre, which had closed its production doors earlier, was finally sold at auction in December. A sad demise for a professional Equity company founded thirty-six years ago by Warren Hammack in the small community of Horse Cave Theatre. Many Kentucky theatre artists have made their way through its ambitious repertory programming as directors, designers, actors and technicians. Across the Commonwealth longtime producing director of Jenny Wiley Theatre Marty Childers left the company earlier this year, prompting a national search for a successor. In the Bluegrass a partnership between the Kentucky Women Writers Conference and Lexington’s Balagula Theatre encompasses a national playwriting prize for women writers and a premiere production for the winning script on a biennial basis, and 2013 saw Jo Morello’s E.G.O.: The Passions of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill take to the stage.

As we look to 2014 in the Louisville theatre scene, we can be sure that there will be more and more vibrant theatre offerings in the coming months. Check out the Arts-Louisville calendar to discover the coming year’s productions and make a resolution to explore at least one theatre company that is new to you!