Photo-The Bard’s Town


By Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Almost five years ago, Doug Schutte and Scot Atkinson opened The Bard’s Town, a restaurant with two stages featuring quality food, music, comedy and theatre, some of it produced by Doug and Scot themselves. On January 17, they are staging a 24-Hour Play Festival, in which participants are given a day to write and produce a short play.

For more details:

Just about a year ago we posed our questions to Scot, and now it is Doug’s turn. Where did he come from? What matters to him? What makes Doug “tick”? Do we discover the “real” Doug Schutte?

Keith Waits: Thanks for answering our 17 questions. #1 Where did you get the inspiration for the 24-hour Play Festival?

Doug Schutte: I can’t take credit for the 24-hour play festival.  Some of my favorite companies do various versions of it, and I was also familiar with them from my SETC days.  I’ve always thought they were so much fun, and our season doesn’t typically start until mid-February, so I thought, “Let’s do it!”  I’m excited to see how the first one goes, and then to tweak it to make it even better.  Plus, you know, it’s 24 hours…so (insert Bob Marley lyric).

KW: #2 Are you participating yourself?

DS: Only as an organizer. Since I will know all of the specifics going into it, I can’t really partake in the writing.  Well, I guess I could direct or act in one (well, my version of acting…if one can call that “acting.” Ha!)

KW: #3 Conventional wisdom supports the notion that good writing takes time. Do you expect edgier, riskier work to result from the restricted time frame?

DS: Conventional wisdom would also say that a restaurant/theatre is a HORRIBLE idea.  We don’t like conventional wisdom around here.  We’re not conventional, and we have no wisdom.  As to the festival, I would say I expect “raw” work.  Intuitive work.  And odds are that for some of the writers, such a time crunch will work really well…and for others, it won’t.  Then again, what doesn’t work in our writing is many times more instructive for playwrights than what does work.  I call that a win-win.

KW: #4 The Bard’s Town has taken a prominent position within the local theatre community. It’s hard to believe you have only been there four plus years. Are you the only company that could pull this off?

DS: Ha! No, I’m sure there are plenty of companies who could make this festival shine.  A couple of years ago, I pitched the original idea of the festival—one in which each of the companies around town would form a team, and we’d perform them all at Actors Theatre…sort of a fundraiser for the local theatre association.  That idea never got its legs, so I’ve been plotting and scheming to put something similar together here.  It does help, of course, that just about every local theatre person is in here often…so I think we can get a lot of people involved.  (Hope so, anyway).

KW: #5 Hot on the heels of this festival, you will open the first BT production of 2015. What can you tell us about it?

DS: I will actually be announcing the entire season this week.  I’ve been waiting for an agent to give me the final go-ahead on one last show.  The first show of the season, though, is definite: A Kid Like Jake. It was at the Lincoln Center in 2013, and starred the always-wonderful Carla Gugino.  The story is fascinating to me.  Bare bones, it’s the story of two parents struggling with the fact that their young son enjoys dressing up like Cinderella.  I remember at first read thinking that it was a little off-putting that the play was set within this upper-middle class, New York couple, and an elite private school.  First World problems, right?  But I kept coming back to it, and the more I pondered it the more I realized just how perfect the setting was…and just how fascinating the story is at it unfolds.  The trick is to make sure that we get the audience to that point (and skip the first).  With my team for this one (Andy Epstein, Michael Mayes, Lauren McCombs, Laurene Scalf, and Erin Jump), I think we’re in good hands.

KW: #6 What are you looking for when you choose plays for The Bard’s Town?

DS: Oy.  I used to have an answer for that.  Now I just have a lot of gray hair.  I guess a number of things are still true: I still want to do plays that are new(er), and ones that haven’t been seen here in Louisville.  Obviously, that can be tough sometimes to market, but those are the plays that get me going.  As I said when I first concocted this idea (or scheme)…instead of doing what Shakespeare did, we’re doing what Shakespeare WOULD DO TODAY, and that’s to deal with today’s Bards…which is quite Shakespearean of us.

The honest answer to the question is this: I know when I read it.  So I read A LOT, and I know pretty quickly if it’s a play I want to do.  I try to read at least 5 plays each week, at least 40 weeks each year.  So yeah, a lot of plays.

The perfect example this past year was Madeleine George’s Watson Intelligence.  She sent me a copy right before it opened in NY.  I read it that day.  Completely blown away.  It was the best thing I’d read since Sam Hunter’s A Bright New Boise.  I remember telling Madeleine that the play was a Pulitzer finalist…no doubt about it.  She scoffed.  I was right…and I made sure to remind her of that.

I guess I’m just looking for great stories by great writers.  And once I find writers I like—Sam Hunter, Gina Gionfriddo, Kate Fodor, Bill Downs, and local talents like Liz Fentress, Nancy Gall-Clayton, Rachel White, Brian Walker—I make sure to keep up with their work.

KW: #7 You have a loose acting company who make regular appearances in your shows: Cara McHugh, Beth Tantanella, Ryan Watson, and, of course, Scot Atkinson and yourself. How much does that impact your choices?

DS: More than I would probably like to admit.  Of course, I would trust Beth, Ryan, Cara, Scot, Jake Beamer, Ebony Jordan, Ben Gierhart, April Singer, Amy Steiger, Megan Brown, J.P. Lebangood…the whole gang, really …with just about anything, so it’s not too terribly limiting.  Honestly, set requirements impact my choices more than casting requirements.

KW: #8 As an actor, what has been your favorite role?

DS: Will in A Bright New Boise.  Hands down.  That was easily the most challenging role, and most rewarding.  I don’t know if I could have handled a Broadway-style run of that show, that character, but the three week run we did of it was a gift.  I hope someday that a show and character will top that one for me, but that will have to be something REALLY special.  I do, of course, enjoy the Frank/Stein ridiculous I get to do each year in The Kings of Christmas, but I like Sam Hunter more than I like myself, so I’m sticking with Boise.

KW: #9 What role are you dying to take on?

DS: Oddly enough, that’s something I’ve never considered, a question I’ve never had an answer for.  Probably because I don’t consider myself an actor.  I know actors, and I think I respect them too much to use that title for myself.  Actor would fall somewhere after writer, director, cook, business dude, and village idiot.  I guess if I had to choose, I would say Lear…because that would mean I made it to old age, and the Vegas odds aren’t very good on that front.

KW: #10 Is that a play we can expect on The Bard’s Town calendar in the future?

DS: I don’t think King Lear is on the docket.  Unless I can concoct a way to completely screw with it enough to make it a Schutte-style play of ridiculousness.  So yeah, look for that in 2016.  Mitt Romney heads LEAR CAPITAL, and he’s divvying up his fortune amongst his sons.  Hey, maybe I’m onto something here…

KW: #11 The BT production of Oedipus Rex: The Original Motherf***er was the audience favorite at the Slant Culture Theatre Festival in November, and you are revising it for two performances January 25 & 26. What is the key to the success of that show?

DS: 4 keys.  Beth.  Cara.  Ebony.  Jake.  Remember when I said I would trust these folks with anything?  I meant that.  Those are 4 very special people, and 4 very special talents.  So just get out of their way.  That’s a good recipe.

Oh, and booze.  Booze always helps.  (How else could I be a playwright???)

KW: # 12 You’ve established yourself as the center of the universe for local playwrights, hosting the Finnigan Festival, play readings from the Derby City Playwrights, as well as your own Ten-Tucky Festival. Does it surprise you that there is so much writing talent and ambition in this town?

DS: I would say that’s about as surprising as a birthday party planned by oneself.  I had the good fortune of running the Kentucky Theatre Association for a number of years, and I got to see firsthand the writing talent in this state.  I remember when I first began planning for the Bard, I said I was going to produce plays by Liz Fentress, Nancy Gall-Clayton, and Liz Orndorff.  I produced Liz Fentress the first year, Nancy the 2nd.  Still need to do an Orndorff play, but it will come.  And of course I’ve gotten to host the uber-talented Le Petomane folks, Brian Walker, Rachel White, and dozens of others.  Damn, I’m lucky.

KW: #13 It seems that you have three separate audiences, one for theatre, one for comedy, and one for music. Certainly there is overlap, but how important has that been for you?

DS: The more the merrier, right?  From the beginning, the whole idea was that a theatre by itself would not stand.  And restaurants are notorious for failure. BUT if we could build the two together, and allow both to feed the other, we might just have something.  And yes, while there is overlap, it’s critical for us to be able to draw from a larger pool than simply a “theatre crowd.”  That said, I am quite proud of the fact that we draw a number of people to our theatrical shows who do not identify as “theatre people.”  This fact is noticed by many, and it’s perhaps the thing I’m most proud of…building a theatre (and writing plays) that are enticing to a broader realm of folks. OK, patting of the back over.  Moving on.

KW: #14 As a tavern keeper, your opinion of spirits must be exhaustive. What is your favorite bourbon?

DS: Whichever one is in the glass in my hand?  I have a number of favorites.  Ridgemont Reserve 1792 is my #1 go to bourbon.  I enjoy Four Roses Small Batch as my 2nd favorite.  And Basil Hayden’s is my special treat.  Then, of course, there’s Old Bardstown…perfect for that time you need a good mule kick to the gut.

KW: #15 You’ve designed a few specialty cocktails for special occasions, what would be a good Fifth Anniversary concoction for The BT?

DS: The Yorick.  We should have been in the grave a LONG time ago…and alas, we know it well.

KW: #16 The BT menu is famous for the play on Shakespearean phrases in naming food items. Is there a pun from The Bard that you’ve wanted to use but couldn’t figure out what food item to pair it with?

DS: MAN, I have a loooong list of puns that didn’t make the cut.  I always use to giggle at a descriptive line, “meats and cheeses of outrageous fortune.”  Actually, I might still use that somewhere.  I lost my mind somewhere in 2012, I think.  I also love baking, and have thought about a line of CupShakes.  OK, serious, someone cut off my hands before this gets out of hand.  (Too late?)

KW: #17 You and Scot do a bit of everything at The BT: cook, tend bar, act, direct, etc. Is there anything you don’t do?

DS: Am I on a word count?  It’s much easier to count the things I can do.  I don’t “do” patience very well.  Or say the words “I do,” it would seem.  I’m just a guy who is proof that if you make enough idiotic decisions, good things can happen.  Look at that…a nice little life lesson for the kids!  I am actually writing a book called The Absolute Moron’s Guide to Being an Absolute Moron.  (And oddly enough, it only deals with Dick Cheney twice).  So look for even more poignant life lessons in the near future, kids!


Keith[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for[/box_light]