BWW Interviews: Theatre  Brings New Works To The Next Stage
Two years ago, Actors Theatre's longtime leader Jon Jory returned to Louisville as the inaugural guest of a series of "Artist Conversations" held by the Kentucky Center for the Arts. He shared his experiences and led a casual, open discussion with local theatre professionals on how to build a theatre company from scratch. One of the questions posed to Jory that night was about the biggest risks a company could take starting out.
"Doing all new plays," Jory responded.
A tremor of laughter rippled through the room. Gil Reyes, the evening's host, was one-third of an artistic trio that had recently announced the formation of a New Theatre Company. Its focus?
Now set to open the final show of their third season, Laura Schellhardt's "Auctioning the Ainsleys," Reyes and fellow co-Artistic Directors Amy Attaway and Mike Brooks can call Theatre 's mission statement of "recent and relevant" a success. Strictly speaking, they avoid world premieres, territory well-trod locally by Actors Theatre's annual Humana Festival of New American of New American Plays. Theatre  selects plays that have a premiere and perhaps a second production under their belts. They give these nascent plays a regional debut in Louisville that is well-directed, well-acted, technically ambitious, and essential to a new script's prestige and longevity.
"Our founding mission was to produce recent and relevant plays, work by playwrights we love that we think will speak to Louisville audiences," says Attaway. "It does feel risky, but we took the leap believing that Louisville audiences would want to see the kind of work we wanted to make. So far, we've not been disappointed."
"Plays need more than one production to reach their full potential and develop an audience," Brooks says. "Can you imagine if 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' had only ever run three weekends? Those subsequent productions can be very hard for playwrights to book these days, and we're proud to be an outlet for great plays after their premieres."
Theatre  produces three shows in its mainstage season, with Attaway, Brooks, and Reyes directing one play each. Its production history includes prominent names in playwrighting such as Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl and Humana Festival alumnus Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Attaway helms "Auctioning the Ainsleys," opening this Saturday in the Victor Jory Theater at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
An extensive professional and personal history - working together as actors, directors, and friends with a plethora of local companies for over a decade - brought the three together to fill this niche in Louisville's theatre scene. A sizable contingent of local artists followed them in pursuing their vision for Theatre . Brooks says the biggest change for the company over its first three seasons has been how big the "family" has gotten. "We have worked with more than 100 talented and courageous artists in just these first two years, and their energy and curiosity keeps pushing us to dream bigger and do better."
Beyond the core season, the company is a producing partner of the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, a showcase of uncommon and experimental theatre by a variety of local artists, and has instituted its own experimental arm with its Small Batch Series. For the Slant Festival in November, Brooks will direct Reyes in "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" by Will Eno, whose "Gnit" was a highlight of this year's Humana Festival.
The company is deep into the most extensive Small Batch project: "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn," a serial drama playing once a month during the First Friday Trolley Hop at Baron's Theater in Whiskey Row. Chapter five of "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn" premieres this Friday. The serial runs through April 2014.
Attaway says the perfect storm of three events made "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn" possible. The co-artistic directors were looking for a new way to produce theatre for their third season. The proprietor of Baron's reached out to them about performing in the space, formerly a home to magic acts under the name Squirelly's Magic Tea Room. Simultaneously, native playwrights Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds returned to Louisville and, inspired by the venue's unique character, leapt at the idea of writing a yearlong serial.