The Louisville Free Public Library’s Library U course for January is on the changing role of American theater. Actors Theatre of Louisville associate director Zan Sawyer-Dailey will offer an an insider’s look at the art of making theater at the Main Library.
Sawyer-Dailey’s course will cover the history of the regional theater movement and Actors Theatre, how the theater’s artistic decisions are made, and offer a look at the upcoming Humana Festival of New American Plays.
“Who are the people who work at Actors Theatre, how do we find them, how does an actor survive professionally, how do artists and designers and directors work? We’ll spend some time talking about how we plan our season, what kinds of plays we look for and why, and we’ll spend some time looking at what’s coming up in this year’s Humana Festival, who are the writers, how do we select the plays, and what makes Humana Festival unique,” says Sawyer-Dailey.
The class meets Tuesday evenings, January 8-29, 5:45-7 p.m., at the Main Library. Library U courses are free, but registration is requested. Call (502) 574-1635 to register.
Now in her 28th season at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Sawyer-Dailey is intimately involved in the theater’s high-level producing decisions, from organizing the season to selecting directors and designers to casting each show. On a recent casting trip to New York, Sawyer-Dailey’s team auditioned 130 actresses for six roles in one Humana Festival play. Her role in the room, she says, is to keep the director focused.
“Part of my job isn’t to tell the director who the good actors are, but to keep their energy up, keep their focus up, keep the room lively so there’s good energy in the room, and help them to remember what it was that they set out to find,” says Sawyer-Dailey. “Because they can easily get distracted by someone who is charming or has a great look for the role or any number of things that can sidetrack them. I come back by asking questions. How is this going to help you?”
Her course won’t have tests or drills, Sawyer-Dailey says, but there will be some reading and theater exercises, as well as an exploration of the ten-minute play, now a mainstay of American theater whose roots are firmly grounded in Actors Theatre’s own Humana Festival.
“Part of our goal as an organization, and part of my joy and pleasure is to introduce people to the concept of what it is to make theater, what it is to be an art form,” adds Sawyer-Dailey. “You think about playing a musical instrument, and you understand that you’re going to have to learn how to play all of those scales, and you’re going to have to learn how to read music, and it’s like learning a language and that’s an obvious discipline, as is dance.”
“This class will be information-sharing, and answering questions, and introducing people to what makes [the theater industry] a little more complex than they may realize,” she adds.
We asked Sawyer-Dailey to identify one or two big trends in American theater that have emerged over the course of her career, and she obliged.
“The impact of film and television on the theater industry has been somewhat crushing. When I started my career as an actress years ago, artistic people didn’t think about film and television. That wasn’t part of the theater world. But now, young people coming out of training programs, that is their goal, to do film and television. They see theater as a minor stepping stone on the way there. I work with lots of agents who tell me, no, during pilot season, we will not let our people go out of town. I’ve had young actors who had virtually nothing – nothing – on their resume have to turn down great opportunities to come to a great theater where they could actually learn something about themselves and their skill and their craft, because they’re staying in town in hopes that they might get a pilot because it could launch their television career. It’s really crushing.
“There are other things. The whole economy right now is very difficult. Theater cannot ever hope to pay – even New York theater doesn’t pay – enough wages that people can live on it alone. You have to underwrite your income with film and television, and a lot of us do teaching in order to underwrite our income. But that’s just always a given, that’s not a new thing, it’s actually improved.
“The impact on film is seen on the kinds of plays that we’re getting from younger writers, who don’t think anymore about stagecraft. Plays are much less linear, so they jump around in time, they jump from scene to scene to scene, short scenes that take place all over the place. How to actually put that on stage, as opposed to on screen, is very challenging. That’s a direct influence on film. And so we see a lot of video on our stages. That’s technology that’s caught up with us, and we’ve finally begun to say this is technology we can use. But I think it’s indicative of the fact that people are so accustomed to looking at screens and getting information so quickly that we need to do that to keep them connected to the production.”