A two and a half hour drive south from Oxford leads to a weekend of new plays and one of the most important regional theater festivals in America. For the spring session of Theater History II, it was a weekend spent in Louisville, KY seeing four plays and exploring the city.
Theater majors are required to take a trip to the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theater of Louisville at least once during their college career. Through a grant from the Humana Foundation, the festival is in its 36 year.
This year, the Theater History II class, made up mostly of sophomore theater majors, drove to Louisville the afternoon of March 16. With specific weekends set aside for college visitors, the festival presents new plays each year as well as workshops, including monologue workshops and panel discussion with artists who work on the festival.
“Oh, Gastronomy!”, a series of vignettes about how food brings people together, premiered over the weekend. Performed by the Actors Theater apprentice company, the show used different conventions and styles to draw in the audience and get their message across.
Jordan Carlson, a sophomore theater major focusing in playwriting, found the show to be particularly unique.
“A scene we saw, with the support group [of food addicts], they broke the fourth wall by turning the house lights on, which is something you wouldn’t see here,” Carlson said.
The fourth wall is a convention of the theater that assumes there is a wall between the action of the stage and the audience, as if the audience is looking into something that is actually happening.
One of the challenging but exciting things about new plays in their first stages is how far they push new conventions, a precarious line the playwrights, directors, designers and performers have to tread.
Many students in the theater department are training as actors and had a great opportunity to see professional actors dealing with new scripts.
“It was interesting to see actors not necessarily on Broadway … we could see how what we are learning can be applied in a way that is not highly publicized,” Daniel Carr, a senior theater major said. “We’re able to compare what we’ve learned and analyze the performances.”
The three other shows performed that weekend included “Eat Your Heart Out”, about the emphasis on appearances not only in regards to attractiveness but also in terms of seeming normal, “The V****** Play”, based on an experience dealing with the customer service of a phone company and “The Hour of Feeling”, a play about the importance of the individual versus their roots and family, set in the midst of the 1960s conflicts in the Middle East.