BWW Interviews: Local Playwright Walker Branching Out
The faces of famous Louisvillians adorning banners all over downtown speak to the influence the talented products of the River City have had on the wider world.
On local stages - and, with increasing frequency, beyond the city limits - Brian Walker's words do the talking for him.
The Louisville native has become a force in local drama, both as a playwright and producer of his own provocative, taboo-challenging works as well as a champion of the work of other writers. Walker's plays - originally staged through Finnigan Productions, the drama company he started - are now produced with increasing regularity by other local companies, and he produces an an annual all-star show of sorts with the Finnigan's Festival of Funky Fresh Fun 10-minute play showcase. Where scores of dramatically inclined artists feel the pull of the stage, Walker's muse called him to the writer's table.
"This is who I am, this is what I have to do," Walker says. "It's what I think about all day."
Walker's work will be on prominent display in Louisville theatres this Spring. "Dirty Sexy Derby Play," his highly adult full-length revenge drama, will receive its third local production from the Louisville Repertory Company at the Kentucky Center for the Arts March 6-15. Finnigan Fest will feature its seventh batch of local plays by local writers featuring local actors at The Bards Town April 3-12.
Walker's penchant for storytelling began in grade school with tiny skits performed by him and his cousins at family gatherings. He frequently led campfire entertainments in Boy Scouts and worked his way toward crafting fan-fiction sequels to his favorite movies and TV shows.
"I've always liked telling stories and telling my own version of stories," he says. "I still have a 60-page handwritten sequel to 'The Silence of the Lambs' I wrote in eight grade."
He went to the Youth Performing Arts School in his teens and fell in love with acting. After graduation, he headed west to Los Angeles to seek his fortune in acting, playing small roles in such films as "A.I." and "Austin Powers in Goldmember." He returned to the stage, and a booking on a national tour gave him stage time - as well as plenty of free time to rediscover writing.
"I had so much down time during the day because we performed at night, so I had a crazy idea for a play about a church that kidnapped gay people and tried to turn them straight and I wrote it," he says. "After the tour ended I decided to come home to Louisville for the summer to produce it. About three weeks into that summer, I realized that Louisville was home and I drove out to L.A., picked up all my stuff, and permanently set up shop in the 'Ville. I realized that summer that everything I had done up to that point had led me to start writing plays, so from then on instead of actor I was a playwright."
That play was "The Time I Was Kidnapped By the Church," staged in August 2004 as the first production under Walker's Finnigan banner. Walker wrote and produced, on average, one play a year, with eye-popping titles like "Smoke This Play," "Great American Sex Play" and "My Daddy's Name is Big Oil." He also routinely submits a short piece for Finnigan Festival, the remaining annual production for Finnigan. Walker has decided he prefers leaving producing to other companies in order to fully commit to playwrighting.
More and more over the last few years, other companies have indeed been picking up Walker's scripts - and for an aspiring professional playwright, that's as it should be, he says. "Back when I was self-producing I feel like you never heard of people doing it. Now practically all playwrights try it at some point. But the goal is to not have to. The goal is to have other artists take on your work to complete your vision. You have to submit. All the time."
Walker's submissions have landed him national and international productions. His short play "Neighborly Dos and Don'ts" was featured in 2011′s FUSION Theatre Company's The Seven festival of 10-minute plays in Albuquerque, N.M. His full-length play "POST" was part of The Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska in June 2012 and his full-length play "The Friend Factory" was developed as part of Tennessee Repertory's Ingram New Works Lab. He has two plays in development in Australia this year.
Walker frequently travels to attend productions of his work. "When you get a hit, you gotta try and go there, whether it's in New Mexico or Alaska," he says. "You have to go there and meet the people and make the connection. You have to submit all the time and you have to make people care about you and your work."
Walker is perpetually at work, developing new plays and sending out scripts in the aim to get the next production, locally or far away. But he knows where his home is.
"You don't have to live in NYC to be a successful playwright, but you do have to be willing to travel, and I'm trying to do as much of that as possible," he says. "But I wouldn't be anything without the local community, its support and mentoring, so I'll always be trying to get my work done here too. I'll always be a Kentucky playwright first."