Arts and Humanities
8:00 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

With a New Season and New Resident Artists, Louisville's Theatre [502] Looks to the Future

Neill Roberts, Erica McClure and Cara Hicks in Theatre [502]'s "Auctioning the Ainsleys."
Credit Theatre [502]

Theatre [502] formed in 2011 with three directors and  production manager who shared a vision - to produce "recent and relevant" theatre for Louisville audiences. Now co-artistic directors Amy Attaway, Gil Reyes and Mike Brooks, along with production manager (now emeritus) Brian Owens, are expanding their definitions. 

"We started with the idea that that would always mean plays that were pretty new, but not premieres, by playwrights we loved, most of whom weren’t going to be from here, but with local actors, local directors, local designers," says Attaway.

But as the company's year-long commissioned, episodic site-specific play project about Louisville magicians, "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn" by Louisville playwrights Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds, comes to a close tonight, the company's leaders have seen how "recent and relevant" can take on new dimensions.

"We’re using local writers, they’re writing for this specific place in this town, and we’ve got a group of artists just as dedicated to this mission as we are," says Attaway.

The company announced their fourth season tonight during the First Friday downtown trolley hop during the performances of the final episode of "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn." Three mainstage productions, just like the first three seasons. But now Grisanti and Moulds are coming on board as resident playwrights, and they will be charged with steering the next season's worth of Small Batch programming of quirky projects.  

Moulds and Grisanti are the latest Louisville artists to join up formally with Theatre [502], whose ranks now swell beyond the initial Fab Four of Attaway, Brooks, Owens and Reyes. They include resident sound designer Scott Anthony, lighting designer Jesse AlFord, technical director Brandon Blauser and production stage manager Starr Peters, and a host of regular actors. Working with professionals who excel in their fields is a boon for a small start-up company like [502], but it also comes with its own headaches. 

"My hope for the next four years is that we can establish a more steady financial pedestal. We need more money, basically," says Attaway. "We have all these amazing actors and artists, and we keep losing them to better-paying gigs."

Recently, that meant a movie project filming in Cincinnati took actor Leah Roberts away from her starring roles in last fall's mainstage production of "Auctioning the Ainsleys"  (an understudy performed in her stead for a handful of performances) and Grisanti and Moulds had to write her out of an episode of "The Stranger and Ludlow Quinn." Another actor will fill in for Anthony, who also performs, in his role as the thin-mustached piano player at tonight's "Ludlow Quinn," because he was hired as music director for Lucas Hnath's Humana Festival production of "The Christians" at Actors Theatre of Lousiville.

"Play by play, we keep having to suddenly have an understudy or replace someone, because our artists are the best in town, and by virtue of being the best in town, everyone wants them," Attaway says.

Call it a mixed blessing.

The company will kick off their fourth season in September with Mat Smart's "The 13th of Paris," directed by Reyes. The romantic comedy follows a young American man to Paris, where he attempts to discover his own version of the epic love his grandparents shared.

Smart was the first playwright [502] produced, with their debut production "The Debate Over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska" in the summer of 2011 (they reprised the show for the inaugural Slant Culture Theatre Festival the following year). 

"So obviously, we’re big fans of Mat’s work," says Attaway. "I think one of the things Mat does so well that we’re attracted to is how he’s able to write romantically about many subjects. In this play, he’s writing romantically about love. He has a very deft control of language and a very smart take on theatrical magic. "

"And you know how we love the theatrical magic," she adds.

"The 13th of Paris" was commissioned and developed by South Coast Repertory Theatre in Southern California and made its world premiere at Pittsburgh's City Theatre.

Attaway will direct Lucas Hnath's "Red Speedo," which made its world premiere last year at Washington, D.C.'s Studio Theatre. It's an exploration of doping culture in competitive swimming. Attaway read Hnath's early draft last year during the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre, where he was one of three playwrights on "Sleep Rock Thy Brain," the apprentice showcase Attaway directed. 

"He pays a lot of attention to the format of storytelling in his plays," says Attaway. "The storytelling of 'Red Speedo' feels like a nonstop rush. It feels like the moment before a very important game of any kind, for 90 minutes. It never lets up."

And the mainstage series will conclude next February with Anne Washburn's "Mr. Burns, a post-electric play." This post-apocalyptic story, which was commissioned by The Civilians and premiered at D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre in 2012, follows a band of survivors obsessed with the "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons" into the dark, uncertain future. The New York Times' Ben Brantley calls it "downright brilliant."

"I like Anne’s work because she is super-smart, but I think she’s able to take that smartness and package it in such relatable, funny, sharp dialog, and that really makes it come alive for me," says Attaway. 

Theatre [502] 2014-15 Mainstage Series

JUNE 20- 28, 2014
“The 13th of Paris” by Mat Smart, directed by co-artistic director Gil Reyes.
A love like poetry, like a legend, can seem impossible. That’s why Vincent has gone straight to the source - his grandparents’ apartment in the 13th District on the outskirts of Paris - with a suitcase of their letters and a bottle of wine. Determined to unlock the mystery and beauty of love, he discovers that letting the key fall might be the only answer. In the MeX Theatre, Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

SEPTEMBER 5- 13, 2014
“Red Speedo" by Lucas Hnath, directed by co-artistic director Amy Attaway.
Is there anything wrong with achieving superhuman feats when that’s what society expects of you? Ray’s talent for competitive swimming has made him an Olympic hopeful, but he’s starting to feel like discipline and training aren’t enough. When not only his own livelihood, but that of the people he loves, rest solely on the next victory, Ray has to decide how far he’ll go to win. In the Baron’s Theater.

FEBRUARY 20- 28, 2015
“Mr. Burns, a post-electric play” by Anne Washburn (director TBA).
A group of young men and women gather around a campfire, trying to remember all of the details of one iconic episode of “The Simpsons” – “Cape Feare.” College buddies passing time? Or scrappy survivors of a post-non-specific-nuclear meltdown? In a world without electricity, the human impulse to preserve and perform our shared stories still thrives. At the Clifton Center.

Slant Culture Theatre Festival (November 13-23, 2014)

“Bull” by Mike Bartlett (director TBA).
Knowing one of them is about to get the ax, three employees negotiate their distance from the chopping block in a mesmerizing dance to the death. A modern satire on survival, Bull keeps audiences laughing and cringing to the brutal end. At Walden Theatre.

Small Batch Series

First Fridays at the Baron’s Theatre, project(s) TBA, spearheaded by resident playwrights Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds.