Arts and Humanities
4:45 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Louisville's Alley Theater Programs Off-Beat Shows in Short Bursts

The new Alley Theater on Museum Row.
Credit Alley Theater

Louisville’s The Alley Theater delayed its 2014 season to begin renovations and construction inside its new storefront theater space on Main Street’s Museum Row, which are currently underway. The Alley will open its new season in March, but don't ask them what's playing Labor Day weekend. Starting this year, aside from holiday shows, the company will announce its programming in three-month chunks.

It's a departure from how they’ve worked in the past. Like most performing arts companies, The Alley programmed a year in advance and made an annual announcement. Traditionally, it’s a practically model – season ticket holders want to know what they’re buying before they subscribe, show rights need to be secured, and the schedules of in-demand actors, directors and designers fill up quickly.

But filling all of your available show spots a year (or more) in advance can leave a company locked into its decisions, especially for a company that, at this point, doesn’t sell season subscriptions.

“In the past we’ve had some problems, where we’d announce a show and for various reasons we had to change plans. So we figured it would give us more leeway and wiggle room to plan ahead, but also to change course if we needed to,” says Alley Theater artistic director Todd Ziegler. “And also, given that we create a lot of our stuff in-house, it gives us a chance to have some great light bulb ideas and say, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this sort of thing?”

It also allows the company to extend the run of a popular show, or even respond to current events in a more timely fashion

“This definitely gives us that flexibility to look at things that are going on, look at conversations that are happening and say, what do we have to say about this?” says Ziegler. “We’re looking forward to the chance to do that.”

The Alley Theater specializes in off-beat, pop culture-inspired fare. The upcoming season kicks off March 4 with a one-night appearance by touring burlesque group “The Pretty Things Peep Show,” followed by a remount of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” March 6-13. The popular “Star Wars in Sixty Minutes or Less” returns for one weekend March 6-8 in the late-night slot, and in April, the company will experiment with a possible new cult favorite – the “glitter-disco-sci/fi” comedy “Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens,” which some consider an heir to the “Rocky Horror Show” campy audience participation mantle. It could prove an attractive alternative entertainment option for the downtown tourism crowd.

“If response is good, if we’re getting a crowd of out-of-towners and tourists, and also maybe it’s a show like ‘Evil Dead’ that generates the kinds of fans that want to come back over and over, we’ll clear space and keep it going as long as people want to come see it,” says Ziegler.

And the Alley’s annual new-play festival returns March 28-April 19 with a new theme. Superhuman: A Festival (the name’s a cheeky play on the annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville) will feature two full-length productions and a bill of short plays, all with a superhero theme. The company selected those plays from more than 200 submissions. Superhuman: A Festival replaces Inhuman: A Festival, a zombie-themed new-play festival the company has produced for the last two years.

“We were becoming zombied out,” says Ziegler. “This feels like a good bet for us.”

This year’s full-length festival plays are Jordan Pulliam’s “Bat-Hamlet,” a parody mash-up of, well,  “Batman” and “Hamlet,” and “The Ballad of Night Moose,” a supervillain crime caper by Louisville playwrights Lex Mitchell and Ben Unwin.

“If I had to compare their writing style to anyone, it’s sort of like Steve Martin absurdism and quippiness in a superhero mold,” says Ziegler.

The quarter-season’s not entirely saturated with pop culture homage – the infrequently-staged Shakespeare history “King John” (March 20-23) and an evening of mid-century one-acts, “The Ruffian on the Stair” by Joe Orton and “The Dumb Waiter” by Harold Pinter (June 4-22) round out the mainstage season.

“That’s the other side of our mission, doing theatre nobody’s really touched in a while,” says Ziegler.

The popular “Evil Dead: the Musical” returns in October, and the recent Christmas hit “All the Whos in Whoville” will return as seasonal anchors.