LIMELIGHT GUIDE TO THE
41st HUMANA FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS March 1â€“April 9, 2017
MADE POSSIBLE BY A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE
The 41st Humana Festival playwrights (left to right by row): Jeff Augustin, Jorge Ignacio CortiĂąas, Sarah DeLappe, Will Eno, Tasha Gordon-Solmon, Claire Kiechel, Krista Knight, Basil Kreimendahl, Chelsea Marcantel, Molly Smith Metzler, Ramiz Monsef, and Eric Pfeffinger.
FROM THE THEATRE Welcome to the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The Humana Festival is a leading champion of the future of theatre. We are thrilled to bring together a collection of twelve innovative voices whose diverse stories both reflect the world we live in now, and take us to worlds not yet imagined. The Festival cultivates an atmosphere of inspiration, discovery and interaction around new writing. We invite you to join us in this exciting celebration of new work, and encourage you to participate in the wide-ranging program of performances, panel conversations, and behind-the-scenes events that we are offering this spring. Over four decades, the Humana Festival has introduced 450 plays into the American theatre’s repertoire—representing the work of more than 370 playwrights, and launching countless subsequent productions Off-Broadway and at regional theatres across the country. We have the great privilege—and energizing challenge—of combining the talents of playwrights, directors, actors, designers, and technicians to produce this Festival, which this year boasts 99 performances within a six-week period. We want to thank all of the artists who create these vibrant theatrical worlds, starting with the playwrights, who are the Festival's true architects. Their imaginations, inspire our creative teams to fully embrace the possibilities envisioned in each play, and allow viewers to share in that discovery. We also congratulate our dedicated team of more than 150 staff members and volunteers who have been working tirelessly around the clock to guarantee a memorable experience for you, our audience. We are also incredibly grateful for our longstanding partnership with the Humana Foundation. Their generosity and commitment to supporting artistic innovation ensure that theatre plays a key role in creating a vibrant cultural landscape here in Louisville, across the region, and around the world. Last year’s Festival was attended by more than 34,000 people, with visitors from 41 states and 65 colleges and universities. It is clear that by investing in the future of American theatre, Actors Theatre makes a significant impact not only on the national theatre canon, but also on the economic prosperity of Louisville. Lastly, on behalf of our board, staff, artists and volunteers, we would like to thank all of you— both patrons and practitioners—for your ongoing support and encouragement. We value the important role that theatre plays in reflecting and creating community. It provides a safe public space for human beings to come together in a shared experience—a space in which we aren't just entertained, but also can become more empathetic and knowledgeable about ourselves, one another, and the world around us. We are proud that Actors Theatre has created such a space right here in Louisville. With your help, we can continue our work to inspire conversation and engage our community. Best wishes,
Kevin E. Moore
FROM THE UNDERWRITER VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4 MANAGING EDITOR Sara Durham SENIOR EDITORS/WRITERS Laura Humble Hannah Rae Montgomery Jenni Page-White Jessica Reese Amy Wegener GRAPHIC DESIGNER Mary Kate Zihar CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Bryan Howard Erin Meiman Paige Vehlewald
A new play brings the energy of anticipation and the promise of experiencing original artistic expression. For the past 41 years, Actors Theatre of Louisville has fostered the creative birth of countless works of art through its Humana Festival of New American Plays. Never-before-seen plays—prior to their debuts on New York stages, the Hollywood screen, or venues overseas—are brought to life first in this remarkable Festival. Under Les Waters’ outstanding leadership, Actors Theatre brings innovative and inspiring new works each spring to the city of Louisville and the world. Les’s keen eye for recognizing exciting new drama has helped inform American theatre—its past, present and future. We also are delighted to welcome Kevin E. Moore, the new managing director of Actors Theatre. We know that Les, Kevin, and the talented team at Actors Theatre carefully nurture performances that find their start in what has been described as the preeminent new play festival in the country.
MANAGING DIRECTOR Kevin E. Moore
As Actors Theatre continues its steadfast pursuit of new play development, the Humana Foundation is honored to extend our support of the award-winning Humana Festival of New American Plays and this unique partnership—the longest-running collaboration between a corporation and performing arts organization in the country. We congratulate Actors Theatre and all the talented playwrights, actors, directors, and audiences who make these plays possible each year.
We hope everyone enjoys this year’s Festival of provocative theatre.
CALL 502.584.1205 OR 1.800.4ATL.TIX
316 West Main Street Louisville, KY 40202-4218 ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Les Waters
ONLINE ActorsTheatre.org GROUP SALES 502.585.1210 FAX 502.561.3300 STOP BY the Box Office at Third & Main. Free shor t-term parking jus t inside the garage’s Main Street entrance.
Michael B. McCallister Chairman, Humana Foundation
MADE POSSIBLE BY A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE
Bruce D. Broussard President and Chief Executive Officer, Humana Inc. Board Member, Humana Foundation
I NOW PRONOUNCE
WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY
RECENT ALIEN ABDUCTIONS
THE TEN-MINUTE PLAYS The New Line by Will Eno
written by Molly Smith Metzler
THE MANY DEATHS OF NATHAN STUBBLEFIELD
AIRNESS written by Chelsea Marcantel
written by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas
CRY IT OUT
written by Basil Kreimendahl
written by Tasha Gordon-Solmon
written by Jeff Augustin, Sarah DeLappe, Claire Kiechel, and Ramiz Monsef
CALENDAR: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO HUMANA FESTIVAL EVENTS
Home Invasion by Krista Knight Melto Man and Lady Mantis by Eric Pfeffinger
I NOW PRONOUNCE wedding is a rite of passage, a beautiful and meaningful ceremony celebrating the union of soulmates. Or maybe that’s just Hallmark propaganda. Maybe a wedding is more like a hand-me-down sweater that doesn’t really fit and itches in weird places. For Adam and Nicole, it might be a little bit of both.
In Tasha Gordon-Solmon’s comedy I Now Pronounce, Adam and Nicole’s marriage gets off to an inauspicious start when the elderly rabbi officiating their wedding drops dead during the ceremony. The members of the wedding party struggle heroically to turn around the mood at the reception, but they’re much too preoccupied with their own flailing relationships to keep the festivities running smoothly. Meanwhile, the flower girls are distracted by the possibility that the rabbi is now a bloodthirsty ghost. But Adam and Nicole have bigger issues to tackle than a wedding gone awry. With death staring them in the face, they can’t help but wonder: should they even be getting married? According to Gordon-Solmon, the inspiration for the opening scene of the play was hilariously literal, sprung from a momentary daydream she had while attending a wedding. “The person officiating the wedding was coughing,” she explains, with signature deadpan humor. “And I got bored and started thinking—what if this person died?” Out of that fleeting thought, this imaginative writer spun a story that goes to deeper and stranger places, wrestling with questions not only about the institution of marriage, but also about why we find authentic human connection so difficult anyway. Though their wedded life together has only just begun, Adam and Nicole already feel hemmed in. And the bride and groom aren’t the only ones 6
I NOW PRONOUNCE by Tasha Gordon-Solmon directed by Stephen Brackett
Mar. 1–Apr. 9, 2017
in this play struggling with the balance between intimacy and independence. Bridesmaids Eva and Michelle and groomsmen Seth and Dave have relationship problems of their own: Eva tends to overshare; Michelle’s vision of true love is too far removed from reality; Seth is hung up on the wife who jilted him; and Dave’s bad-boy attitude keeps people at a distance. And like Adam and Nicole, they are unsettled by the creeping feeling that being in a romantic partnership requires conforming to prescribed roles and behaviors— none of which inspire enthusiasm for the phrase “till death do us part.” In explaining why this sentiment appears in a play set during a wedding celebration, Gordon-Solmon says, “I tend to
There’s something beautiful, but also pretty problematic about the institution of marriage. Gordon-Solmon’s version of a wedding play is filled with unexpected delights. One of this comedy’s many charms is the trio of flower girls who add to the sense of chaos at the reception. While they’re still reeling from the shock of the rabbi’s death, these girls also witness the turbulence of adult relationships—and they’re not sure which experience is more traumatizing. “I think there’s something cool about seeing different stages of life together,” reflects the playwright. “In a lot of my plays, and in this play in particular, I’m interested in the question of how we learn to be in the world. Children keep finding their way into my plays, even if I think it’s not going to be a play about kids.” Of course, learning about human connection doesn’t stop after childhood. The play also features two brief but poignant appearances by members of an older generation. As Adam and Nicole listen to their speeches, it’s hard for them to resist the notion that true intimacy is built on a lifetime of shared experience.
Gordon-Solmon observes, “There’s a lot of my grandparents in this play—that was not a conscious choice when I was writing it. I’m learning more and more that they’re in there. I think they’re the hope in the play: an example of what a lovely partnership could look like. My grandparents were married for over 60 years. And I remember when my grandfather passed away, my grandmother said to me, ‘It wasn’t enough time.’” In I Now Pronounce, the hope for profound intimacy built on the foundation of a marriage contract lives side-by-side with cynical reservations about what marriage might entail. As Gordon-Solmon describes the impulse behind that contradiction, “There's something beautiful, but also pretty problematic about the institution of marriage—the reasons it exists historically, the gender roles implicit in its structure. It's a question I have: if I keep my name, and I have my own life and my own friends and my own world, can I still have that sort of idealized connection that we’re brought up to revere? Or is that only possible if we live according to this outdated set of rules?” The answers to those questions don’t come easy for Adam and Nicole, and it’s hard to know if eternal love will win out in the end. Gordon-Solmon reports that people’s reactions to the play have been as diverse as their thoughts about marriage. She explains, “It’s funny: people have read the same draft of this play, and some of them say, ‘I’m so happy for them.’ And some people say, ‘That is so dark.’ And I love that.”
I NOW PRONOUNCE
write plays from a place of, ‘What’s a kind of play or trope that I don’t like?’ This is sort of my take on a wedding play, in reaction to wedding plays. And hopefully that’s a jumping-off point to ask some bigger questions about the world.”
TASHA GORDON-SOLMON “I like theatre that pushes boundaries,” the playwright declares. Citing Bill T. Jones, Charles Mee, and Sheila Callaghan as some of her influences, Gordon-Solmon aims to make plays that are “language-driven and experiment with form.” She attributes her interest in the flow of words and in unconventional storytelling methods to her movement background; years spent as a dancer and choreographer inspired an appreciation for rhythm, physicality, and inventive uses of space. “In some ways, playwriting feels like choreography,” she reflects. “I’m always thinking about the musicality of language, and timing—I write a lot of comedy, and timing’s obviously important. All my plays explore the limitations of language; characters are talking a lot but not saying what they want to say. The struggle to communicate and connect shows up repeatedly in my writing.”
rom getting kicked out of a high school theatre production for ad-libbing the word “bitch” onstage, to writing plays that question traditional notions of family, social norms, and gender roles, Tasha Gordon-Solmon has always been interested in breaking the rules. Maybe this desire to challenge the status quo came partially from being the only girl in a teen improv troupe, where she fell in love with comedy because of its transgressive nature. Or maybe it’s just the natural result of a playfully contrary spirit; as she jokes, “I like to do the opposite of what I’m told.” In any case, Gordon-Solmon is a playwright who works to subvert expectations, with scripts that are frank, funny, and full of spectacle.
Gordon-Solmon dramatizes this struggle in distinctive ways, with a healthy dose of irreverent humor. In Golden Water—which she describes as a “sprawling identity play,” written while she was in the Dramatic Writing M.F.A. program at New York University—Gordon-Solmon interweaves the stories of a kindergarten class, teens hooking up at a bar mitzvah, and a rabbi who wanted to become a stand-up comedian. As these characters make failed attempts to connect with one another and seek greater purpose in the world, their search for meaning manifests in a non-linear collage full of surprising imagery. Two old women wryly ponder the nature of existence while swimming naked in an enormous pot of soup. In one scene, pink lemonade floods the stage, while in another, pieces of foreskin fall from the sky. The tale of Noah’s Ark is retold through a triptych of morbid dance numbers, and the ensemble reenacts Moses’s deeds in modern dialogue dripping with social satire.
Gordon-Solmon also loves to take commonly told stories and turn them topsy-turvy, creating her own interpretations of narratives we thought we knew. “Questioning authority, questioning the things we’re usually told, is a big part of my plays,” she says. “I try to find a different angle.” Her play You, Me, Su-Yi and the Kitchen Sink unfolds mostly in a suburban home, as a family grapples with their changing relationships to one another—but this isn’t your typical kitchen-sink drama. Sixteen-year-old Stacey returns from studying abroad to find that her widowed mom is now dating a woman, and that the couple’s adopted a six-year-old girl from China. Also there’s a cameraman crashing in the guest room, shooting a documentary about their lives. Stacey launches immediately into teenage rebellion, but she’s not the only one feeling dissatisfied with the role she’s expected to play. Gordon-Solmon observes, “I often write plays for female actors. I’m always wanting to tell women’s stories in more interesting ways.”
I like to do the opposite of what I'm told. In her latest play, Piece Of, Gordon-Solmon tackles the question of what qualifies something as a work of art, as well as trends in parenting. “I see so many plays about helicopter parents, and I was like, ugh, those plays drive me crazy—let me write one!” she quips. Her version follows Avery, a five-year-old whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars.
Avery’s parents, caught up in the hype, believe their daughter is a genius—or is she just a cipher for their own unfulfilled dreams? “There are lots of kids in my plays,” Gordon-Solmon comments. “That’s something else I keep coming back to in my work: the lessons we’re taught as children.” And then of course there’s I Now Pronounce, her hilarious and self-aware take on a wedding play. For GordonSolmon, the comedy’s debut at Actors Theatre is the culmination of a careerchanging collaborative relationship. In January of 2016, Actors produced her ten-minute play, Coffee Break, in the Professional Training Company’s The Tens. The piece received another production in the 2016 Humana Festival, directed by Associate Artistic Director Meredith McDonough. Excited to continue developing Gordon-Solmon’s work, the theatre then invited her to workshop I Now Pronounce as part of a partnership with the Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival. While Gordon-Solmon belongs to several writers’ groups and has worked as a director, this spring’s premiere marks her first full professional production as a playwright. “I haven’t had this kind of relationship with a theatre before,” she enthuses. “Having a place where I get to be in an ongoing conversation about my work as a writer—and have actual productions of my work be a part of that conversation— it feels like a real artistic home. I’m so excited to be working here.” —Hannah Rae Montgomery
WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY n the shared yard between their two shotgun houses, Sul and Mag kick back with their neighbors Efran and Leena for a friendly cookout. But Efran is a fast-talker—the kind of guy who holds you hostage with his ideas—and he has a bee in his bonnet. With the Cold War ramping up, Efran is convinced they should pool their resources to build a bomb shelter on their shared property line. And even though these two families don’t know each other that well, they do have one thing in common: they all sense that their way of life is on the verge of destruction. The signs are everywhere—in the increasing reports of nuclear bomb tests in the news, in the cultural paradigm shift already happening around them, and most importantly, in the growing sense of dread that sinks like a pit in their stomachs. They can’t escape the feeling that something...something isn’t right.
Playwright Basil Kreimendahl says the frenzy around fallout shelters in the late 1950s and 60s provided plenty of inspiration when writing We’re Gonna Be Okay. “I found this book at the library about bomb shelters—they were really a hot commodity,” they explain. “And there were all these different ways of making them!” The Cold War boom in bomb shelter advertising and production went hand-in-hand with mounting American anxiety about nuclear proliferation. By setting the play during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kreimendahl is tapping into a period of history that brought existential fear into the foreground of everyday life. “It was the first time we realized that we could destroy ourselves,” muses the playwright. “Preparedness” became the watchword of the day, as a cartoon turtle named Bert taught schoolchildren how to “duck and cover” to protect themselves from radioactive blasts.
WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Lisa Peterson
Mar. 7–Apr. 9, 2017
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how woefully inadequate Bert the turtle’s instructions are. But for the characters in We’re Gonna Be Okay, extreme circumstances call for an extreme response. Efran believes it’s his duty to preserve the hallmarks of civilization after nuclear apocalypse, so he insists that the shelter accommodate a kitchen table...because table manners are crucial. And as Sul and Efran’s shelter plans take shape, their respective teenage kids, Jake and Deanna, worry they’ll have to repopulate the planet—despite their utter lack of attraction. Even so, the plans to build a bomb shelter are an extreme fix for the wrong problem; not everyone is convinced that nuclear war is the source of their unease.
The social anxiety laid bare in We’re Gonna Be Okay is drawn with compassion and delicacy, and a deeply felt understanding of how tectonic cultural shifts can inspire outsized terror. As is common in Kreimendahl’s work, the play also sports a healthy appreciation for everyday absurdities, and a sly sense of humor. In an early scene that has echoes of 60s-era women’s liberation and consciousnessraising groups, Leena, Mag, and Deanna macramé on their porch and ponder their unconscious minds. Just when
As the characters in We’re Gonna Be Okay stand at the precipice of change both societal and deeply personal, we sense that some of them are ready to embrace it and forge ahead into new lives. But in order to move forward, will they have to leave someone behind? One of the many truths the play illuminates is that fear can be a dogged emotion to shake. Though the title has gone through several iterations, Kreimendahl kept returning to the phrase We’re Gonna Be Okay. “I thought about that title for every character in the play,” says the playwright. “And I think it means something different to each of them. Some of them believe it...you know, maybe it’s not okay now, but maybe it will be.” Commenting on what feels right about the title, Kreimendahl says, “It feels hopeful—and I think the play is hopeful. Or I guess I am. I’m hopeful that people have the courage to change.” —Jenni Page-White
PART OF THE
I think the play is hopeful. Or I guess I am. I'm hopeful that people have the courage to change.
it seems they might be on the verge of transformative insight, they break into a dance party as Deanna plays the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, “If I Had a Hammer,” on her guitar. “It’s talking about revolution,” says Kreimendahl of the song choice, “but the way it’s presented—it’s pop-y, and there’s something kind of happy about it. But meanwhile the lyrics are like, ‘Danger! Warning!’” With a mischievous chuckle, they add, “So I thought it would be even better if they were doing the mashed potato.”
WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY
As Kreimendahl points out, “It wasn’t just a time of fear, but also a time of social change.” Though the play is set against a climate of fear created by international politics, the anxiety in We’re Gonna Be Okay is also driven by transformation on a much more intimate scale. Jake and Deanna are discovering the shape of their queer sexuality; Leena is realizing that her passion for life needs an outlet; Mag is learning to give voice to her feelings; and Sul is beginning to understand what real strength is. And then there’s Efran, whose escalating panic seems to stem from his sense that the world is shifting around him and he’s powerless to turn the tide. “It’s actually very personal,” remarks Kreimendahl. “For things to change, people have to change.”
BASIL KREIMENDAHL Kreimendahl now resides in New York, they still consider Louisville home. While living in Kentucky, Kreimendahl found a community that both welcomed and galvanized them. Their writing reflects their sincere affection for the region; even a cursory survey of their work reveals a voice and a perspective that is almost effortlessly Kentuckian. Kreimendahl’s language evokes a place not quite old, yet not quite new; almost Southern, but still Midwestern; and with the slow drawl and wry humor that even newcomers to the state can easily recognize. Their characters seem authentic because they are. As Kreimendahl describes it, “I’m writing people that I know.”
asil Kreimendahl is a name not easily forgotten—and there are plenty of reasons why avid theatregoers should remember it. Kreimendahl’s plays have been showcased on both coasts: Sidewinders premiered at The Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco (and won the Rella Lossy Playwright Award), and Orange Julius recently ran at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York, in a co-production with Page 73. Their work has also been produced right here in Louisville; Kreimendahl was one of the five writers who joined forces to pen Remix 38, which premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival. In fact, Kreimendahl’s connection to Louisville has deep roots. The playwright spent a formative part of their life in Kentucky, and even though
But Kreimendahl’s kinship with Kentucky runs deeper than the vernacular of their plays. Commenting on how the region has inspired their writing, the playwright says, “I had a moment where I became really aware of class shortly before I moved to Kentucky. And when I first moved there, I was in Owsley County, not far from Harlan County, and that whole area has such a history with coal mining and radical workers’ rights and unionization.” Kreimendahl adds, “I think there was a part of me that craved that—a connection to something that is really powerful that comes from people. Kentucky has such a rich history of people coming together and fighting for something, and that really spoke to me.” This awareness of class finds its way into many of Kreimendahl’s plays, including this year’s Humana Festival premiere, We’re Gonna Be Okay, which features a middle- and a workingclass family who find themselves building a bomb shelter together. The relationship between class and worldview is also explored to hilarious ends in Kreimendahl’s Sadie
River’s Drag Ball on the Lawn. The titular “drag ball” is not a presentation of gender performance—instead, Sadie educates her unconventional drag family in the art of passing as upper-class, a lesson she hopes will change their lives.
I'm more interested in the emotional impact of things and not so much the literal. In many of Kreimendahl’s plays, characters push back against the limitations of class, the expectations around gender, or the damaging effects of the American mythos. All of these elements come together in their play In 1987 We Were Kids, which contrasts the story of real-life Pennsylvania politician R. Budd Dwyer’s bribery conviction (followed by his eventual public suicide) with the experience of Robert O’Donnell, who garnered national exposure by rescuing “Baby Jessica” McClure from a narrow well. The play links the struggles of two workingclass men in America, and critiques the men’s belief that the system will take care of its citizens—especially those who are playing by the rules. In Kreimendahl’s play, both Dwyer and O’Donnell have a tortured and ultimately tragic relationship to the “American Dream.” According to the playwright, that dream may actually cause more harm than good, especially for the working poor. Kreimendahl explains, “I’ve always felt it’s something that keeps people down—it’s an excuse for mistreating poor people. There are a few people who accomplish that American Dream, and then we hold them up as the standard. But the cards are stacked against people. There’s
actually no way for a lot of them to ever achieve that.” Yet while Kreimendahl’s plays often contain a pointed critique, they are also full of immense kindness and a genuine desire for connection. This is exemplified in Orange Julius, wherein the transgender protagonist, Nut, struggles to piece together a relationship with their father, Julius, a Vietnam War veteran who is suffering the aftereffects of Agent Orange. Jumping in and out of memories—real or imagined—the play explores the delicate politics of familial intimacy and parental illness. Kreimendahl often deploys larger-than-life situations in their writing, and landscapes bleed together as characters traverse memories and imagined realities. But at the heart of each moment lies simple human longing. The playwright says matter-of-factly, “I’m more interested in the emotional impact of things and not so much the literal.” The buzz surrounding Kreimendahl’s work suggests that people are catching on. After receiving a number of impressive grants, development opportunities, and regional productions, Kreimendahl recently enjoyed their first New York City premiere—an important stepping stone in any writer’s career. And Kreimendahl marks the inclusion of We’re Gonna Be Okay in this year’s Humana Festival as a personal milestone. For Kreimendahl, it’s not only about a larger stage for their work. It’s not just about the momentum in their career and the excitement of people coming from all over to hear their words. For this writer with Kentucky ties, it’s more than that: “It’s like going home.” —Paige Vehlewald
CRY IT OUT A
long winter is winding to an end when Jessie and Lina start meeting for coffee in Jessie’s backyard. Both on maternity leave, cooped up with their “little larval creatures” (as Lina puts it), they’re starved for conversation—and Jessie is elated to meet the funny and forthright renter in the duplex next door. Their friendship becomes a lifeline for them both as they laugh about their strange new existence, dictated by naptimes and nursing, and worry about going back to work. But as much as they need each other, their vastly different finances don’t put them on a level playing field. And when they learn that they’re being watched from the mansion on the cliff above their neighborhood, it seems that worlds are about to collide. In Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry it Out, a rich blend of dark humor and raw honesty opens up questions about how privilege impacts the kind of parents (and friends) we’re able to be. Metzler’s take on the trials and absurdities of being a new parent was inspired by her own experience living with her baby daughter in Port Washington, the economically diverse area of Long Island where Cry it Out is set. The playwright recalls that after an intense period of focus on her career, her life shifted radically when her pregnancy and her husband’s new job moved them away from Brooklyn. “Suddenly I was in this sleepy oceanside town, and I went from being very busy, on airplanes and in rehearsal, to being trapped at home, completely alone in this new place with a baby,” Metzler explains. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was doing intense research for this play. The experience was so isolating, so shocking in its newness, that I wrote everything down.” Several years later, when her daughter was a toddler and Metzler’s writing career had begun pulling her toward an eventual move to Los Angeles, she reopened her journals. She remembers, “I was able to go back to those writings and say: I want
CRY IT OUT by Molly Smith Metzler directed by Davis McCallum
Mar. 10–Apr. 9, 2017
to talk about some of the questions I had, and that I think a lot of new parents have.” Given the level of uncertainty that comes with this new role, finding other parents to connect with— even complete strangers—becomes essential. In Cry it Out, the lively rapport between Jessie and Lina stems from exactly such a need. “I think of them as lighthouses for each other; they both sleep better knowing the other is there, and they keep one another afloat,” says Metzler, who observes that new moms will often bond despite very different backgrounds. “If you both have newborns, you suddenly have more in common than with any friend you’ve ever had,” she laughs.
I hope the play challenges our tendency to judge each other in these very personal decisions that all parents have to make. Adding more fuel to these complicated dynamics is the entrance of another pair of struggling new parents, Adrienne and Mitchell—who live in wealthy Sands Point, in a swanky estate overlooking Jessie’s little yard in Port Washington. (The two neighborhoods, as in real life, are separated only by a steep cliff.) Though this couple seems to have it all, they’re hardly immune from the tug of war between their old identities and new responsibilities. “I wanted to make sure the questions are hard no matter where the characters fall
economically,” notes Metzler. But while Mitchell and Adrienne are having a rough time, money does give them options. “It seems so unfair that we don’t all start at the same place as parents,” the playwright contends. “Privilege allows you more choices.” Cry it Out is Metzler’s second play to premiere in the Humana Festival, following the success of her classconscious hit comedy, Elemeno Pea, in 2011. An Actors Theatre commission, Cry it Out was written specifically for the Bingham Theatre. “Social economics, and who’s above who, is an important element in the play, and the height of the Bingham makes that detail literal and visual,” she explains. “I wrote towards the voyeuristic quality of the space, the intimacy. The idea that the audience is in the yard with these characters, who are vulnerable and unaware they are being spied on, is exciting to me.” Drawing us into Jessie’s backyard allows Metzler to beautifully capture the texture of parenthood’s early days, which are life-changing and urgently difficult—but seldom depicted onstage. “Much like babies are put down in their cribs and forced to cry themselves to sleep,” she says, “new parents get thrust into this position, and you have to figure it out on your own. I hope the play can create a space of empathy to think about that.” —Amy Wegener
Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville
CRY IT OUT
But as the end of maternity leave looms, Jessie’s successful law career and upward mobility force a difficult decision about whether to return to work, while working-class Lina’s means of survival are much more tenuous. By placing their predicaments side-by-side, Metzler sharply illuminates how massive the dilemmas around balancing work, childcare, and finances can be—assuming one even has the luxury of weighing choices. And then there’s dealing with what everybody thinks you should be doing, in a culture that still expects women to be caregivers but denies adequate parental leave. “I hope the play challenges our tendency to judge each other in these very personal decisions that all parents have to make,” Metzler says.
MOLLY SMITH METZLER a playwright,” she says, “so I’m excited to return to a place that makes me feel so welcome and supported.”
Smith Metzler is no stranger to the M olly Humana Festival. Her sharply observed
comedy Elemeno Pea—the story of two sisters, their vastly different ambitions, and the life of luxury into which one has been initiated— premiered here in 2011. In the years since, the play has had more than a dozen productions at theatres across the United States, from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh, and from Georgia to California. Metzler’s life and work have changed in many ways since her premiere in Louisville, and she says she is “delighted to be back” with this year’s production of Cry it Out—a play commissioned by Actors Theatre. “The Humana Festival was the best experience I’ve ever had as 16
While the posh Martha’s Vineyard guest house in Elemeno Pea is worlds away from the sparse Long Island backyard of Cry it Out, both plays explore privilege, aspiration, and the combustible collision of the classes. Cry it Out’s tale of new moms and the difficult decisions that parents are forced to face was directly inspired by Metzler’s own experiences, and while she has always been fascinated by the way money shapes our lives, having a child only furthered her understanding (and frustration). She insists, “Advantage is advantage is advantage, and if you don’t come from privilege, your experience is going to be different from someone who does. We don’t start in the same place, and I’d never experienced such explicit examples of that as I did when I was on maternity leave.” Metzler began to question what money can and cannot solve, and in shaping characters across the class spectrum, she also pushes back against the easy stereotypes we ascribe to the wealthy. As Metzler muses, “When everything is taken care of, what do you think about? Who are you? It seems like life would be easier, and I’m always surprised to learn that it’s not.” Metzler’s plays often explore complex social forces like class by placing women at the center of the narrative, and this female lens is used to both comedic and political ends. Metzler describes herself, first and foremost, as a comedy writer, and her plays often focus on women because, in her words, “Female interactions are rife with comedy. Women are more adept at hiding what they think, so there’s so much great subtext.” But this
also plays into a larger goal: “I think that women are underrepresented and misrepresented on stage,” she explains. “It makes me so angry when female characters are not given the same shake as male characters, and then no one even notices, talks about it, or mentions it in the review.” Metzler’s antidote is to counteract that deficit, by writing women (and men) with complexity and humor.
It’s only been six years since Metzler’s last Humana Festival adventure, but she jokes, “I feel like I was thirteen then and I’m eighty now.” Cry it Out is the latest in her growing body of work, which includes plays like The May Queen, Close Up Space, and Carve, and these have been produced at such theatres as South Coast Repertory, City Theatre, and Manhattan Theatre Club. She’s been a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, adding to an This commitment to art that showcases impressive list of accolades—among underrepresented perspectives has them, the Mark Twain Comedy Prize and also influenced Metzler’s work outside Lincoln Center’s Lecomte du Nouy Prize. the theatre. In And most recently, recent years, she her writing has Female interactions are rife with has joined the expanded to both comedy. Women are more adept writers’ rooms for the small and several critically silver screens. at hiding what they think, so acclaimed there’s so much great subtext. television shows, Yet, in the midst including Hulu’s of her thriving Casual and the Netflix hit Orange Is the television and film career in Los Angeles, New Black. She is also working on a film as well as the whirlwind of motherhood, adaptation of Ali Benjamin’s novel The Metzler reflects, “The thing that I’m most Thing About Jellyfish for Pacific Standard— proud of right now is this play, and having Reese Witherspoon’s production company, a production with you.” The Humana famous for championing female-driven Festival was a milestone for Metzler in material. For Metzler, these varied artistic the past, and continues to be a source of pursuits are inextricably linked. “TV is a inspiration. “Being back in Louisville,” she lot like playwriting,” she observes. “You’re says, “is like putting on the best, warmest in a room with incredibly collaborative socks after you go sledding. The writing people, talking about how to say something ride was cold and hard, but now you get to important, and how to respond to our feel good and be warm, with your friends. culture. I’m also lucky because I work This is the real reward as a writer; this is on shows that are really striving to make the thing that will keep me writing.” art, and striving to be diverse and honest about hard subjects. It’s heightened and it’s —Paige Vehlewald collaborative and it reminds me of being in design meetings for plays. We’re all figuring out how to do this thing together.” 17
RECENT ALIEN ABDUCTIONS W
hen I heard my name on the television, I had this impulse to turn slowly around and make sure I was still alone in the house. I turned back to the television screen in time to hear Mulder say in perfect, accent-less English: Álvaro, my name is Mulder but you can call me Fox. —From Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’s Recent Alien Abductions Álvaro is searching for a lost episode of The X-Files that he swears has been mysteriously altered since its original broadcast. In this installment of the iconic 1990s television show about paranormal activity and shadowy government cover-ups, a lonely Fox Mulder boards a flight to Puerto Rico on the trail of a vast alien conspiracy. When Mulder breaks into the observatory that houses the world’s largest telescope, he discovers that he is not alone. But what happens next in the episode, according to the awkward Puerto Rican teenager who pulls us into his tale, seems to have been revised since it aired—and so Álvaro strives to commit a story to memory that no one else will confirm. Why does the episode now end differently than he remembers? What’s with the Mexican accents and California foliage in this depiction of Puerto Rico? Could this all be proof of a larger conspiracy? In Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’s darkly compelling drama, Recent Alien Abductions, Álvaro’s vividly recalled encounter with The X-Files reveals the mind of a character without anyone to trust, haunted by the inability to verify his experience. “The opening monologue functions a bit like a ghost story, in that the pleasure or frisson we’re looking for when we share ghost stories comes from scaring ourselves,” says Cortiñas of the way
RECENT ALIEN ABDUCTIONS by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas directed by Les Waters
Mar. 17–Apr. 9, 2017
he’s imagined Álvaro’s introduction to the play. “Paranoia is an effective lens because it’s often proven right,” notes the playwright. “But paranoia is its own kind of trap, because it often doesn’t include the possibility of more reparative ways of engaging with the world. So I marvel at Álvaro’s intelligence, even as I see upcoming difficulties for him.” The undercurrent of suspicion in The X-Files, a familiar artifact of American popular culture, lends the teenager a vocabulary to express his own troubled memory. “In a way,” Cortiñas observes, “The X-Files provides a language that Álvaro can now use to speak, a language in which to find himself, to name himself.”
So when Álvaro spins his tale about the revised episode of The X-Files, what may at first seem like an oddball conspiracy theory becomes a window to understanding a troubled past. And the attempt to claim some agency through storytelling just might be a meaningful act of resistance. “I’m always interested in how the historical moment we are born into creates for us a series of possibilities and limitations within which we can build a life,” says Cortiñas of Álvaro’s predicament. “We never get to choose the language and alphabet we’re bequeathed. But what the writer attempts is to combine that alphabet into some kind of poetry or story that opens up a little more space, right?” —Amy Wegener
PART OF THE
But Álvaro’s family harbors a hidden darkness, and navigating this household has its dangers. As Patria tries to convince them to grant the rights to publish Álvaro’s work, she bears witness to her friend’s history in Puerto Rico—and to the family he tried to leave behind, but who keep resurfacing in his writings. For Cortiñas, the play is partly an exploration of the power dynamics that allow wounds to occur, in silence and without remedy from those who might intervene. “It raises the specter of collusion,” he explains. “I’m interested in the small and big ways in which power seduces us and rallies us to its side, and the series of compromises we make with power, as a survival strategy, that leave the status quo unchallenged.”
That’s not the only way that power shapes lives, though. Even more unsettling, Cortiñas contends, is what happens next: “We’re convinced that the injury never happened or that it was good for us, that it’s somehow inevitable, or reflective of superior values. The play is interested in processes of erasure and of writing over— at both the individual level, and the national level.” Thus, Recent Alien Abductions subtly explores the way that difficult truths are elided and replaced, not just in Álvaro’s personal history, but also in what the playwright terms the “asymmetrical” power relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
RECENT ALIEN ABDUCTIONS
And then, his presence just as fleeting as the missing episode that once flickered across his television screen, Álvaro is gone. The play moves years ahead, and Álvaro’s friend Patria has just arrived in Puerto Rico from New York, on a mission to preserve a collection of his stories by securing permission to publish them. To do so, she must face the family from whom he vanished long ago. “When we lose somebody we love,” says Cortiñas, “we pull together their archive to save that person from oblivion, to save our love for them from oblivion, and in a way, to save ourselves from that same fate.” Álvaro’s disappearance from the island to forge his own path, and his self-determination as a queer artist in New York, lends urgency to Patria’s improvised memorial—her attempt to keep his creative work alive.
JORGE IGNACIO CORTIÑAS When he began writing, Cortiñas tapped into a new way of wrestling with his questions about the world. Explaining the difference between community organizing and theatre-making, he notes that community organizers should be “transparent and reliable and suggest a concrete course of action.” Conversely, he says, “We want our artists to be sacrilegious and unreliable and sometimes oblique; we want our artists to open up possibility, but not necessarily tell us what to do.” Theatre—not just the written play, but also the process of production—was alluring to Cortiñas because of its ability to make space for new insight. “There’s something about rehearsal that I found really useful as a mechanism to revisit, recast, or reimagine familiar problems in a fresh way,” he observes.
espite a remarkable and award-winning body of work, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’s writing career initially took him by surprise. For years before becoming a playwright, he worked extensively as a community organizer and activist, responding to the AIDS crisis and speaking out against United States intervention in Central America, apartheid in South Africa, and immigration raids in the U.S. “I was very committed to trying to change the status quo using the methods of community organizing,” he says, “but eventually I began to be confronted with a series of questions that political work just couldn’t answer particularly well. So I started to write, and what came out was a play.” He’s been writing ever since.
This curiosity fuels the genesis of his work as well. Cortiñas reflects, “Every play begins with a question, and the only way I have of approaching the question is through the play.” He also writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but it is theatre’s collaborative nature that keeps him coming back to playwriting. “The form seems well-suited to rehearse other possibilities for the world, and to do that with other people,” he explains. Cortiñas’s work—evocative, strange, and beautiful—resists easy classification, though he says of his plays that “culture, language, and history are always pushing back against the characters, who are trying to open up sufficient space to change or influence something.” And indeed, Cortiñas’s characters often find themselves up against powerful forces. This is the case in his haunting and lyrical play Blind Mouth Singing, produced by Chicago’s Teatro Vista and the National Asian American Theatre Company, where it was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. The story follows Reiderico, a teenager in the countryside of a Caribbean
nation who finds escape from his difficult family life in a friendship with Lucero, a boy who happens to live at the bottom of a well. Through rich language, striking imagery, and a gathering storm in which Reiderico and Lucero trade places, the play considers whether it’s more dangerous to follow our desires, or to bury them.
Every play begins with a question, and the only way I have of approaching the question is through the play. In his play Bird in the Hand, Cortiñas again deploys vivid theatrical imagery—this time in the form of pink flamingos brought to Florida from Cuba. Set in Miami, the play is narrated by Felix, a young Cuban-American man, as he recounts (and daydreams about) his time as a smartass teenager working at his father’s tropical-bird theme park, and how he lost his best friend. In this wry comedy, the flamingos with clipped wings— played by a chorus of actors—serve as a metaphor for Felix’s feelings of entrapment. The premiere, another New York Times Critics’ Pick, was directed by Cortiñas himself at Fulcrum Theater, a company he co-founded in 2009. “The reason we started the company,” Cortiñas explains, “was to try to construct conditions where theatre-makers of color could create work without having to adjust their vision to the expectations of white institutions. Even very well-meaning ones—and the vast majority are—have a way of understanding people of color and what our difference means
that is often about servicing their story, and not ours.” In addition to creating more opportunities for artists of color, founding his own company “was an enormous generator of permission to create bigger problems and bigger theatrical challenges onstage,” he says. In seeking these challenges throughout his career, Cortiñas has earned many accolades, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, and the Robert Chesley Award; additionally, he’s worked with other New York artist communities as a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop and alumnus of New Dramatists. Cortiñas’s impact extends into the classroom as well, and he has taught in a variety of contexts and at universities around the country. When teaching, he asks his students, “How can you become the most idiosyncratic version of yourself, the most unique version of yourself? And how can that be reflected in your play?” Cortiñas articulates a hope for the entire field that mirrors his teaching philosophy: “What I want from the American theatre is a plethora of plays that are as idiosyncratic as the people who write them. And if we can create structures that support the writing of that diversity (to use an overused word), and if we can set up structures that support the reception of that kind of diversity, then we’ll have a theatre that matches the promise of our republic.” —Bryan Howard
hen Nina walks into a Staten Island dive bar for her first air guitar competition, she thinks winning will be easy. After all, she plays the actual guitar in a real band, so how hard can getting up on stage and shredding on an imaginary instrument possibly be? But when her debut performance isn’t the success she’d counted on, she realizes that if she wants to qualify for the National Championship, she’s got a lot to learn. Following Nina’s journey from skeptical newcomer to air guitar goddess in the making, Chelsea Marcantel’s music-filled comedy, Airness, is a tribute to good friends, killer rock classics, and the raw joy of letting go. After her initial defeat, Nina’s determined to hone her air guitar skills in any way she can. She spends the next few months traveling across the country from competition to competition, studying other performers’ routines. (One of the delights of the play is that it features a variety of live air guitar performances, from triumphant wins to hilarious epic failures.) Nina finds a mentor in Shreddy Eddy, an experienced figure on the circuit. “He’s like the ambassador of the sport,” Marcantel says of Shreddy. “The world of air guitar, in real life, is a very inclusive, welcoming community, and he represents that communal spirit.” Nina quickly gets to know Shreddy Eddy’s cohorts as well, each of whom have something important to teach her. There’s Golden Thunder, renowned for the fierce originality of his choreography. There’s Facebender, who suffuses every song he “plays” with the utmost feeling. There’s Cannibal Queen, who slays with her flawless technique. And then there’s D Vicious, the reigning national champion— whom Nina has her own secret reasons for wanting to beat. Observing what works for friends and competitors isn’t enough to guarantee Nina total air guitar
AIRNESS by Chelsea Marcantel directed by Meredith McDonough
Mar. 24–Apr. 9, 2017
domination, however. Every contest involves a “freestyle round,” in which each player performs 60 seconds of a rock song of their choosing—but this can’t just be any song. Throughout the play, Nina struggles to find the one track that, above all others, will enable her to shed her inhibitions and express herself in an unfiltered way. “It’s about how you feel when you’re up there,” Shreddy tells her. “It’s the pure joy of jumping around naked in your bedroom, but in front of screaming fans.” Because at its highest level, air guitar is about moving beyond mere imitation and transcending everyday reality to become a rock star in your own right. According to Marcantel, “Nina discovers that what she actually
close bonds it allows them to forge, with audiences and fellow contestants alike. “The whole thing is about the connection between audience and performer,” says Marcantel. “You get to wear leather pants and jump off speakers, and if you’re really good at it, you have the audience in the palm of your hand. It’s about paying homage to the gods of rock guitar, drinking a lot, traveling a lot, and hanging out with people who love these same things.” In Marcantel’s play, we get to share in that excitement; as Nina becomes increasingly immersed in this colorful world, so do we.
Although Marcantel has never tried her hand at air guitar, she does have a personal connection to the art form. “I once dated someone who got into air guitar,” she recalls, “and this dovetailed neatly with the end of our relationship. I couldn’t understand why anyone would give up their real time and their real relationship to do this imaginary thing. I filed that away as a thing I didn’t get.” Years later, watching a But Airness isn’t just Nina discovers that what she actually documentary on about learning how to has to do—not just to win at air air guitar and its break hearts and melt guitar, but to live her best life—is eclectic subculture faces in 60 seconds. At dismantle the walls she’s built around of enthusiasts its core, it’s also about herself and set herself free. sparked the embracing the endless playwright’s possibilities that lie newfound interest in this world. Marcantel in who we are, and who we could become. As elaborates: “In all my plays, I’m interested Marcantel puts it: “People find out that air in humans as small-group primates. I’m guitar exists and they’re like, ‘Holy crap, you fascinated by the idea that when we find can do that?’ It’s a fun reminder that humans our tribe, the rules and values of that tribe are endlessly inventive.” And, most crucial become more important to us than the rules of all: “It’s a reminder that you become the of greater society. The world of competitive best version of yourself with the help of air guitar seemed like a perfect tribe to those around you. This play is about people explore. Because I realize now that for the who build each other up instead of tearing guy I was with, it wasn’t just air guitar that each other down, and I think that’s really he loved, I don’t think—it was the fact that important.” he’d finally found his tribe.” —Hannah Rae Montgomery In that spirit, while each character in Airness dreams of achieving the ultimate in individual glory—representing the U.S. at the World Championships in Finland—they’re also crazy about the sport because of the
has to do—not just to win at air guitar, but to live her best life—is dismantle the walls she’s built around herself and set herself free.”
CHELSEA MARCANTEL Marcantel’s investigation of various groups of primates has taken many forms over the course of her writing career, including a look at warring families in the late 1800s that today unites a community. In Blood Song: The Story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, Marcantel focuses on the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud that took place in Kentucky and West Virginia. Commissioned by the Hatfield & McCoy Arts Council in Pike County, Kentucky and remounted every summer, the play aims to present a historically verifiable portrayal of the families’ rivalry, and to bring the entire town of McCarr, Kentucky together to produce a piece about its past. “They wanted a play that the whole community could perform,” Marcantel says. “You start as a kid and do it each year until one day you’re playing the patriarch or matriarch of one of the families.” Blood Song has become so important to this community that it’s been designated the “official play on the Hatfield/McCoy feud in the Commonwealth of Kentucky” by the State Senate. By order of the Pike County Judge/Executive, August 23, 2013 was even declared Chelsea Marcantel Day—a day Marcantel tries to celebrate every year.
ikers in Appalachia, builders of tiny houses, an Amish community, and die-hard air guitarists are just a few of the unique subsets of humanity that inhabit Chelsea Marcantel’s plays. “In all my plays,” Marcantel says, “I’m interested in humans as small-group primates, and in exploring interesting value systems that people don’t get to see often.” This interest in representing different groups and their distinctive customs— as well as Marcantel’s experience living all over the country—is what compels her to examine an array of quirky subcultures in her work, inviting us to empathize with people we may not have known existed.
Blood Song aside, Marcantel finds new groups of primates to investigate from listening to podcasts and watching documentaries. “I consume a lot of nonfiction media,” she explains, “because I feel like if I see a play or movie about something, someone’s already tackled that in fiction. I don’t need to reinvent that wheel.” Instead, Marcantel is excited by theatre’s potential to draw attention to people we don’t usually see onstage or in our daily lives. “I’m not interested in appropriating people’s stories,” she clarifies, “but I am interested in saying, ‘Here’s a subset of people who live in this country whose experience you might not have had access to.’” Marcantel continues: “I hope that my plays can represent
people who might not otherwise have their voices heard, and provide a keyhole glimpse of what another person is going through.” This desire to depict a wide range of communities has been shaped by the diverse collection of communities in which Marcantel has lived. Born into a family of Cajun storytellers in Louisiana, she received her B.A. in Theatre Performance and Creative Writing, as well as a Master’s in Education, from Louisiana State University. She’s since also lived in Chicago—where she met the ex-boyfriend whose passion for air guitar partially inspired Airness—and in the Appalachian region of Virginia, where her writing was influenced by the area’s rich tradition of oral storytelling. For example, in her play Even Longer and Farther Away, which premiered at Chicago’s The New Colony in April 2016, a young man hiking the Appalachian Trail finds himself snowed in with a half-sister he hardly knows, in a town that doesn’t exist on maps. Listening to a mysterious woman spin folktales, he begins to reexamine his own family mythology. In 2014, Marcantel relocated to New York to begin The Juilliard School’s two-year Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Fellowship. Her play Tiny Houses, written after her move to the city, focuses on how it feels to uproot oneself and make a home in a new place. Inspired by the tiny house movement, a growing subculture centered on decluttering and downsizing by living in homes smaller than 400 square feet, Marcantel’s comedy follows a New York couple who move cross-country to build their own tiny house in Oregon with friends. They’re trying for a simpler existence, but
as the group constructs their small dwelling onstage, complicated tensions and buried feelings bubble up to the surface.
I hope that my plays can represent people who might not otherwise have their voices heard, and provide a keyhole glimpse of what another person is going through. According to Marcantel, having spent time in so many states and cultures across the country has “made me a more well-rounded writer because I don’t have to watch movies or read books to find out what people from the Midwest, Appalachia, and the MidAtlantic value and what they sound like. I’ve lived for years at a time in those places. I’ve known those people and I still know those people.” And, through Marcantel’s plays, we get to know those people as well. It’s this feature of live theatre—its power to introduce us to new perspectives and bring people together, uniting performers and audience alike in our own small group of primates—that Marcantel asserts is necessary, especially in an increasingly divided society. “In this intensely separatist, isolationist world we live in, theatre’s still a real communal experience,” the playwright reflects. “It’s a place where we can go and sit next to other people in public and laugh and cry together. It’s a place where we can experience lives that are not exactly like our own, and find them human.” —Bryan Howard
THE MANY DEATHS OF NATHAN STUBBLEFIELD
nnovation. It’s a concept that seems to be everywhere—hailed in some corners as the silver bullet that will fix everything, derided elsewhere as a buzzword so common that it’s lost its meaning. The truth about its value probably lies somewhere in the middle. Some of our most pressing problems demand creative solutions, and it’s true that a great idea can change the world. But so can a terrible one. And progress, whether technological or social, usually comes at a price. Still, innovation and its twin, invention, are seductive: we can make something from nothing, and with new ideas comes the glittering possibility of fame and fortune. Are all of us just one eureka moment away from hitting the big time? Hope and heartbreak, promise and peril—in The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield, Jeff Augustin, Sarah DeLappe, Claire Kiechel, and Ramiz Monsef join forces to write about the slippery nature of innovation, and the myths we tell about it. In crafting this show, these four playwrights have been inspired in part by stories from Louisville and the state of Kentucky. Although it’s perhaps best known for its advances in the realms of bourbon, fried chicken, and bluegrass, Kentucky is also the home of numerous inventions and innovators, and even Thomas Edison passed through and left his mark. His misadventures in Louisville as a young telegraph operator and inventor were an early jumping-off point for this project; it’s hard to top his account of getting fired for experimenting on the job and destroying his boss’s desk with sulfuric acid in the process. Edison soon left town, but he would find triumph in Louisville later in his career: his installation of thousands of lightbulbs for the city’s 1883 Southern Exposition made it the first successful nighttime fair in the United States. Ultimately, however, it’s lesser-known Kentucky innovators who have most fascinated the creative team, which also includes director Eric Hoff and
THE MANY DEATHS OF NATHAN STUBBLEFIELD by Jeff Augustin, Sarah DeLappe, Claire Kiechel, and Ramiz Monsef directed by Eric Hoff
Mar. 24–Apr. 9, 2017
dramaturg Jessica Reese. And so to create The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield, they’ve investigated and drawn from the lives of a wide range of pioneers and dreamers from across the Bluegrass State, including the farmer and self-taught inventor whose mysterious demise gives the show its title. You’ve probably never heard of him, but depending on how you define it, Nathan Stubblefield invented the mobile phone—and he did it over a century ago. He initially found success as he demonstrated his device across the country; he could transmit sound from over a mile away and earned a patent for his work in 1908. But after a falling-out with investors and other setbacks, a disillusioned Stubblefield spent the end of his life holed up in his workshop, toiling away on his dream of “wireless telephony.”
In his lifetime, Stubblefield wound up overlooked, but history has proven him right in some ways; consider, for example, his 1902 prediction that “it will be no more than a matter of time [until] conversation over long distances between the great cities of the country will be carried on daily without wires.” The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield explores the complex legacies of its namesake and other innovators—their failures and breakthroughs, their curiosity and courage, their inexhaustible drive to forge new paths and reinvent themselves. While working on this project, the writing team challenged themselves to ask: what stories haven’t been told yet? What voices are missing from the history of invention, and why? Experimenting with short-form writing and closely collaborating with one another, each playwright has crafted a series of short pieces that examine these questions and many more. Together, their plays form a single theatrical ride that’s vivid, imaginative, and thought-provoking. The final source of inspiration for The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield is its cast: the nineteen Acting Apprentices in the 2016–2017 Professional Training Company (formerly known as the Apprentice/Intern Company). During their nine-month apprenticeships, these earlycareer actors perform in their own season of new work, from solo pieces created by
the Apprentices themselves to a trio of one-act plays written for the company. The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield, commissioned by Actors Theatre, is a key opportunity for them to continue learning about new play development. Last fall, the company participated in two workshops for this show here in Louisville; these weeklong intensives allowed Augustin, DeLappe, Kiechel, and Monsef to get to know the actors and develop material with them in mind. All in all, it’s a unique process: the creative team starts over the summer with just a theme, and they work until the following spring to build a production that showcases the voices of a group of writers and the talent of this season’s Acting Apprentices. Although the archetypal inventor’s story centers on someone tinkering away in solitude, it’s exciting to bring four playwrights and nineteen actors together and see what they create. The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield is the result of months of collaboration, discovery, and experimentation—think of it as an invention unto itself, a splendid contraption, a machine with many moving parts. Eureka! —Jessica Reese
Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville
THE MANY DEATHS OF NATHAN STUBBLEFIELD
You’ve probably never heard of him, but depending on how you define it, Nathan Stubblefield invented the mobile phone—and he did it over a century ago.
MEET THE MANY DEATHS PLAYWRIGHTS
Jeff Augustin’s play Cry Old Kingdom premiered at the 2013 Humana Festival, and he was a co-author of That High Lonesome Sound, part of the 2015 Humana Festival. His other plays include Little Children Dream of God at Roundabout Underground, and The Last Tiger in Haiti at La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Augustin was the Shank Playwright-inResidence at Playwrights Horizons and the inaugural Tow Foundation Playwrightin-Residence at Roundabout Theatre Company. He is an alumnus of the New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship; the Rita Goldberg Playwrights’ Workshop at The Lark; and The Working Farm at SPACE on Ryder Farm. Augustin is currently under commission from Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. He received his B.A. from Boston College and his M.F.A. from the University of California San Diego.
Sarah DeLappe’s play The Wolves premiered Off-Broadway at The Playwrights Realm, following an engagement at New York Stage and Film, and development at Clubbed Thumb and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The Wolves received the American Playwriting Foundation’s inaugural Relentless Award, and was a finalist for the 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Yale Drama Series Prize. DeLappe is the Page One Playwright for The Playwrights Realm and was a resident artist at the Sitka Fellows Program and SPACE on Ryder Farm. An alumna of Clubbed Thumb’s Early Career Writers’ Group and the New Georges Audrey Residency, she is currently a member of Ars Nova’s Play Group and a Resident Playwright at LCT3. She is currently in the M.F.A. Playwriting program at Brooklyn College.
Claire Kiechel’s plays include Pilgrims (upcoming production at The Gift Theatre in Chicago, The Lark’s Playwrights’ Week 2016, The Kilroys’ The List 2016); Lulu Is Hungry with composer Avi Amon at Ars Nova’s ANT Fest 2016; and Some Dark Places of the Earth at The New School for Drama. Her work has been presented or developed by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Colt Coeur, Hangar Theatre, Naked Angels, the Orchard Project, and Pipeline Theatre Company. Kiechel is a current member of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s group Youngblood, an alumna of The Civilians’ 2015-16 R&D Group, and a 2016 recipient of South Coast Repertory’s Elizabeth George Emerging Writers Commission. She received her B.A. from Amherst College and her M.F.A. from The New School for Drama.
Ramiz Monsef is honored to be back at Actors Theatre. Monsef is the co-author of the musical The Unfortunates, which was produced at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. His newest play, 3 Farids, will be part of The Bushwick Starr Reading Series in Brooklyn this March. Monsef is an actor as well, and has appeared at theatres across the country, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and seven seasons at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as well as Geffen Playhouse, The Kirk Douglas Theatre, Second Stage, Culture Project, and New York Theatre Workshop. He has appeared on television in Law & Order, Training Day, and The Watchlist on Comedy Central.
THE TEN-MINUTE PLAYS PERFORMANCES ON APRIL 8 & 9 The Ten-Minute Plays are a beloved tradition at Actors Theatre, and their opening during the last few days of the Humana Festival is a fun and lively part of the final weekend’s celebration of amazing playwrights—adding three more distinct voices to the mix. Brief in duration but long on ambition, the ten-minute play is the short story of the theatre, evoking a whole world and spinning a tale in less time than it takes to drink a cocktail at intermission. The new possibilities for these compact yet expansively imaginative plays are endless, and over the years, Actors Theatre has played a key role in popularizing the form. The three plays selected for this year’s Humana Festival bill were chosen from many hundreds of submissions, including entries to the National TenMinute Play Contest—a competition open to all that has introduced Actors’ staff to talented playwrights and masters of the short form since 1989. With the Contest, Actors Theatre has begun conversations with myriad writers, also bringing immeasurable delight to audiences by producing evenings of these plays. This year, Will Eno, Krista Knight, and Eric Pfeffinger are the trio of playwrights who, in wildly different ways, tackle the challenge of telling a compelling story with extreme concision. Just wait and see what they can do in only ten (or so) minutes.
The New Line by Will Eno Where’d you get that jacket? You seem pretty good at being human—are you? When you think of the world, what do you think of? Come one, come all, for these and other questions. Will Eno is a Residency Five Fellow at Signature Theatre. His play Gnit premiered at Actors Theatre in the 2013 Humana Festival. The Open House premiered at Signature Theatre in 2014, receiving the Obie, Lucille Lortel, and Drama Desk Awards. The Realistic Joneses was produced on Broadway in 2014, where it was named Best Play on Broadway by USA Today and the Guardian, and was on the New York Times’ “Best Theater of 2014” list. Thom Pain (based on nothing) was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into many languages, and was made into a film starring Rainn Wilson, which Eno co-directed with Oliver Butler. Eno lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Maria Dizzia, and their daughter, Albertine.
Melto Man and Lady Mantis
by Krista Knight
by Eric Pfeffinger
A thieving couple breaks into a fancy Tribeca loft, expecting a quick and easy heist. But when they’re beset by two ghosts trying to scare them to death—literally!—their perfect robbery takes a hilariously spooky turn.
Two unnatural fiends. One office suite. Because even monsters have meetings, and these taxes aren’t going to file themselves.
Krista Knight’s work has been produced or developed at New Georges, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, Ars Nova, Vineyard Theatre, Page 73, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and San Francisco’s Playwrights Foundation, among others. Commissions: A new musical with Dave Malloy for Youth Musical Theater Company; the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre; Case Western Biomedical Engineering Department; and The Assembly. Residencies: La Napoule Art Foundation, Ucross, Yaddo, and The MacDowell Colony. Fellowships: P73 Playwriting Fellow (2007) and Shank Playwriting Fellow at Vineyard Theatre (2012). Knight is an alumna of EST’s Youngblood, terraNOVA Collective’s Groundbreakers, Page 73’s Interstate 73, and The Civilians’ R&D Group. She is a member of the New Georges Jam and a current Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Fellow at Juilliard. Knight received her B.A. from Brown University, her M.A. from New York University in Performance Studies, and her M.F.A. in Playwriting from the University of California San Diego.
Eric Pfeffinger has previously had his work produced at Actors Theatre of Louisville in six iterations of the Professional Training Company’s The Tens (2006, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2017). Other production credits include Geva Theatre Center, Phoenix Theatre, InterAct Theatre Company, and Imagination Stage. Pfeffinger has developed new plays with PlayPenn, The Lark, Page 73, the Colorado New Play Summit, and Chicago Dramatists. His plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Smith & Kraus, Indie Theater Now, HowlRound and Steele Spring. Pfeffinger is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Writers Guild of America East.
THE TEN-MINUTE PLAYS
HUMANA FESTIVAL CONVERSATIONS & EVENTS
COLLEGE DAYS KEYNOTE ADDRESS: NAOMI IIZUKA Saturday, March 25 at 10:30 A.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Renowned playwright (and five-time Humana Festival alumna) Naomi Iizuka shares wisdom with the next generation of theatre artists in this College Days Weekend keynote speech. Iizuka heads the graduate playwriting program at the University of California San Diego, and she’s the acclaimed author of numerous plays, including Polaroid Stories, 36 Views, Language of Angels, Skin, Anon(ymous), At the Vanishing Point, Good Kids, and many others. THIS EVENT IS FREE, BUT TICKETED. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve your ticket.
S TAY I N S P I R E D : A CONVERSATION WITH LES WATERS, KEVIN E. MOORE, AND EMILY TARQUIN
Sunday, March 26 at 12 P.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Inspiration allows us to see and develop new ideas and discover new possibilities. However, as you progress in your career by refining your skills and taste, how do you stay inspired for the next project? What keeps you motivated to find new ways of working? Artistic Director Les Waters, Managing Director Kevin E. Moore, and Artistic Producer Emily Tarquin come together to discuss how they stay curious and inspired in their work. THIS EVENT IS FREE, BUT TICKETED. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve your ticket.
A R T I S T ’ S I N S I G H T: TAYLOR MAC Saturday, April 1 at 10 A.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium “Fabulousness can come in many forms, and Taylor Mac seems intent on assuming every one of them,” says the New York Times of the astonishing artist whose epic durational concert, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, stirred awe and admiration this season. The awardwinning Mac—a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director, and producer—joins the Humana Festival for this lively talk. THIS EVENT IS FREE, BUT TICKETED. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve your ticket.
O VAT I O N C E L E B R AT I O N Saturday, April 1 at 10 P.M. | Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (715 West Main St., Louisville, Kentucky 40202) This post-show celebration is the perfect time to chat with friends and toast the exciting lineup of new plays.
F I N D I N G T H E P L AY E R S :
CASTING DIRECTORS AND NEW WORK Friday, April 7 at 1 P.M. | Bingham Theatre This discussion, co-sponsored by Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Casting Society of America (CSA), explores the crucial behind-the-scenes work of casting professionals as they collaborate with playwrights, directors, and producers to match artists with new plays. CSA is the premier organization for casting directors in film, television, theatre, and new media. THIS EVENT IS FREE, BUT TICKETED. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve your ticket.
ENCORE BASH Saturday, April 8 at 10 P.M. | Actors Theatre Lobbies Join us in our lobby spaces for an evening of food and drink as we celebrate the closing of the Humana Festival and Actors Theatreâ€™s 53rd Season. Come as you are or dressed to impress; either way, we are ecstatic to share this with our extended theatre family!
MARCH—APRIL 2017 A COMPLETE GUIDE TO EVENTS AT ACTORS THEATRE
3/3 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: I NOW PRONOUNCE immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/4 BEHIND-THE-SCENES TECH EVENT: WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY
at 7 p.m. for Season Ticket Holders and donors at the Craft Artisan level and above only After a light reception, Season Ticket Holders will have a chance to step into the theatre and get a glimpse of what goes on during a technical rehearsal. The event is FREE, but ticketed. Please call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve.
3/26 STAY INSPIRED: A CONVERSATION WITH LES WATERS, KEVIN E. MOORE AND EMILY TARQUIN at 12 p.m.
See page 32 for details.
3/26 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: AIRNESS immediately following the 7 p.m. performance
4/1 ARTIST’S INSIGHT: TAYLOR MAC at 10 a.m.
3/9 OPENING NIGHT KORBEL TOAST AND RECEPTION: WE’RE GONNA BE OKAY immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/12 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: CRY IT OUT immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/19 OPENING NIGHT KORBEL TOAST AND RECEPTION: RECENT ALIEN ABDUCTIONS immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
See page 32 for details.
4/1 OVATION CELEBRATION at 10 p.m.
See page 33 for details.
4/7 FINDING THE PLAYERS: CASTING DIRECTORS AND NEW WORK at 1 p.m.
See page 33 for details.
4/8 ENCORE BASH at 10 p.m.
3/24 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: THE MANY DEATHS OF NATHAN STUBBLEFIELD immediately following the 11 p.m. performance
3/25 COLLEGE DAYS KEYNOTE ADDRESS: NAOMI IIZUKA at 10:30 a.m.
See page 32 for details.
See page 33 for details.
FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE SHOWS AT ACTORS THEATRE
41 s t HUMANA FESTIVAL 1
2:30 PRONOUNCE (B)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B)
7:30 OKAY (P)
7:30 OKAY (P)
7:30 OKAY (P)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B)
7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 OKAY (P)
8:00 PRONOUNCE (B)
4:00 OKAY (P) 7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 OKAY (P)
2:30 OKAY (P) 7:30 CRY (B)
2:30 CRY (B) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
2:30 CRY (B) 2:30 OKAY (P) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS MARCH 1 – APRIL 9, 2017
10:30 NATHAN (B)* 2:00 OKAY (P) 2:00 AIRNESS (V) 2:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 OKAY (P)
10:30 NATHAN (B)* 1:00 ALIEN (P) 2:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 4:30 TEN MIN (P) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 OKAY (P)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B)
7:30 OKAY (P)
7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
7:30 CRY (B)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 7:30 OKAY (P)
1:30 ALIEN (P) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
1:30 OKAY (P) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 7:30 OKAY (P)
I Now Pronounce = PRONOUNCE We’re Gonna Be Okay = OKAY Cry it Out = CRY
7:30 CRY (B) 7:30 ALIEN (P)
7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 OKAY (P)
7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 ALIEN (P)
7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 ALIEN (P)
7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 ALIEN (P) 11:00 NATHAN (B)
3:00 PRONOUNCE (B) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 OKAY (P) 11:00 NATHAN (B)
3:00 PRONOUNCE (B) 3:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 OKAY (P) 11:00 NATHAN (B)
Recent Alien Abductions = ALIEN Airness = AIRNESS The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield = NATHAN The Ten-Minute Plays = TEN MIN
2:30 CRY (B) 2:30 ALIEN (P) OC 7:00 AIRNESS (V) 7:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 OKAY (P) 11:00 NATHAN (B)
12:00 AIRNESS (V) 2:30 CRY (B) 4:00 ALIEN (P) 5:00 AIRNESS (V) 8:00 PRONOUNCE (B) 8:00 ALIEN (P)
12:00 OKAY (P) 12:00 AIRNESS (V) 2:30 CRY (B) 5:00 ALIEN (P) 6:30 AIRNESS (V) 7:00 PRONOUNCE (B) 9:00 TEN MIN (P)
Preview Performance Opening Performance Audio Described
Schedule subject to change. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted. *Indicates a.m. performance.
2:30 PRONOUNCE (B) 7:30 CRY (B) 8:00 ALIEN (P)
Performances in BOLD =
(P) = Pamela Brown Auditorium (B) = Bingham Theatre (V) = Victor Jory Theatre
In Person: 316 West Main Street
Non-Profit Organization US Postage PAID Louisville, KY Permit No. 549
316 WEST MAIN STREET LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY 40202-4218 Les Waters, Artistic Director Kevin E. Moore, Managing Director
Thank you to our sponsors: The Shubert Foundation
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust
The Gheens Foundation
4/24, 4/25 & 4/26 NEW VOICES YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL An evening of eight world-premiere ten-minute 12TH ANNUAL
plays selected from more than 800 entries to the
annual New Voices Ten-Minute Play Contest, written
39th HUMANA FESTIVAL Apr. 25 & 26, 2017 OF24,NEW AMERICAN PLAYS 7 P.M.
All seats are $5. Please call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 or visit ActorsTheatre.org to purchase tickets. Tickets available starting April 10.
Young Playwrights Festival
March 4–April 12, 2015
by students from around the region. Presented by the Professional Training Company and the Actors Education Department.