HUMANA FESTIVAL February 28â€“ A p r i l 8 , 2 0 1 8 OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS
GUIDE TO THE FESTIVAL
The 42nd Humana Festival playwrights (left to right by row): Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha, Mara Nelson-Greenberg, Brian OtaĂąo, Jason Gray Platt, Mark Schultz, Susan Soon He Stanton, Deborah Stein and Leah Nanako Winkler.
FROM THE THEATRE Welcome to the 42nd 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 nine 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. In four decades, the Humana Festival has introduced over 450 plays into the American theatre repertoire—representing the work of more than 400 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 36,000 people, with visitors from 39 states and 57 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. Finally, 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. Enjoy the Festival!
Kevin E. Moore
FROM THE UNDERWRITER VOLUME 17, ISSUE 4 MANAGING EDITOR Laura Humble SENIOR EDITORS/WRITERS Hannah Rae Montgomery Jenni Page-White Jessica Reese Amy Wegener GRAPHIC DESIGNER Mary Kate Zihar CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Vivian Barnes Elizabeth Greenfield Meghan McLeroy Erin Meiman CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Michael Brosilow Bill Brymer Leni Kei Photography Alan Simons Harlan Taylor
316 West Main Street Louisville, KY 40202-4218 ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Les Waters MANAGING DIRECTOR Kevin E. Moore TICKET SERVICES CALL 502.584.1205 OR 1.800.4ATL.TIX ONLINE ActorsTheatre.org
For centuries, the arts have given us a wonderful opportunity to express our humanity, teach us about ourselves, and shape our culture and society. For the last 54 years, our local community has been honored to host one of the nation’s preeminent theatre companies, Actors Theatre of Louisville, where outstanding plays have debuted, sometimes even making their way to Broadway or the silver screen. As we enter the 42nd year of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, we look forward to the creative birth of another round of neverbefore-seen plays that will stir our hearts, inspire new thoughts and contribute to our overall quality of life. In fact, participating in and supporting such theatrical performances helps us become our best selves—as we feed our mind, body and spirit, so we can connect and thrive together as a community. Of course, none of this would be possible without the distinguished leadership at Actors Theatre. Artistic Director Les Waters’ keen eye for recognizing innovative drama has contributed to the organization’s longevity, enviable industry reputation and award-winning history. We thank Les for his commitment to Actors Theatre and to our community as he prepares to pursue new opportunities later this year. We also recognize the dedication of Managing Director Kevin E. Moore and appreciate the effort he, Les and their talented team put into carefully nurturing performances and bringing them to life in new and exciting ways with every passing season. Without such leaders—along with the playwrights, actors, directors and audiences—we would be unable to support and sustain this enduring art form. As always, the Humana Foundation is honored to support this unique partnership—the longest-running collaboration between a corporation and a performing arts organization in the country. We hope everyone enjoys this year’s Festival of great entertainment. Sincerely,
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.
Bruce D. Broussard President and Chief Executive Officer, Humana Inc. Board Member, Humana Foundation
SAID THIS by Leah Nanako Winkler
by Deborah Stein
DO YOU FEEL ANGER? by Mara Nelson-Greenberg
EVOCATION TO VISIBLE APPEARANCE by Mark Schultz
we, the invisibles by Susan Soon He Stanton
THANK YOU, LES Playwrights write in tribute to Les Waters during his final season as Actors Theatre's artistic director.
YOU ACROSS FROM ME by Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha,
Brian OtaÃ±o and Jason Gray Platt
CONVERSATIONS AND EVENTS A complete guide to Humana Festival events.
FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
It’s a serious family It’s also about the s
GOD SAID THIS Leah Nanako Winkler’s mom was W hen diagnosed with uterine carcinosarcoma,
a rare and aggressive cancer, she would never have guessed that the difficult experience of her mother’s illness would inspire a new play. Back in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky for her mom’s chemotherapy sessions, Winkler found herself passing long hours at the hospital by writing. “Sometimes when a monumental event happens in my life, I’ll take that circumstance and turn it into the starting point for a play,” she says. “I really did write a script during those chemo sessions. By the last one, I had a full draft.” The piece that emerged was God Said This, a bittersweet and wry portrait of a dysfunctional Kentucky family also grappling with cancer— and discovering, to their surprise, that adversity brings them closer. Set in Lexington, God Said This follows the Rose family, whose wife and mother, Masako, has carcinosarcoma. A Japanese immigrant who married a Kentucky native, Masako soldiers through her treatment with extraordinary resilience, despite chemo’s debilitating side effects. To keep her company, the rest of the Roses—her husband, James, and their two daughters, Hiro and Sophie—gather in tensionfilled shifts in her hospital room. Hiro, a New York transplant who hasn’t visited in years, clashes with James, from whom she’s been estranged. James, a recovering alcoholic, is eager to make amends for the misdeeds of his past—but repairing his relationship with his daughters, especially Hiro, isn’t proving to be easy. “Some would say he’s been a bad father. Some would say he was abusive,” Winkler explains. “And the question is: is it too late for his redemption?” Meanwhile, born-again Christian Sophie struggles to hold the family together and help everyone reconcile their differences.
SAID THIS by Leah Nanako Winkler directed by Morgan Gould
Feb. 28 – Apr. 8, 2018
“Sophie comes from a place of love all the time,” says Winkler. “But she’s running out of energy— she’s turning to God and God doesn’t seem to be answering.” When Hiro isn’t at Masako’s side, she reconnects with John, a former high school classmate. “When you’re visiting home for a specific reason, like a parent getting sick, getting back in touch with old friends can be a lifeline,” Winkler reflects. So, even though they’ve never known each other well, Hiro and John spend their spare time driving country roads together, trying to take the edge off. According to Winkler, John becomes a foil for James; a devoted father concerned with his
y drama about dealing with how we feel when a loved one becomes ill. strength that it takes to seek or grant forgiveness, with or without God.
God Said This isn’t the first play that Winkler’s written about this part of the country—or about the Rose family. Taking place seven years earlier, Winkler’s 2016 comedy Kentucky follows Hiro’s return to Lexington to stop her sister’s wedding. (Misguidedly, she believes Sophie needs rescuing from her newfound Christian beliefs.) As the highly theatrical and darkly funny story unfolds, we also encounter James and Masako among the cast of larger-than-life characters. Winkler emphasizes, however, that God Said This isn’t intended to be a sequel. “Those who have read or seen Kentucky will find little gems, but this is a stand-alone play,” she says. And while Kentucky centers on Hiro as its protagonist, Winkler considers God Said This “a true ensemble piece,” written in a less whimsical, more realistic style. She elaborates: “This play is quieter and more subtle. It’s a serious family drama about dealing with how we feel when a loved one becomes ill. It’s also about the strength that it takes to seek or grant forgiveness, with or without God.”
However, God Said This isn’t without humor, either. “I hope that when they see it, people laugh,” Winkler declares. “It was written from a place of pain, but there are definitely funny moments.” And, although its premise comes from personal experience, Winkler stresses that the story isn’t autobiographical. “About 11% of it is factual,” she says. “John’s based on a real high school friend, who I interviewed about his life in Lexington, but the other characters are imagined. There are some similarities between my family and the Roses: we come from the same social class, we’re both multicultural, and we’ve both had our differences. But for the most part, the play’s plot is made up. During my mom’s chemo, I thought about what the Roses would do if they were in this situation, instead of me. The writing was like an escape.” At the same time, Winkler does view God Said This as a way of immortalizing her mother. “My mom’s really excited about it, because she says that everybody gets sick, and people should know what it’s like to be sick,” Winkler explains. “Uterine carcinosarcoma makes up less than five percent of all uterine cancers, so I’d love to spread awareness about it. On a lighter note, though, it would be great if watching this makes people think about calling their moms.” —Hannah Rae Montgomery
GOD SAID THIS
son’s future, he’s “everything Hiro wanted James to be as a dad.” In conversations peppered with local references and witty banter, John also challenges Hiro’s “East Coast liberal” assumptions about people in Kentucky. “Something that bothers me about the portrayal of Kentucky in the media is that we’re usually shown as uneducated and racist,” asserts Winkler. “But there’s a lot of beauty and smart people here. I think the diversity of the South is often ignored.”
LEAH NANAKO WINKLER and observations as inspiration for her plays, which tackle complicated questions of identity and privilege with humor and heart.
eah Nanako Winkler didn’t expect to make a life in the theatre. As a high school student in Lexington, Kentucky, she begrudgingly joined the drama club in an attempt to improve her grades. Much to her surprise, she discovered a new passion. Winkler spent the next several years immersing herself in everything her teacher had to offer—until, as a sly way to woo a crush during her senior year, she tried playwriting. “I wrote a scene with him in mind, where two people confess their love for each other. I would read it out loud to myself in my room,” she recalls. Though she didn’t end up sharing the scene, she found that writing it fulfilled her in a way that her previous acting and directing endeavors hadn’t. From that point on, Winkler has continued to pull material from her experiences
Shortly after writing her first full-length play at 20 and co-producing it at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival with Indianapolis New Art Theater, Winkler moved to New York, where she continued self-producing at small venues around the city. Putting up her own work and getting immediate responses from audiences was instrumental in helping Winkler develop her voice—a voice profoundly influenced by her mixed-race identity. “‘Where are you from?’ is a loaded question for me,” says Winkler, who was raised in both Japan and Kentucky. “The concept of ‘home’ is fluid and it’s something I struggle with, so I write about it a lot.” Her 2016 play Kentucky, which premiered at Ensemble Studio Theatre (in a co-production with Page 73 Productions and the Radio Drama Network), follows Hiro, a young woman of Japanese-American and white heritage who has a fraught relationship with her Kentucky hometown. Returning to Lexington after a seven-year absence, she’s reluctant to identify with the Bluegrass State, and disparages the friends and family she left behind. Gradually, though, Hiro realizes that Lexington and her connections there are still integral parts of who she is. Placing a mixed-race character and her family at the center of the story also reflects Winkler’s ongoing desire to amplify seldom-heard voices. “I don’t see many interracial families onstage,” she comments. Another trademark of Winkler’s work is her sharp ear for comedy, which allows her to dig deeper into questions of diversity and representation without being didactic. In 2013’s Death for Sydney Black, which premiered at Empire Stage, Winkler uses original songs, cheerleading routines, and common high school stereotypes to satirize the teen drama genre. The battle for queen bee status between
the cheerleading captain and the new girl in town unfolds from the perspective of Jen, who, as the only Asian teenager at their school, is relegated to playing quirky sidekick to her popular white counterparts. “I was interested in why female narratives are usually white girl-centric. I wanted to make the minority sidekick the star of the show,” Winkler explains. Her newest play, Two Mile Hollow (which has been enjoying a simultaneous world premiere at First Floor Theater, Mixed Blood Theatre/Theater Mu, Ferocious Lotus, and Artists at Play this season), similarly satirizes a well-known genre. Noticing how prevalent “white people by the water” plays are in the American theatrical canon, Winkler jokingly started writing her own to see how deeply these narratives were ingrained in her. “I found that I knew this kind of story by heart,” she reports. “So I became interested in how I could subvert that story to prove a point.” Set at a centuryold beach house, Two Mile Hollow follows the rich and dysfunctional Donnelly family, and deliberately embraces the clichés of well-made plays about the wealthy: sibling rivalries, heavy wine consumption, a looming thunderstorm, and melodramatic revelations abound. However, Winkler undercuts the predictability of these plot threads by stipulating that all the characters, most of whom are white, be played by actors of color. By placing people of color in these roles, Winkler calls attention to how rare it is to see non-white bodies inhabit these storylines, and provides theatres an opportunity to combat that rarity.
No matter how playfully biting Winkler’s work may get, however, she strives to ground her humorous social critiques in emotional honesty. “Empathy and sincerity are important, even when I’m writing satire,” she notes. In her scripts, she specifies that although the worlds of her plays might seem heightened, her characters aren’t meant to be ironic. Instead, they are people who mean everything they say. For instance, Kentucky features a chorus of singing and dancing bridesmaids, a talking cat, and larger-than-life emotional proclamations. But at its heart, it’s a touching portrayal of a family’s earnest attempts to reconcile their differences.
The concept of ‘home’ is fluid and it’s something I struggle with, so I write about it a lot. Winkler’s highly theatrical, incisive and affecting storytelling has earned her significant recognition. In October, Winkler was awarded the inaugural Mark O’Donnell Prize from The Actors Fund and Playwrights Horizons, and in December, she was named The Lark’s 2017-2019 Jerome New York Fellow. According to Winkler, in carving out a space for herself in the theatre world, she’s discovered a new sense of belonging. “Theatre is my home,” she reflects. “As long as I have playwriting, I have a community. Theatre is the one place where I can always be myself.”
MARGINAL LOSS hen shell-shocked colleagues John and Allegra report for work in a cavernous, unfamiliar New Jersey warehouse, they’re still reeling in the wake of calamity, and barely know where to begin. It’s only been 48 hours since the offices of their investment firm were destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center, and nobody yet grasps what’s happening—except that luck has spared these few traders, while most of their coworkers remain missing. Along with Cathy, their self-appointed leader, they stumble their way through grief as they brace for the overwhelming task of recouping their losses. Aside from the records in this storage facility, they’ve got one computer, pen and paper, and untold missing transactions. But there’s also a temp: enter Margaret, a recent college graduate eager to help. Will the team be ready when the stock market reopens in mere days—and can things ever return to normal? Should they?
Capturing the precariousness of this moment with fascinating insight, Deborah Stein’s Marginal Loss unfolds in the days following the 2001 devastation of the Twin Towers, as a group of grieving coworkers try to piece their business back together. Stein traces this exploration back to her own assignment as an office temp the week after the tragedy. “I was sent to this warehouse, and there were three or four people there from a company that had been located near the top of the North Tower,” she recalls. “These were the employees who hadn’t been at work that day, for whatever reason. They wanted me to sort unlabeled data tapes that were the backup for old computers, but didn’t have machines that could read them. So I made coffee, and got lunch, but after a few days they let me go, because there was no work to do. I remember feeling like I had no idea what they were experiencing, and it was absolutely none of my business. And anything I could say would not be enough.” 10
by Deborah Stein
directed by Meredith McDonough
Mar. 6 – Apr. 8, 2018
But it didn’t occur to Stein to write about this experience until years later, when she told the story to her husband—who’d watched the second plane hit from his office across the street. They had often spoken about that day, but she’d never mentioned her temp job. Confronted with his surprise, she explained, “It didn’t feel like my story to tell.” The New York native had been out of town on 9/11, and had watched the crisis on television while calling friends and family. “I felt uncomfortable trying to claim it as something I’d experienced,” she admits. A conversation ensued about what gives someone the right to tell a story like this one, and the many narratives that had glossed over the confusion of the tragedy’s aftermath, trading on comfortable hindsight—so
So in Marginal Loss, when a jet flies overhead or a siren is heard through the As the team rallies around the colossal warehouse walls, the feeling that the city task of rebuilding a business, they’ve got might be under siege is still fresh. And as a no time to waste. “These companies were theatrical space, the working around the warehouse reflects to be ready for New Yorkers were very clock this new emotional the bell when the stock gentle with each other, market opened the next reality. “It becomes a metaphor for Monday morning,” Stein but that kindness was the way that any relates. Capturing the undergirded with this cataclysmic event suspense of that makedislocates us,” Stein sense of absolute terror or-break moment, and observes, “and the “creating drama out of and uncertainty. world you live in the minutiae of trading after the cataclysm stocks and bonds,” is never going to be the same.” In the both seemed like thrilling challenges to quartet of coworkers facing this tenuous tackle. But in raising the question of what existence, no one processes their shock returning to “business as usual” really in the same way. But showing up for work means—for these characters, and the might give the chaos some form—or at country—Marginal Loss provocatively least an answer to the question of what complicates this story of a financial firm to do next. reaching for a comeback. “The people we’re rooting for,” Stein notes, “are also Stein created these four sharply observed the people who destroyed our economy characters very intuitively. “I knew that seven years later. I find that paradox so Margaret, the temp, was going to be the fascinating.” interloper,” she explains. “The other three are based on anecdotes I’ve heard —Amy Wegener
PART OF THE
about the utterly random ways that people missed work that day, or how this experience altered their path in life.” The playwright also delved into research on World Trade Center companies and what it took to revive them, which led her to the tale of a CEO who’d made a controversial decision in order to provide for the affected families. “I was interested in the person in a leadership position whose way of dealing with crisis is to use their business savvy,” says Stein.
Stein’s husband encouraged her to write her own version. “9/11 so quickly got co-opted for political propaganda, and processed sentimentally by Hollywood,” Stein contends. “Now we know that it was an event in isolation, but then, nobody knew what was going to happen next. New Yorkers were very gentle with each other, but that kindness was undergirded with this sense of absolute terror and uncertainty.”
DEBORAH STEIN Case in point: while co-authoring Fissures (lost and found), a meditation on the shifting landscape of memory that premiered in the 2010 Humana Festival, Stein was simultaneously the lone writer of HEIST!, an immersive theatrical caper in which an ensemble of Actors Theatre acting apprentices took over the galleries at 21c Museum Hotel. When Stein returns to the Humana Festival this year, though, she’ll be focusing on one play: Marginal Loss, a drama sparked by her experience of the days following 9/11. “I’m honored to be welcomed back to a place that still feels like an artistic home, and with a play that’s so personal,” she says.
n her adventurous exploration of the many ways of making plays, Deborah Stein has forged a strikingly protean and original path in the theatre. A writer with a history of collaboration on devised ensemble pieces, she’s also the sole creator of an impressive body of work spun from her own singular imagination. In addition, Stein teaches at the University of California San Diego, and she wears the hats of writer, director, and producer as the co-artistic director of Stein|Holum Projects, an innovative laboratory for collective play-making. Stretching her creative muscles to shift between working methods has always been part of Stein’s artistic DNA.
Stein’s ability to move between phases of collective creativity and solo playwriting goes back to her training. After college, she volunteered with Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company—with whom she’s made six shows since. “They were making this incredible physical theatre,” she recalls, “and I’d never seen anything like it. I just wanted to be in the room.” Her work transcribing improvisations led to writing scripts, which inspired Stein to attend graduate school at Brown University. There, she studied with renowned playwright Paula Vogel, and penned her first plays written without a company. Since then, her vibrantly theatrical plays have been produced all over the country. God Save Gertrude, Stein’s punk-rock riff on Hamlet, gives the queen a long-overdue chance to explain herself, imagining her as a former rock icon. Both a play and a concert, the show was produced at The Theatre @ Boston Court and with Workhaus Collective, the playwright-run company that Stein co-led while living in Minneapolis in the late 2000s. Her many other plays include Wallflower (Stages Repertory Theatre), about
Centering the female voice is absolutely what I'm doing. But it never occurred to me to write anything else. a teenage girl whose angry internet video sparks a revolution, and Natasha and the Coat (upcoming at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company), a tale of cultural collision between a young woman interning in the fashion industry and a Hasidic Jewish dry cleaner. In these stories, Stein’s lens is always trained on female characters, a choice she says comes naturally. “They were just the people I wanted to spend time with in my head,” she explains. “Centering the female voice is absolutely what I’m doing. But it never occurred to me to write anything else.” Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that Stein also started a female-led ensemble: Stein|Holum Projects, her artistic partnership with performer-director Suli Holum, a longtime friend from Pig Iron (where Holum is a co-founder). The two joined forces after realizing that both longed for a new kind of collaborative freedom. Working closely with designers, they build a play together over the course of several years and multiple workshops—alternating between group experimentation and Stein’s work on an evolving text. Holum performs, and the pair shares the role of director. “What I love about devising,” Stein says, “is the multiplicity of voices in the room, and the collective visions that come together to make something extraordinarily layered.” Stein|Holum Projects’ first piece was Chimera, about a scientist who discovers that she has two sets of DNA—her own and her unborn twin’s—and that her son is (genetically) her nephew. Performed by Holum amid mesmerizing video projections, the show raises fascinating questions about how technology can shatter our sense of
who we are. Chimera premiered at HERE Arts Center as part of the Under the Radar Festival, and ran in London at The Gate Theatre. The duo’s next multimedia piece, The Wholehearted, was commissioned and developed by ArtsEmerson, premiered at Center Theatre Group and La Jolla Playhouse, and heads to New York’s Abrons Arts Center this spring. A portrait of a champion boxer who attempts a comeback after being brutally attacked by her husband, the piece examines love and violence, and the tension between irrevocable damage and redemption. A third project, Movers + Shakers, a musical exploring political sex scandals, was recently developed and performed by M.F.A. students in UC San Diego’s Department of Theatre and Dance. This wave of acclaimed ensemble-made work has kept Stein very busy—and she also recently directed and co-created Keith A. Wallace’s The Bitter Game, a one-man show about black survival in America that has toured internationally. But with all these experiences under her belt, she’s excited to dive back into her solo playwriting work for a while—starting with Marginal Loss, which follows a team of characters trying to collaborate in the wake of catastrophe. “A link between Marginal Loss and my devised work,” she says, “is that I’m interested in the dynamics within groups, and giving each actor equal weight.” This abiding love of the ensemble, capacious curiosity, and drive to continually rethink process are the hallmarks of Stein’s daring, multifaceted career.
DO YOU FEEL ANGER? S
ofia truly believes that everyone is capable of exercising deep, radical empathy towards one another, if they’re just given the chance to learn how. But when she starts her new job as an empathy coach at a debt collection agency, her conviction is stretched to its limit. These employees are spectacularly clueless when it comes to compassionate listening. (In fact, they spend more time swearing at debtors than listening to them during collection calls.) And their tonedeaf phone demeanor is just the tip of the iceberg; things are much worse in the office. Eva, the sole woman on staff, is getting mugged in the kitchen with alarming frequency—and no one but Eva seems to care. Can Sofia really help her clients understand other people’s emotions, if they can barely identify what an emotion is? In her outrageous new comedy Do You Feel Anger?, Mara Nelson-Greenberg draws a portrait of an absurdly toxic workplace environment, where genuine concern for other humans is in short supply. According to the playwright, the impulse for this sharp satire sprang from the emotionally fraught 2016 presidential election, and the tenor of public discourse that followed it. “Everyone was saying, ‘We just have to love one another right now,’ and ‘It’s just about listening right now,’” she recalls. And though the author shared those sentiments, she recognized how easy it would be to neglect following through on good intentions. “I think it’s easy to say, ‘I’m a good listener; I’m empathetic,’” she muses. “But the real challenge lies in holding yourself accountable on the micro-level to practice the things you say you want to practice. I think we’re really good at self-deception.” The play was also inspired by the empathy training classes Nelson-Greenberg’s mother and sister took as part of their medical studies. Clinical empathy, once casually dismissed as “good bedside manner,” is increasingly considered an essential
DO YOU FEEL ANGER? by Mara Nelson-Greenberg directed by Margot Bordelon
Mar. 9 – Apr. 8, 2018 skill. Workshops offering step-by-step techniques designed to improve compassionate listening are part of a growing trend—not only in hospitals, but also in corporations and business schools. Nelson-Greenberg’s curiosity was piqued when she researched course outlines online and found a practical how-to approach. “Treating feelings like something you need to problem-solve, almost like a math problem, was really fascinating to me,” says the playwright. The suggested exercises are simple but effective, she explains, giving an example: “Someone stands up and tells a story about something that happened to them, and then someone else has to identify the feelings that person must have experienced when they went through it.”
“For me, anger is one of the scarier emotions to get fully in touch with,” shares NelsonGreenberg. “Anger is a really policed feeling. And that’s interesting to me.” The characters in Do You Feel Anger? all have very different relationships to the titular emotion: Eva, for example, seems terrified to even say the word, but Howie’s volatile temper has been tacitly endorsed by the boss since day one. In Sofia’s empathy exercises, Howie wields his rage like a weapon when he reaches the limits of his ability to express himself. With surprising sensitivity and nuance in an otherwise outlandish comedy, Do You Feel Anger? illuminates the complicated gender politics that discourage men from exploring a full range of emotional expression. “Anger can become a catch-all for other unarticulated feelings,” reflects the author. “It can be used as a weapon, but it can also be a prison. I think a lot of people— and many men in particular—are prisoners of their own anger.” And of course, anger
demands immediate attention. It can suck up all the oxygen in the room, while other issues (such as Eva’s legitimate concerns about her own safety) simply get ignored.
Treating feelings like something you need to problem-solve, almost like a math problem, was really fascinating to me. As Sofia leads these emotionally stunted coworkers towards some sort of enlightenment, her progress is painstakingly slow. And ironically, her own emotions are proving just as unwieldy. She’s been wrestling with some complicated feelings ever since she learned about her father’s betrayal of the family. But when Sofia’s mother reaches out to her on the phone— again and again and again—Sofia prefers to silence the call. “I’ve been thinking about how these larger social issues play out on a personal level in many families as well,” says Nelson-Greenberg. In Do You Feel Anger?, the problem is that some people’s feelings matter more than others’. The implications of that dynamic emerge as the play unfolds, revealing a kind of danger that’s hilarious until it isn’t. And that’s precisely how Nelson-Greenberg wants it: “My goal is to keep the audience laughing until they realize it’s too late.” —Jenni Page-White
DO YOU FEEL ANGER?
Many of these exercises appear in Do You Feel Anger?—but Nelson-Greenberg has imagined them unfolding with hilariously awful results. Howie and Jordan, two employees at the debt collection agency, are astonishingly inept at identifying feelings; when pressed, they just make up words. Sofia’s attempts to help Howie and Jordan expand their emotional vocabulary are met with seething anger (which happens to be one of the few feelings they can identify). Meanwhile, poor Eva is wound so tightly that she’ll say just about anything to avoid upsetting her colleagues. As she immerses herself in the agency’s workplace culture, Sofia discovers a fundamental challenge to her work: some people in this office have permission to feel anger; others don’t.
be honest: elementary school is kind L et’s of the worst. Like many people, Mara
Nelson-Greenberg came up against the occasional school bully as she traversed the pitfalls of prepubescence. Luckily, she had a secret weapon—comedy. She discovered that by telling jokes about herself, she could beat the other kids to the punch. “I remember how powerful that felt. I was able to cut off my insecurities at the source by getting there first and making people laugh,” she recalls. Comedy is still Nelson-Greenberg’s secret weapon—one she employs with razor-sharp skill in her writing. She creates worlds that appear 16
ordinary at first glance, but then she infuses them with surprisingly bizarre details, often with hilarious results. In her play Hamlet by Mia Fefferman, a frazzled second-grade teacher named Mia helms her class’s semiannual theatrical production. Meanwhile, a phone glitch is rerouting 911 calls to Mia’s cell phone. The emergencies reported range from dangerous (after falling from a ladder, a man is struggling to remove his leg from his stomach) to disturbing (a serial cannibal is on the loose). The peculiarities start to appear in her classroom, too. During a parentteacher conference, the mother of one of Mia’s students assures Mia that her health is perfectly fine—except for a cough and the infection on her tail. Sure enough, when she saunters out at the end of the scene, her tail knocks over several chairs. Likewise, in Nelson-Greenberg’s short play Civic Duty, the audience is dropped into a deliberation room as a jury decides the fate of a man accused of obscenity. The twist here? The male jurors have locked all of the female jurors in the closet, refusing to free them. “I think it’s funny to take things that seem normal and slant them slightly,” observes the playwright. “It’s a little trick to say, ‘Look at this strange thing.’ But that brings into sharper focus the things in our world that we think are normal, but are actually very strange.” And so, the absurd humor in NelsonGreenberg’s plays ultimately has a deeper purpose. Do You Feel Anger?, featured in this year’s Humana Festival, is outrageously funny—but it also asks challenging questions about sexism in the workplace. More importantly, it asks us to consider how we are complicit in contributing to that system. “I think of comedy as a way to get everyone
on your team and then bring them into a dark place,” she jokes. “It implicates us when we’re all laughing together about dark or shameful things. There’s something really powerful in that. I think when people laugh, it can be a recognition that they see part of themselves in what’s happening onstage.”
shape what I genuinely think is funniest.” Embracing spontaneity and playfulness, she settled into a voice that is entirely her own.
Nelson-Greenberg is continuing to develop her craft in the Playwriting M.F.A. program at the University of California San Diego, where she is in the first year of In addition to writing, Nelson-Greenberg her studies. Juggling the rigors of graduate also has a background in improvisational school and a Humana Festival world performance. For her, the two disciplines premiere is not without its challenges. go hand-in-hand. After completing her She’s had to travel bicoastally for casting undergraduate degree at Princeton, and workshops in New York, in addition to she enrolled in balancing rehearsals classes at the in Louisville with I think of comedy as a Upright Citizens her assignments for way to get everyone on Brigade, where school. Rather than your team and then bring she learned to feeling overwhelmed, take notice when a she expresses them into a dark place. joke was working gratitude. “I can’t and lean in when audiences responded think of a better time to be in grad school,” enthusiastically. The fast-paced, sinkshe notes, “and I’m thrilled to be in the or-swim atmosphere helped her take Festival with Deborah Stein, who’s also comedic risks and experiment without one of my professors. This is all very new lingering on the results. “With improv, you for me, so I feel unbelievably lucky to be throw it up on stage, it works or it doesn’t, surrounded by such supportive, intelligent and you move on to the next thing,” she and generous peers and faculty as I go explains. While she flexed her performance through this process.” muscles doing improv, Nelson-Greenberg also developed her plays in Clubbed To say Nelson-Greenberg was surprised Thumb’s Early Career Writers' Group. to get the official call that her play was She discovered that, in stark contrast going to be produced in this year’s Festival to performing, she struggled with selfwould be an understatement. “I basically censorship in her writing process. “I was so fully blacked out. I thought maybe I died,” deep in my head, editing my work to death,” she laughs. The marvel of it all has yet to she recalls about a particularly arduous wear off. “It feels like such a gift. I’m project. Gradually, she let the unbridled really psyched.” attitude of her improv training bleed into her playwriting: “Improv helped me get rid —Vivian Barnes of some of that preciousness and actually 17
EVOCATION TO VISIBLE APPEARANCE
ou wanna know what the future looks like? For 17-year-old Samantha, who thinks she’s pregnant, the world seems built upon hollow promises—and always on the verge of slipping away. She yearns for solid ground, but everywhere she looks, there’s evidence that her fears are well-founded. Trevor, her college-bound boyfriend, wants to become a star on America’s Got Talent. Her unemployed dad is falling apart when he’s not asleep on the couch, and her troubled older sister is in treatment. Plus, Sam’s job at Bear Burger Barn smells like sodiuminduced extinction. So when she meets Hudson, a tattooed musician and devotee of a band called Häxan 13, she hopes she’s found someone with whom she can share her sense of impending doom...and a Slurpee. With black humor and black metal, Mark Schultz’s Evocation to Visible Appearance gives form to a gathering darkness. For the playwright, this teenager confronting a fallen world embodies a constellation of ideas that came together in his imagination. “I thought it would be fascinating for someone to write a black metal musical,” Schultz explains, “because it seems so unwieldy and counterintuitive, and that felt like something to lean into.” This subgenre of heavy metal has attracted serious philosophical analysis—and the “black metal psyche” piqued Schultz’s curiosity because of its extreme vision, pitched at the outer limits of human experience and expression. “There’s a really desperate longing in black metal,” he says, “not for anything recognizably good, but for an end, for something that will never come. It’s been described as reliving an epic battle that has already been lost, but you’re bound to fight it anyway.”
EVOCATION TO VISIBLE APPEARANCE by Mark Schultz
directed by Les Waters
Mar. 16 – Apr. 8, 2018
While contemplating the dark impulses in this music, Schultz—who’s also an Episcopal priest—was pondering what it might mean to write about the Devil. “I was thinking about the various depictions of the Devil in literature. He’s often a very charming figure, seductive and witty, but I don’t think that gets it quite right,” argues Schultz. “Perhaps that image speaks to the way evil can be incredibly familiar to us. But I think there’s another part that has to do with absence, a void—not in the sense of something that’s beyond our comprehension, but just nothingness.” Considering how this absence might manifest
I began someho
n to think, what would it be to write a play that wasn’t about the Devil, but ow was the Devil? How to make this void visible, so that we can recognize it?
The older generation—especially Samantha’s crumbling dad, Russell— has nothing to offer in the face of these limitations. “She blames her father for being part of the problem,” Schultz notes. Also unhelpful is Martin, Sam’s well-meaning but clueless boss at Bear Burger Barn, whose tendency to give pep talks makes him the antithesis of
Mirrors are also used to contact spirits in magic traditions, and in another sense, the play arranges these reflections to conjure, to open a door to the ineffable. “The title, Evocation to Visible Appearance, comes from old magical texts,” Schultz reveals. “The point is to evoke a spirit into the triangle of art, so that you can either command or exorcise it. So maybe the play is a kind of exorcism—creating a space in which an encounter can be staged, so we can then decide what to do with it.” As Samantha tries to find someone who can help fathom her future, it’s with increasingly clear eyes that she learns to perceive and to mourn all that seems out of reach. “Mourning is a way of recovering love for a world that is passing away,” Schultz contends. “In acknowledging the thing that will not be, you’re acknowledging your relationship to what actually is. I think it’s the first step towards moving to action.” —Amy Wegener Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville
PART OF THE
To Schultz’s surprise, these vast questions coalesced in the journey of one young woman apprehending the emptiness stretching before her. With a favorite Sex Pistols song, “No Future,” also kicking around in his consciousness, Schultz admits that Samantha “just showed up in the play, and I loved her.” “Suddenly,” he recalls, “I was writing about a possibly pregnant teenager, for whom the future appears foreclosed. Those things people often say—‘This is the best time of your life,’ or ‘The future is wide open!’—well, Samantha suspects that it’s not, and the only navigational tools she has are for a world that died a long time ago. And this is a situation in which I think a lot of young folks find themselves. The trend of children doing better than their parents? That’s done.”
Russell’s despair. This inverted image is no accident, and Schultz uses mirrors throughout the play, both to humorous and unsettling effect. “I was taken by the idea of mirroring as a way to reveal various facets of the thing that’s being reflected,” observes Schultz. “And I was thinking of the old image of the Devil as the ape of God—‘ape’ as in someone who mimics. There’s something about the endlessness of reflections when you put two mirrors together, the emptiness of that.”
EVOCATION TO VISIBLE APPEARANCE
in live performance led Schultz to an even more compelling challenge: “Could I stage an encounter with that void?” he wondered. “I began to think, what would it be to write a play that wasn’t about the Devil, but somehow was the Devil? How to make this void visible, so that we can recognize it?”
MARK SCHULTZ someone—and be available to someone else’s touch—in a world where it’s difficult to be vulnerable.”
I’m interested in theatre that is brutally, viscerally honest,” declares Mark Schultz. From portraying parents who sell their kids, to misfits who resort to violence in their desperation for companionship, Schultz is unafraid to tell stories that expose the sharper-edged contours of the human experience. But while his highly theatrical (and often morbidly funny) plays sometimes plumb the depths of existential darkness, they stand also as testaments to the ways that suffering can lead us to search for meaning and connection. “I’m interested in plays that are conscious of the beauty of humanity and the abject horror of it as well,” Schultz asserts. “My characters are always trying to figure out how to touch
Schultz fell in love with theatre as a high school student in Southern California. He vividly remembers his drama teacher taking him to see Reza Abdoh’s The Hip-Hop Waltz of Eurydice, a gender-bending reimagining of Greek mythology that inspired him to start writing plays of his own. After majoring in theatre at UCLA and pursuing an M.F.A. in playwriting at Columbia University, Schultz continued to develop his voice as a member of MCC Theater’s Playwrights Coalition (a writers’ group he helped to found during a stint in the MCC literary office). According to Schultz, the opportunity to share work with a community of fellow writers like Stephen Adly Guirgis and Lucy Thurber was invaluable. In 2013, Schultz became a resident playwright at New Dramatists, and soon after, he attended seminary at Yale Divinity School, studying to be an Episcopal priest. Although playwright and ordained minister may seem like very different hats to wear, Schultz feels that they complement one another. “Moving into my ministry from theatre taught me a lot about empathy,” he explains. “As a playwright, I’m constantly creating characters with whom I don’t agree, trying to work out what they want and how to be honest about what they’re going through. That kind of thinking has been helpful in doing pastoral work: in honoring people as they are and not judging them.” Schultz’s plays often feature protagonists who may not seem easily sympathetic. Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy, which premiered at Soho Rep in 2005 and won the Kesselring Prize and Oppenheimer Award, plunges into the fantasy life of a teenage girl whose obsession with wanting to be pretty
and sexually desirable ruins her best friend’s life. His provocative 2009 drama The Gingerbread House (world premiere, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) follows Brian and Stacey, a married couple whose desire for a more opulent lifestyle pushes them to sell their kids into thinly veiled sex slavery. (Stacey later kidnaps another man’s children, trying to get hers back.) In 2015’s The Blackest Shore, Stuart, a troubled boy who’s been sexually assaulted by his father, perpetuates the cycle of abuse upon a younger friend, with tragic consequences. “Casual cruelty is a common thing in my plays,” comments Schultz. “So is illusion; characters whose pursuit of their illusions leads to a lot of pain in their lives and the lives of others. I think pain and suffering are the inevitable results of illusions being torn away from us—illusions to which we’ve become addicted.” The playwright emphasizes that shock value isn’t what he’s after, though. “I like to make plays that are disturbing,” he says. “But that’s because I’m compelled by stories that are searingly real in their vision of the human adventure. Sometimes that means they’re disturbing and sometimes that means they’re beautiful and sometimes that means they’re both.” Nor is Schultz’s work without humor. “I value the absurd—the moments in our everyday lives where the seams don’t quite meet and it’s unexpectedly funny,” he elaborates. “Laughter can lead us to not skirt around uncomfortable things, but to actually engage with them.” For instance, when The Gingerbread House’s Stacey confesses to a coworker that she’s sold her offspring, their exchange is comically awkward yet also revealing about the stories we tell ourselves
(and others) to justify our choices. In a scene from The Blackest Shore, Stuart’s abusive dad wants to appear in a movie his son’s making about monsters of the underworld. Ready for his close-up, he comes looking for Stuart and ends up in a serious confrontation with his ex-wife’s new boyfriend—all while wearing a bad vampire costume.
I'm compelled by stories that are searingly real in their vision of the human adventure. Ultimately, says Schultz, “If my plays are about one thing, they’re about trying to connect.” While his characters may pursue this goal in strange or aberrant ways, what unites them—and makes them relatable— is their yearning to form substantive relationships. This constant struggle to reach out and be open to others becomes a pivotal source of dramatic conflict, and the key to their complicated humanity. As the playwright puts it: “The plays are concerned with exploration; exploring what it means to love and be loved, or to feel like those things aren’t realities in which you can participate. My plays look at the world in all its woundedness and ask: is this lovable? My gut answer is yes. But it’s useful to raise the question. It might get us to look at ourselves and our own fallen world more deeply.” —Hannah Rae Montgomery
we, the invisibles A
young woman steps out onto an empty stage and shyly introduces herself. “Hi everyone. My name is Susan. I’m a playwright?” Susan proceeds to tell us how she stumbled into a survival job at a swanky boutique hotel called The Lux, and that she was working there when news broke that the leading candidate for the French presidency, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was accused of sexual assault by an immigrant hotel maid named Nafissatou Diallo. The scandal deeply troubled Susan, and she was sickened by the thought of similar abuse happening to her fellow employees at The Lux. And so, Susan tells us, she resolved to write a play—not about Strauss-Kahn, but about the fascinating, complex people working alongside her in unseen service positions. Susan Soon He Stanton’s funny, poignant, and brutally honest new play, we, the invisibles, is a celebration of her real-life coworkers, whom she got to know over the course of ten years working in a New York City hotel. “It feels really cathartic to share that part of my life,” says Stanton. “To amplify the stories of these people who I think are amazing and funny and interesting—it’s been like a weight has been lifted. I feel a lot of joy in sharing this world with people.” The play begins with Susan introducing us to some of her colleagues through a series of interviews. A small ensemble of actors (who collectively portray upwards of 40 characters) re-enact conversations that Stanton had with her fellow employees as part of her research process for writing the play. We meet dishwashers and room attendants, security guards and cocktail servers, many of them having newly arrived in the United States. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States and work really hard at a job that’s designed for you to never be seen,” reflects the playwright. “No one thinks about the back of the hotel, or the back of
we, the invisibles by Susan Soon He Stanton
directed by Dámaso Rodríguez
Mar. 23 – Apr. 8, 2018 the restaurant. When you do your job well, nobody notices you at all.” In a sharp rebuttal of that reality, we, the invisibles illuminates who these people are beyond their occupations—the kinds of food they love, their quirky personality traits, their desires for the future, and what they have overcome to relocate to this country. As the play gives voice to these rarely heard stories, Susan’s documentary project transforms into a deeply personal journey—after all, Stanton has written herself into her own play. According to Stanton, this artistic gesture happened somewhat organically: “I started by interviewing coworkers
we, the invisibles
with a tape recorder or my iPhone, and then is partly an exploration of how power and transcribing them into scenes. And at some privilege can shield abusers like DSK. point I started to take myself out of the Throughout the play, Susan obsessively scenes,” she recalls. But when a fellow writer follows his trial and depictions of him in encouraged her to reconsider, she thought, pop culture, haunted by the injustice he “Well, this is going to be a much more represents. But as she tells us emphatically personal approach. So I leaned into that in her opening speech, DSK does not appear discomfort and said: okay, I’m going to name as a character—the idea of him is so revolting my character Susan and that’s that.” What that Susan refuses to give him space in the emerges from that choice is a remarkably script. “The DSK scandal happened in 2011, honest look at a playwright grappling with but more abuse is being reported now,” her role as the storyteller. Much of we, the Stanton muses, reflecting on the spate of invisibles is built from verbatim transcripts sexual assault and harassment charges or from Stanton’s memory—but as Susan dominating the news more recently. candidly tells “It’s not just this one us in the play, person. It’s a selfNo one thinks about the sometimes they perpetuating cycle.” back of the hotel, or the are pure invention. Why? Her notes The breadth of Stanton’s back of the restaurant. are spotty. Or inquiry expands as the When you do your job well, people declined play moves forward, nobody notices you at all. to be interviewed, exploring an everand she can only accumulating pile of make assumptions about why. Or sometimes, questions with startling theatricality. As she doesn’t speak the language of the we watch the small group of actors slip in person she’d like to know better. Has she and out of multiple roles, the space, too, captured these people authentically? How transforms—whisking us from The Lux’s much does she truly understand about their glossy, opulent lounges and lobbies to its struggles and successes? How much does she intimate, even claustrophobic back-of-house understand about her own? areas. “What’s exciting about it to me is that there are so many characters, there are so As Susan wrestles with these questions, many stories—it’s an ambitious play for me she must also contend with how Dominique in terms of its expanse,” enthuses Stanton. Strauss-Kahn (and men like him) fit “It’s larger in scope and more deeply into this story. The Lux caters to the personal than anything I’ve ever written.” rich and powerful—from narcissistic venture capitalists to Big Pharma—and it’s —Jenni Page-White impossible to fully explore the lives of The Lux’s employees without also acknowledging whom they serve. Indeed, we, the invisibles
SUSAN SOON HE STANTON “and I think a lot of people don’t know about it. Or they only get the overview, so it’s not a nuanced understanding.” Perhaps this is what compels Stanton to write plays that celebrate complexity, plays that portray the world in all its multifaceted glory. Or maybe she finds herself drawn to such stories because she is Hapa (of mixed Asian and Caucasian heritage). “Being Hapa is a very particular kind of experience,” she muses. “It’s a different way of seeing the world when you’re between two things.” This unique perspective plays a key role in Stanton’s writing. Her plays often feature characters who grapple with feeling as though they exist between two worlds. Her play Today Is My Birthday follows its protagonist, Emily, as she moves back home after many years away. The play takes place entirely in liminal spaces—via telephone, email, radio, and intercom—with no characters ever inhabiting the same physical location. As a result, Emily feels disconnected from people and struggles to find her place in a world so reliant on mediated communication.
ike many New Yorkers, Susan Soon He Stanton wasn’t born in the city. She moved there as a teenager, leaving her home state of Hawai‘i to study dramatic writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her heart, however, lives somewhere in between the two places. “My family’s been in Hawai‘i since before it was a state,” she says. “Even while living in New York, there’s a part of me that’s always there.” Growing up among Hawai‘i’s rich mix of cultures and voices, Stanton developed an appreciation for many different kinds of people and perspectives. “Hawai‘i is a very multicultural place with a lot of history,” she notes,
Stanton’s SEEK also explores the ideas of feeling displaced and what it means to yearn for community. The play reimagines the reallife 1926 disappearance of Agatha Christie; however, in Stanton’s version of the event, the famous mystery writer escapes her crumbling personal life in England by fleeing to Hawai‘i. Christie becomes enamored with Hawai‘i’s multiculturalism, but she causes a great deal of trouble when she tries to force her own customs onto the other characters in the play. Stanton deftly navigates between Christie’s time in Hawai‘i and Christie’s life at home in England, imagining what happens when both worlds collide.
Rather than dive deeply into the lives of two or three characters in one space, Stanton prefers to explore the expansiveness of a play’s world through the many perspectives of the people who inhabit it. Today Is My Birthday features more than 20 characters played by an ensemble of six actors, while we, the invisibles, her play in this year’s Humana Festival, features twice as many characters played by seven actors. “I went through a phase of really trying to write two- to fiveperson plays for years,” she muses. “I felt so repressed by it! So I would write plays with five to six actors, but then just fill them full of lots of voices and roles.” In fact, she fondly refers to the characters in her plays as “a village”; her writing aims to reflect a community, not just the individual voices within it. This mindset extends to how Stanton thinks about the process of making theatre. She sees her plays as blueprints that she and her collaborators use to build each production’s world. “I feel like there’s a reason I don’t write novels,” she laughs. “I love the process of collaborating with amazing directors and smart actors and designers. They add a wider perspective, and different tones and visions, and the result is always greater than my own imagination. It’s special when it all finally comes together.” While staying very busy with theatre, Stanton also divides her time to write for the upcoming HBO series Succession. “TV is incredible because the scope of it is so big,” she remarks. “If you write a scene with a helicopter, then there’s an actual helicopter, and that’s really crazy and cool!” She also enjoys writing for television because it offers
a nice counterbalance to theatre. “I think what’s so exciting about theatre is that it takes so much effort to do it well, and you share it, and then it’s over. It’s powerful but ephemeral,” she says. “TV lasts forever, in stasis, the way you intended it, and you can share it with a wider audience. It’s nice to toggle between the two.”
It's a different way of seeing the world when you're between two things. Among all her many projects, Stanton is thrilled to spend the spring working on her play we, the invisibles at this year’s Humana Festival alongside so many other singular, extraordinarily talented playwrights. Reflecting, she shares, “It’s amazing that I’m in the festival with Leah Nanako Winkler”— who, like Stanton, is a writer of mixed Asian heritage. “Sometimes, there’s this feeling that we cancel each other out. It’s like, ‘Okay, we have one Asian writer, one female writer, one writer of color.’” But the Humana Festival, with its commitment to celebrating distinctive viewpoints and to programming a diverse range of voices each year, seems like the perfect place to feature both of these remarkable writers. Says Stanton simply, “I’m really excited.” —Meghan McLeroy
YOU ACROSS FROM ME The world begins at a kitchen table,” declares Joy Harjo in her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” Harjo goes on to evocatively describe both the everyday rituals and the extraordinary life events that occur around this familiar object. “Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children,” she writes. “We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.” The table, then, is a place of contrasts—a site of communion and conflict, tradition and rebellion. And coming to the table, whether we’re showing up for a celebration or a reckoning, means navigating and even embracing those contrasts. Maybe that’s especially true now, in an era of deep political and social divisions. In polarizing times, what does it mean—and what does it cost—to come to the table? Will it bring us together, or reveal just how far apart we really are? In You Across from Me, four playwrights—Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha, Brian Otaño and Jason Gray Platt—explore this surprisingly complicated act, and the many ways we connect and confront. Bold and inventive, these writers take us to a range of theatrical worlds—from a championship foosball match to a late-night hospice lounge, from a 1950s instructional video to a borderline-dystopian apartment building. As characters from all walks of life come to the table in wildly different ways, they make space (however reluctantly) for loved ones, enemies and strangers. The many narratives and points of view in You Across from Me hint at the show’s wide array of inspirations. Among other subjects, the playwrights investigated the quirky, unexpected role that the humble table has played in major world events. For example, peace talks during the Vietnam War were held up by disagreements about the shape and number of negotiating tables, and crucial Cold War diplomacy happened over ping-pong tables in 1970s China.
YOU ACROSS FROM ME by Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha,
Brian Otaño and Jason Gray Platt directed by Jessica Fisch
Mar. 23 – Apr. 8, 2018
The writers also explored works of art from across history that have looked at the table in new ways, including the still lifes of Dutch Old Masters, Judy Chicago’s feminist sculpture The Dinner Table, and the striking photographs in Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series. Ultimately, however, the playwrights’ most important inspiration has been the performers for whom they’re writing: the twenty acting apprentices in this season’s Professional Training Company. Actors Theatre has commissioned playwrights to create a Humana Festival show for the apprentices since 2000, making You Across from Me part of
Then the playwrights ventured off to write, each one tasked with drafting a series of short pieces that tackle coming to the table. They returned to Louisville in December and again in February to keep developing their work alongside the actors and the director-dramaturg team, building the show from the ground up in just a few months. For the playwrights, You Across from Me is a unique project that invites them to experiment with short-form writing, craft a show for a large ensemble and collaborate with other writers. In the end, the wealth of material they’ve generated—witty and heartfelt, imaginative and satirical—has come together to form a singular theatrical experience, one that showcases both their own distinctive voices and the talent of this season’s acting apprentices.
In polarizing times, what does it mean—and what does it cost— to come to the table? Will it bring us together, or reveal just how far apart we really are? The process of creating You Across from Me has revealed that there’s a certain resonance between coming to the table and entering a theatre. In both cases, we gather around in order to receive sustenance, reflect, tell stories and find community. At the same time, put a table in a space, and suddenly there are stakes: which side are you on? Who gets a seat, and who doesn’t? A table can suggest not only welcome and abundance, but also hierarchy and exclusion. The phrase “you across from me,” after all, is another way of summing up one of drama’s central elements: conflict. And a table, like a theatre, is a place where we’re often asked to suspend our disbelief, whether we’re pretending (as some of the characters in You Across from Me do) that a comically disastrous date is going just fine, or that the powerful person at the head of the table knows any more than the rest of us. Around a table, we perform rituals or enact dramas, connect face to face or seek truth—and anything can happen. So have a seat. Here, at least, there’s enough room for everyone. —Jessica Reese
Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville
YOU ACROSS FROM ME
a strong tradition of investing in writers and offering opportunities for early-career actors to learn about new play development. Central to the commission is giving the playwrights and actors ample time to work together and get to know each other throughout the season. Last August, the writers traveled to Louisville, joining the apprentices, director Jessica Fisch and dramaturg Jessica Reese for a weeklong workshop. Among the highlights of the week was the sharing of stories about how the table—as a gathering place, obstacle or symbol—has showed up in their lives. Reflecting on family heirlooms and airplane tray tables alike, the group shared hilarious and moving tales of transformative meals, surprising self-discoveries and hard-fought compromises.
MEET THE YOU ACROSS FROM ME PLAYWRIGHTS
Jaclyn Backhaus is a playwright and co-founder of Fresh Ground Pepper. Her play Men on Boats (Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks, Playwrights Horizons) was a New York Times Critic’s Pick and is published by Dramatists Play Service. Other works include Folk Wandering (Pipeline Theatre Company), People Doing Math Live! (Under the Radar Festival’s INCOMING! series at The Public Theater), The Incredible Fox Sisters (Live Source Theatre Group) and You on the Moors Now (Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, The Hypocrites). Backhaus has received commissions from Playwrights Horizons, Manhattan Theatre Club, Ensemble Studio Theatre and Ars Nova, and was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb. She is currently in residence at Lincoln Center Theater. She received her B.F.A. from New York University and hails from Phoenix, Arizona.
Dipika Guha was raised in India, England and Russia. Her plays include Yoga Play (South Coast Repertory, The Kilroys List 2017), The Art of Gaman (The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Kilroys List 2016, Relentless Award semifinalist) and Mechanics of Love (Crowded Fire Theater). She is under commission at South Coast Repertory, the McCarter Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Barrington Stage Company, American Conservatory Theater/Z Space and Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! project (The Merry Wives of Windsor). Her play Azaan premiered at Oregon Symphony last fall. Guha received her M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama, studying under Paula Vogel, and is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. She wrote for the series American Gods on Starz and is currently writing for AMC’s Paradise Lost.
Brian Otaño grew up in New York City, where he worked as a playwright and a scenic artist at the Metropolitan Opera before moving to Los Angeles. His plays include Tara, Zero Feet Away, The Ocean at Your Door, What We Told the Neighbors and Between the Sandbar and the Shore. His work has been performed, developed and workshopped with New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout Theatre Company, Page 73, Ars Nova, Atlantic Theater Company, New Dramatists, INTAR, The Amoralists, The Parsnip Ship, Lark Play Development Center, IAMA Theatre Company (L.A.) and Celebration Theatre (L.A.). Residencies & Fellowships: New Dramatists Van Lier Playwriting Fellowship, Interstate 73, New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship, Ars Nova’s Play Group and SPACE on Ryder Farm. Education: Otaño received his B.F.A. in dramatic writing from SUNY Purchase.
Jason Gray Platt’s work has been produced and developed around the country by American Repertory Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Denver Center Theatre Company, The Flea Theater, Round House Theatre, TheatreWorks, The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, The Playwrights Realm, Prelude NYC, Page 73 Productions and Red Bull Theater, and through residencies at The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. He received a Helen Hayes Nomination for The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play in 2013 and was the runner-up for the 2007 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting. Originally from Arizona, Platt now lives in Los Angeles. He is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center and a member of Woodshed Collective. He received his B.A. from Vassar College and his M.F.A. from Columbia University.
THANK YOU, LES Around Actors, the palpable sense of artistic family is never stronger than during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. As this year marks Les Waters’ final Festival as Artistic Director, we can’t help but reflect on all he has brought to the Humana Festival, the theatre, the city and truly, each of us. Without a doubt, his artistic leadership invigorated the Festival. His decision to double Actors Theatre’s commissioning program resulted in plays that premiered in the Festival being seen across the country, such as Lucas Hnath’s The Christians and Sarah Ruhl's For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday. We spoke with five playwrights with whom he’s collaborated on Festival productions, and asked them the deceptively simple question, “How would you describe working with Les?”
Lou Sumrall in At the Vanishing Point, 2004 Humana Festival. Photo by Harlan Taylor.
Dan Waller and Hannah Bos in Gnit, 2013 Humana Festival. Photo by Alan Simons.
Working with Les on At the Vanishing Point was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We worked in an abandoned, I think haunted warehouse with an ensemble of extraordinary actors who channeled the ghosts of Butchertown past and present. There were birds in the eaves who would periodically burst forth in the middle of rehearsal. Tara Jane O’Neil would play this gorgeous music not quite of this world. Bruce McKenzie, embodying the role of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, spoke of art, love, and the inevitability of endings. And in the midst of it all, Les coaxed the best out of all of us. He brought us all together and created this wondrous alchemy. He led us through the unknown with generosity, vision, and genius. He made it all happen and for that I am forever thankful.
—Naomi Iizuka, playwright, At the Vanishing Point
Thoughtful is a more interesting word than it seems at first. Les Waters is Thoughtful. By this I mean the normal things, of course. Considerate, caring, a rememberer. But then there’s this other potential sense of the word—laden with thoughts, troubled and dogged and, sometimes, sated and comforted by them. I think I’ve felt this sense in common with Les, it made me feel close to him, and I think good things happened because of it. Finally, I sometimes picture Les eating Twizzlers.
—Will Eno, playwright, Gnit and The New Line
Cast of The Christians, 2014 Humana Festival. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Les listens. He listens to the text, the actors, the space. He listens to hear what the play wants to be, and he makes the most delicate adjustments to help make that play more of the thing it wants to be. Working with Les you come to understand something about grace. You remember that this playmaking thing we do is really just play, and it’s kind of silly, and so you stop trying to force things into shape. You stop and you listen, and you let the work be what it wants to be.
—Lucas Hnath, playwright, The Christians
I first met Les in London when he was a young beginner at the Royal Court Theatre—and then, when he came to the United States, when he got off the plane, the first place he came to was my living room. And we have been close friends and collaborators ever since. And, in my life in the theatre, I’ve never had a better friend or collaborator. He’s one of the very few best directors on the planet Earth for the past 5,000 years. And doing plays with him at the Humana Festival has always felt like coming home.
Bruce McKenzie and Ramiz Monsef in The Glory of the World, 2015 Humana Festival. Photo by Bill Brymer.
—Charles Mee, playwright, The Glory of the World and Big Love
I love working with Les, at the Humana Festival or anywhere else on the planet. It’s difficult to describe working with Les. He has a relationship with the ether. He watches, he listens, and the molecules in the air around the actors change. He is as at home making a bed fly as he is making a moment around a table feel real and organic. Whether we are cackling in the booth during previews and hiding, or reading a draft together for the first time, I love the deep familiarity of our collaborations. They are a bedrock of my life in the theatre. Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters during rehearsals for For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday. This drawing, and the portrait on the opposite page, are by cast member Ron Crawford.
—Sarah Ruhl, playwright, For Peter Pan on her 70 th birthday
HUMANA FESTIVAL CONVERSATIONS & EVENTS All conversations are FREE but ticketed unless otherwise noted. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to reserve your ticket.
COLLEGE DAYS KEYNOTE ADDRESS: A. REY PAMATMAT LOVING WHAT YOU HATE WHEN IT HATES YOU, TOO Saturday, March 24 at 10:30 A.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Join playwright and Humana Festival alum A. Rey Pamatmat for a queer artist of color's totally serious, life-or-death tips on how to survive in a world that hates and fears you—without having to be part of The X-Men. #liveyourtruth #soultherapy #Speedsicle4life Pamatmat is the award-winning author of Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (2011 Humana Festival, Steinberg/ATCA New Play Citation), after all the terrible things I do, House Rules, and many other plays. He is co-director of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab and teaches at Primary Stages ESPA and SUNY Purchase.
ASSISTING: LEARNING BY SUPPORTING Sunday, March 25 at 12 P.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Many of the roles available to new graduates are as assistants (to directors, designers, or stage managers), but what makes a good assistant and a good assistantship? How do you grow and learn through supporting, but not leading, the process? Join us as members of the artistic and production staff discuss how to make the most of assisting.
LESSONS FROM INCLUSIVE THEATRE: MAKING WORK ACCESSIBLE TO THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY Saturday, March 31 at 10 A.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Learn from local community members with disabilities about what’s going on in Louisville's inclusive theatre scene. How might an understanding of how Louisville-based artists with disabilities do their own inclusive work inform the work we do as regional theatre professionals? How can open, honest conversations with artists from the disability community encourage us to make our own practices more accessible to audiences, staff members, and collaborating artists with disabilities?
OVATION CELEBRATION Saturday, March 31 at 10 P.M. | Location to be announced This post-show celebration is the perfect time to chat with friends and toast the exciting lineup of new plays.
THE KILROYS IN CONVERSATION Friday, April 6 at 1 P.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium Founded in 2013, The Kilroys are a Los Angeles-based gang of playwrights and producers who are taking action on gender parity in American theatre. Join members of this trailblazing collective for a lively panel discussion about their advocacy for female and transgender writers, their strategies for using informal power to make change, and the work that lies ahead.
THE STEINBERG/ATCA NEW PLAY AWARDS AND ANNE BOGART: A CALL TO ACTION Saturday, April 7 at 9 P.M. | Pamela Brown Auditorium The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) join together to announce the New Play Award and citations, recognizing outstanding new plays that have premiered professionally in the previous year outside of New York City. Following the awards ceremony, Anne Bogart, one of American theatre’s most innovative and influential artists, returns to Actors Theatre and takes the stage. With the nation—and the field—at a crossroads, join us for this thought-provoking address by the celebrated director, author, professor and Co-Artistic Director of SITI Company. THIS EVENT IS $10. Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 to purchase your ticket.
ENCORE BASH Saturday, April 7 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 Theatre’s 54th Season. We are ecstatic to share this with our extended theatre family!
MARCHâ€”APRIL 2018 A COMPLETE GUIDE TO EVENTS AT ACTORS THEATRE
3/2 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: GOD SAID THIS immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/3 BEHIND-THE-SCENES TECH EVENT: MARGINAL LOSS at 7 p.m. Season Ticket Holders: FREE General Admission: $15
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.
3/8 OPENING NIGHT KORBEL TOAST AND RECEPTION: MARGINAL LOSS immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/25 ASSISTING: LEARNING BY SUPPORTING at 12 p.m.
See page 32 for details.
3/25 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: we, the invisibles immediately following the 7 p.m. performance
3/31 LESSONS FROM INCLUSIVE THEATRE: MAKING WORK ACCESSIBLE TO THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY at 10 a.m.
See page 32 for details.
3/11 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: DO YOU FEEL ANGER?
3/31 OVATION CELEBRATION
immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
See page 33 for details.
3/18 OPENING NIGHT KORBEL TOAST AND RECEPTION: EVOCATION TO VISIBLE APPEARANCE
4/6 THE KILROYS IN CONVERSATION
immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance
3/23 OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION: YOU ACROSS FROM ME immediately following the 11 p.m. performance
3/24 COLLEGE DAYS KEYNOTE ADDRESS WITH A. REY PAMATMAT: LOVING WHAT YOU HATE WHEN IT HATES YOU, TOO at 10:30 a.m.
See page 32 for details.
at 10 p.m.
at 1 p.m.
See page 33 for details.
4/7 THE STEINBERG/ATCA NEW PLAY AWARDS AND ANNE BOGART: A CALL TO ACTION at 9 p.m.
See page 33 for details.
4/7 ENCORE BASH at 10 p.m.
See page 33 for details.
FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE SHOWS AT ACTORS THEATRE
42 ND HUMANA FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS FEBRUARY 28 â€“ APRIL 8, 2018
2:30 GOD (B)
7:30 GOD (B)
7:30 GOD (B)
7:30 LOSS (P)
7:30 LOSS (P)
7:30 LOSS (P)
8:00 GOD (B)
7:30 GOD (B)
7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 LOSS (P)
2:30 LOSS (P) 7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 LOSS (P)
7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 GOD (B) 8:00 EVOCATION (P) 11:00 ACROSS (B)
2:30 ANGER (B) 2:30 EVOCATION (P) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 GOD (B) 8:00 LOSS (P) 11:00 ACROSS (B)
2:30 LOSS (P) 7:30 ANGER (B)
2:30 ANGER (B) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
2:30 ANGER (B) 2:30 LOSS (P) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
10:30 ACROSS* (B) 2:00 LOSS (P) 2:00 INVISIBLES (V) 2:30 GOD (B) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 LOSS (P)
10:30 ACROSS* (B) 1:00 EVOCATION (P) 2:30 GOD (B) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 LOSS (P)
7:30 GOD (B)
7:30 LOSS (P)
7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
7:30 ANGER (B)
7:30 GOD (B) 7:30 LOSS (P)
7:30 ANGER (B) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
1:30 EVOCATION (P) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 7:30 EVOCATION (P)
1:30 LOSS (P) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 7:30 LOSS (P)
God Said This = GOD Marginal Loss = LOSS Do You Feel Anger? = ANGER
7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 GOD (B) 8:00 LOSS (P)
7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 GOD (B) 8:00 EVOCATION (P)
7:30 GOD (B) 8:00 EVOCATION (P)
3:00 GOD (B) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 LOSS (P) 11:00 ACROSS (B)
3:00 GOD (B) 3:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:00 INVISIBLES (V) 7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 LOSS (P) 11:00 ACROSS (B)
Evocation to Visible Appearance = EVOCATION we, the invisibles = INVISIBLES You Across from Me = ACROSS
12:00 INVISIBLES (V) 2:30 ANGER (B) 4:00 EVOCATION (P) 5:00 INVISIBLES (V) 8:00 GOD (B) 8:00 EVOCATION (P)
12:00 LOSS (P) 12:00 INVISIBLES (V) 2:30 ANGER (B) 5:00 EVOCATION (P) 6:30 INVISIBLES (V) 7:00 GOD (B)
Preview Performance Opening Performance Audio Described
Schedule subject to change. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted. *Indicates a.m. performance.
Performances in BOLD =
(P) = Pamela Brown Auditorium (B) = Bingham Theatre (V) = Victor Jory Theatre
2:30 GOD (B) 7:30 ANGER (B) 8:00 EVOCATION (P)
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
Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund at the Fund for the Arts
4/24, 4/25 & 4/26 NEW VOICES YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL An evening of eight world-premiere ten-minute plays selected from more than 800 entries to the annual New Voices Ten-Minute Play Contest, written by students from around the region. Presented by the Professional Training Company and the Actors
13 ANNUAL TH
39th HUMANA FESTIVAL OF NEW AMERICAN PLAYS March 4–April 12, 2015
All seats are $5. Please call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 or visit ActorsTheatre.org to purchase tickets. Tickets are available starting April 10.
Young Playwrights Festival SPONSORED BY:
Published on Feb 26, 2018