Finnigan Producer Brian Walker
By Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
For six years the Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun has been shining a spotlight on local theatre artists in the disciplines of playwriting, acting and directing, working with material that has developed a reputation for being offbeat and challenging. This year’s line-up consists of scripts from eleven local playwrights, directed by eleven local directors and performed by sixteen local actors. I recently asked Finnigan Producing Director and Arts-Louisville contributor Brian Walker about the background of the festival:
Keith Waits: You didn’t invent the idea of a short play festival, but isn’t Finnigan’s Festival the first one that features all local playwrights?
Brian Walker: Yes, it’s always been that way, all the plays are written by current residents of the Louisville area.
KW: When you first started, did you worry about finding enough material?
BW: The first year the reason I did the festival was because I had a few playwrights send me their work and I thought, man this would make a cool night of theatre and I just put together what I had. The second year when I actually took submissions I was a bit nervous I wouldn’t get anything, but I ended up having to sift through forty scripts and that’s been the average I get every year.
KW: What is the process for selecting material? Is it you alone that decides?
BW: Festivals 3-5 I hosted a reading party and the acting company for the festival all came over to my house, and we read the plays out loud and voted and the ones with the highest marks comprised the lineup. The process, while tons of fun, didn’t always serve the plays that were a bit more nuanced or serious so two years ago I decided to take back control and have chosen the last two lineups myself, specifically crafting a night of theatre as opposed to just picking the ten plays that made me laugh.
KW: How do you pick which directors will work the plays?
BW: Sometimes a playwright will have a director in mind and if they do I usually always will try and get that director first. I keep a list through the year of folks I talk to who say hey, “I wanna direct at the festival”. I also have formed a pretty solid stable of directors who have come back for several years in a row, so we always have a mix of Finnigan vets and first time directors. I’ve had several directors who it was their first time directing anything and the festival has given them the opportunity to play with something short and stretch their directing legs a bit, and that’s always really cool.
KW: The material has tended to be pretty edgy and unorthodox over the years, has it ever gone too far? Ever regret mounting a piece of material?
BW: Ha! It’s not like we’ve ever birthed a baby onstage or anything! No. I regret having to pass on a few pieces, but no regrets in the pieces I’ve produced. That’s the great thing about a 10-minute play festival for the audience, if something is too much for you, in a few minutes it’ll be over and you can focus on something else.
KW: In the current popular culture climate, innovation becomes cliche so fast. Do you think that by now Finnigan plays have built their own formula?
BW: I hope not. I haven’t perceived a formula but maybe it’s because I’m too close. I have made a concerted effort in the last two years to try and choose a more diverse lineup and come up with interesting ways to connect the plays, but I do try to come at it a little different every year.
KW: It has been said, not just of Finnigan but of other shorts festivals, that the writing rarely meets the academic definition of a “play.” That much of the material, while entertaining, might be better described as skits or comedy sketches. How do you respond to that observation?
BW: I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject, actually. I think critics should stick to evaluating whether they liked what was presented or not and stay away from deciding whether or not what a producer has presented is in fact what they say it is. If I as the producer say that I am showcasing 10-minute plays, then that’s what they are TO ME. It’s actually not for a critic to come in and say, well no, they were more like sketches so they’re actually not plays. That’s incredibly counter-productive to the community the critic is supposed to be in service to. Tell me you hated it, fine, it wasn’t your cup of tea, but don’t tell me it wasn’t what I told you it was. When critics produce they can call what they produce whatever they want, but if they come to my house and have dinner at my table and try to say the pie I served them is actually cake, I take issue with that. Plays, like virtually every other art form, are subjective and I think when it comes to 10-minute plays in particular, critics need to keep that in mind.
KW: What do we have to look forward to this year?
BW: This year features a great mix of edgy and unorthodox humor the festival is known for balanced with some social satires and heavier hitting dramas. There’s a science fiction thread that sort of runs through many of the pieces and the vignettes that will happen between each play will certainly emphasize that too. No chickens this year (yet).
Finnigan’s Seventh Festival of Funky Fresh Fun
April 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 & 12 at 7:30pm
The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road.
Louisville, KY 40205
Reservations may be made by calling 502.876.0532 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Featuring the following plays:
MMC Intervention by Becky LeCron
Directed by Briana Clemerson
The Feminist Mystyque by Bryce Woodard
Directed by George Bailey
Blue Scatters Most by Nick Hulstine
Directed by Natalie Fields
Over the Edge by Andy Epstein
Directed by Jillian Spencer
Where the Red Dust Blows by Rachel White
Directed by Ben Gerhard
Hiding on Jupiter by Ben Unwin
Directed by Patrick Bias
Choke Room by Eli Keel
Directed by Joe Hatfield
The Art of Card Selection by Ben Gierhart
Directed by Corey Music
Hippopotamus in the Room by David Clark
Directed by Angela Miller
Zimy and Zog Visit Earth by Nancy Gall-Clayton
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
and the Alien Study Serials
Written and directed by Brian Walker