Poet, activist Hannah L. Drake

By Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

How does a theatre company deliver fresh and original content when it cannot pack the house because of a pandemic? Actors Theatre of Louisville has adapted by embracing a local spoken word artist and by pivoting its Holiday perennials to radio scripts to fashion a multichannel, transmedia approach to storytelling for the 2020-21 season.

Executive Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming explains: “In envisioning a new season of work at this time in our community, we seek to rigorously reimagine how a 21st-century theatre can be shared and of service to our Louisville and Kentuckiana family who are continuing to process the tragic murder of Breonna Taylor and a weekend of protests and violence, during the ongoing disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“On June 12 at 7:00 pm, we will present Fix It, Black Girl, an original curation of spoken word poetry, essay and song by Hannah L. Drake, Louisville-based and nationally recognized poet, author and blogger, and a group of black female Louisville artists that, besides Drake, includes Erica Denise, Janelle Renee Dunn, Robin G, Sujotta Pace, and Kala Ross. This will be a free, virtual event to celebrate the resilience and the power generated by a collective meditation on black women’s role in civic and social action.” 

A multimedia, multiplatform strategy involving audio, video, and animation will replace the traditional stage settings and perhaps even reach a broader audience than Louisville subscribers. The necessity of reinvention has also prompted “…a season of stories that meditate on historical legacy, the transformative nature of courage, conviction and hope.”  

Chief External Relations Officer Patrick Owen shares what audiences can expect this season: “In addition to experiencing a full menu of artistic offerings, we invite the Actors Theatre family to participate in conversations with weekly Facebook Live series Robert Barry Fleming, Executive Artistic Director ‘Actors Theatre Unscripted,’ a new podcast, ‘Borrowed Wisdom with Robert Barry Fleming,’ and new supplemental artistic content, resources, and experiential activities like shared watch parties and talkbacks that are being designed to enhance audience engagement with the work. 

In July, the company will roll out flexible tiered subscription packages for on-demand access to the season’s projects. For each announced title, virtual single tickets will come on sale on a rolling schedule and will feature pay-what-you-can pricing levels and opportunities to engage with supplemental artistic content throughout the season. 

Actors Theatre will once again celebrate the holidays with Louisville’s favorite traditions, presented this year as brand-new radio plays. Fifth Third Bank’s Dracula: A Radio Play and Fifth Third Bank’s A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play are all-new adaptations and immersive listening experiences created by Actors Theatre’s creative team, in collaboration with award-winning radio professionals. 

Actors Theatre plans to kick off the 2020-2021 Brown-Forman Series with COVIDClassics: a collection of one-act plays for the age of quarantine. (slated for Fall 2020) 

This lively, mixed-media collection of short plays reaches into the past—to the work of trailblazing writers like Chekhov, Pirandello, Strindberg, and Apollinaire—to find surprising echoes in the present. Robert Barry Fleming, Executive Artistic Director Playwright Brian Quijada’s tribute to his roots, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, is a riveting, beat-driven one-person show about the experience of growing up in an immigrant family, searching for a place in American history and finding identity in making art. 

The season continues with Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. Louisville-based performer Jessica Wortham stars as iconic humorist Erma Bombeck, who aimed to define herself beyond the roles of wife and mother—while still embracing how these “ordinary” things can bring extraordinary joy. 

In 2021, the Bingham Signature Shakespeare Series returns with Romeo and Juliet, directed by Robert Barry Fleming, featuring a cast that reflects the cultural multiplicity of our contemporary world, where young non-binary, racially and ethnically diverse inhabitants live and love in a head-on collision with the social politics of a fractured society at war with itself. 
The new year will also bring the 45th Humana Festival of New American Plays. The lineup features an impactful play with deep local roots by acclaimed playwright, poet, and Humana Festival alum Idris Goodwin. Ali Summit explores a defining moment in the story of Muhammed Ali, a Louisville icon, and his conscientious objection to serving in the Vietnam War. This work is supported by a Building Demand for the Arts grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.