Generated by Enthusiasm: Actors Theatre Announces New Season of Plays

Actors Theatre of Louisville will re-mount a revised production of Naomi Iizuka’s “At the Vanishing Point,” a play written about Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood that premiered in the 2004 Humana Festival of New American Plays, in their next season. The theatre announced the next season’s lineup today.

The 2014-15 season will open in September with a playful adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Love’s Labors Lost” by members of the former Minneapolis-based Theatre de la Jeune Lune, followed by a musical about love and marriage directed by associate artistic director Meredith McDonough.

The lineup also includes productions of Nina Raine’s award-winning, popular family drama “Tribes,” one of last season’s most popular plays across American theatre, and the second in MacArthur Fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Yoruba-inspired Brother/Sister Plays trilogy.

“I’ve known Tarell since he was a playwriting student at Yale,” says artistic director Les Waters. “He’s an extraordinary man, and writes in a particular lyrical voice, and writes often about characters whose voices are not heard on stage. This links up with ‘Tribes’ in a way, giving voice to the disenfranchised.”

Lexington pop cellist and composer Ben Sollee will create an original score for the new production of “At the Vanishing Point,” which opens next January. Waters, who directed the world premiere and will direct the remount, says his relationship with Butchertown has changed in the last ten years – he lives in Louisville now, and the neighborhood to the east of downtown is part of his stomping grounds.

“It seemed like a good idea to go back, to interview people again, to talk about how the community has changed, what it’s like to live in Butchertown if Nulu is your neighbor,” says Waters. “And I’ve wanted to collaborate with figures in the wonderful music scene here.”

The original production was a site-specific work staged in a warehouse on Cabel Street, but the new production, which opens in January, will be in the Pamela Brown Auditorium. 

“I think sometimes people who come to see other shows at Actors Theatre don’t see shows in the Humana [Festival],” says Waters. “So it seemed like a good idea to bring something back that was specifically created for this community and do it in the mainstage season.”

Waters says the process of programming a mainstage season (the Humana Festival slate of world premieres is announced in November) springs primarily from the passions of the artistic staff.

“The process is generated by enthusiasm,” says Waters. “By projects we’ve looked at, plays that are out there – ‘Tribes’ is one of the plays I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years –fellow artists that we’d like to collaborate with, shows that we hope and believe local audiences will find interesting.”

And so McDonough’s love for musical theatre will be channeled into Jason Brown’s “The Last Five Years,” a small-cast musical that tells the story of a marriage along two timelines which McDonough will direct. It’s the kind of musical, like last season’s “Girlfriend,” that’s right-sized for the Pamela Brown stage.

“I think there’s a real renaissance, a wave of new artists who are interested in the musical form and what it can do,” says Waters.

The 39th Humana Festival of New American Plays runs March 4-April 12, 2015. The annual holiday production of “Dracula,” revised and directed by William McNulty, returns September 12 to the Bingham Theatre, where it runs through Halloween. After ten years with the same set, the annual production of “A Christmas Carol” will get a major facelift before it opens November 25. 

Here’s a look at the upcoming season:

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare, as reimagined by Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers and Dominique Serrand. Directed by Dominique Serrand. September 2 – 21, 2014 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium

A world premiere adaptation by Epp, Keepers and Serrand, formerly of Minneapolis’ now-defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune. The three previously collaborated at Actors Theatre with The Miser (2004) and Fissures (lost and found) (2010 Humana Festival).

“They are wonderful at re-imagining classics, and they are great physical theatre people,” says Waters. “They are artists who are super-aware of an audience, and they’re very playful.” 

From the release: The king and his fellow scholars vow to seclude themselves from worldly distractions, but when a lovely princess and her ladies arrive and set up camp, this oath proves harder to keep than any of them imagined.

“The Last Five Years” with book, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Associate Artistic Director Meredith McDonough. October 7 – 26, 2014 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium

This small and intimate musical (“About the size of ‘Girlfriend,’” says Waters.) will feature a cast of two, plus six local musicians.

From the release: Jamie is a writer whose star is on the rise, and Catherine is a struggling actress.  On timelines that move in opposite directions, Jamie tells their story from his first infatuation onward, while Catherine shares their tale from the final moments of their marriage, moving backward toward the couple’s first passionate spark.

 “Tribes” by Nina Raine. Directed by Evan Cabnet. November 11 – December 7, 2014 in the Bingham Theatre

Raine’s second play to be produced was a hit in London and New York, picking up an Olivier Award nomination for best new play, a 2012 Drama Desk Award for best new play and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best foreign play. It’s one of the most frequently-produced plays in American theatres for the 2013-14 season.

“It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where I trained and where my early career was based,” says Waters. “What I love about it is that it’s about trying to find your own voice within a family. How do you get people to hear you? And the deafness obviously focuses on that, but I think we all know what it is to be part of a family.”

“I had the great honor of working on Our Town with Robert Schleifer, who’s an actor who’s deaf from Chicago. That was an eye-opener for me, his world,” adds Waters, who says a Deaf actor will portray the character of Billy.

From the release: Billy is the youngest of three adult siblings in a boisterous family. He was born deaf and raised to read lips, but has never really been heard. When he meets Sylvia, who is losing her hearing and grew up using sign language with her Deaf parents, he is introduced to new perspectives that unsettle the bonds that have defined his life until now.

“The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by KJ Sanchez. January 6 – February 1, 2015 in the Bingham Theatre

At 32, McCarney is of the youngest recipients of the prestigious McArthur Fellowship. Drawing on the Yoruba mythology of West Africa, the play examines the lives and relationships of two brothers and the friend that comes between them. Its London premiere at the Young Vic was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement. The play is the second in a trilogy, but Waters says you don’t have to see one to appreciate the other.

“The Brothers Size” is directed by KJ Sanchez, who most recently directed “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” for the 2011-12 season.

“It’s about family loyalties. Are you loyal to your family? Are you loyal to someone else?” says Waters. “It’s beautiful and it’s lyrical and it’s powerful. I wanted Tarell’s voice to be heard here.”

From the release: Just out of prison and taken in by his brother, Oshoosi Size is ready to start his life anew. When his cell mate appears at the garage where the brothers fix cars, Oshoosi finds himself struggling with temptations and conflicting loyalties that could dramatically impact his future.

“At the Vanishing Point” by Naomi Iizuka, featuring an original score by Ben Sollee. Directed by Les Waters. January 27 – February 15, 2015 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium

From the release: Naomi Iizuka returns with her beautifully-observed portrait of one of Louisville’s oldest neighborhoods—intertwining memory and myth, snapshots of the past and dreams of the present to give voice to a community. Based on extensive interviews and research on the rich history of Butchertown, At the Vanishing Point originally premiered in the 2004 Humana Festival, directed by Les Waters. A decade later, Iizuka and Waters revisit the banks of Beargrass Creek, creating an event that incorporates music by Kentucky native Ben Sollee.   

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