Actors Theatre of Louisville opens Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning family and addiction drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” Thursday in the Pamela Brown Auditorium. Directed by artistic director Les Waters, the production runs through October 28.Waters directed at Actors Theatre previous to his artistic director appointment (Charles Mee's "Big Love," 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays; Naomi Iizuka’s “At the Vanishing Point,” 2004 Humana Festival). This season, he will also direct "Girlfriend," a musical homage to the pop music of Matthew Sweet that opens in January, and Will Eno's new play "Gnit" in the upcoming Humana Festival.“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a semi-autobiographical play about a family much like the playwright’s own—famous actor (and alcoholic) patriarch James Tyrone spends one long, recriminating day with his sickly younger son Edmund (based on O’Neill), eldest son Jamie, also an actor, and their bitter mother Mary, as they all struggle to reconcile past mistakes and learn how to forgive as well as forget.In the script’s dedication to his wife Carlotta, O’Neill wrote the play is one “of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” O'Neill planned for the play to stay un-produced and even unpublished for 25 years after his death. But after his death in 1953, Carlotta transferred the rights to Yale University, which published the first edition just three years later.“It’s one of the great plays of American theater,” says Waters. “It’s a very honest, sometimes funny, grueling look at one’s own dysfunctional family, what had happened to them and how they struggled to come to terms with things.”O'Neill was one of the first American stage masters of realism, infusing his scripts with relatively common speech (though his famously poetic stage directions have sparked their own theatrical spin-off, the Neo-Futurists' "The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 1") and unflinching portrayals of society's fringe, including prostitutes and alcoholics. "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is considered his masterpiece. As "Long Day's Journey" begins, Mary is recently home from rehabilitation for her long-term morphine addiction, trying to regain a sense of normalcy as the men watch her for signs of relapse, while drinking heavily themselves."I think what makes the play brilliant is O’Neill’s big, big heart, in the end, about his family," says Waters. "During the course of this long day, the family begins to move from avoidance and denial and evading each other to actually talking about what the situation is."The setting is a country cottage resembling Monte Cristo, the Connecticut house O’Neill’s father bought with the considerable income he made playing the lead role in the melodrama “The Count of Monte Cristo” more than 5,000 times. Waters says the fact that the Tyrones are a theater family captured his attention.“My wife is a set and costume designer, my kids have been brought up around people in the theater,” he says. “Over my career I have known a few people who are children of famous actors but are also in the theater business themselves, and being very interested in what that is like, if you’re the child of a famous parent.”O’Neill describes the interior of the cottage in great detail in his script, but in his production, Waters has pared the stage down. In a nod to the Tyrone family profession, the actors will stay on the sidelines, in sight of the audience, while off-stage.“I’ve spent hours—years—of my life in a rehearsal room, where actors will walk off stage and sit at the side and wait for their next scene. I’ve become very intrigued by that,” says Waters. “It is a play about people in the theater, and I wanted to incorporate what we go through in a rehearsal room into an actual performance.”Tyrone’s sons and wife resent him and the rootless lifestyle they lived, even as it provided a livelihood and considerable education for the sons. But there are resentments enough to go around in the Tyrone summer house—for Mary, as her sons still reel from childhood emotional neglect, and for Jamie, whom Mary blames for a family tragedy that occurred when he was a small child. In many ways, the Tyrones live in the past, re-living and re-casting blame as a way of avoiding the tragedies of the present.“I think one of the things the play is dealing with is can you escape the past? Is that in fact possible?” says Waters. “Mary says at one point in reply to something the husband has said, ‘I can forgive but I can’t forget.’ The word ‘remember’ occurs hundreds of times in the play, often starting out very positively, but it usually slides into some kind of accusation.In his foreword to the latest edition of the play, critic Harold Bloom calls O’Neill “the elegist of the Freudian ‘family romance,’ of the domestic tragedy of which we all die daily, a little bit at a time.” But Waters sees hope for the Tyrones.“I was listening to a scene the other day and thought, ‘if this was me I would walk and never come back.’ But these characters don’t,” he says. “All families say appalling things to each other, really devastating things, but these characters say the devastating thing and then say, you know, but I do love you. They stick together. They help each other through it.”
Theatre  closes its season with another successful production of a relevant and recent award-winning play. Annie Baker's “The Aliens” (2010 Obie Award for best new American play) is a love letter to the fragility of chosen families and the gentle geniuses our fast-paced society quietly leaves behind. Delicately understated performances by the three actors and careful direction by co-artistic director Mike Brooks make this hushed beauty an unlikely exclamation point on the end of the new company's second season.KJ (Brandon Cox) and Jasper (Scott Anthony) are genuine misfits, existing on the fringes of their small Vermont town, barely holding onto life by holding onto each other. They gather every day on the abandoned outdoor staff lounge behind the neighborhood coffee shop to smoke, talk about math and women, take mushrooms and pass the time. Baker's scenes tend to end on a moment of silence rather than a line or a decisive action, and in between there are many quiet elliptical moments where the actors are allowed to fidget, read or stare off into space―just like real humans.The film world calls this particular brand of realism “mumblecore,” a fidelity to how younger people really talk and move, as opposed to the heightened theatrical sense of dialog and action one expects on stage or screen. But Baker's silences offer more than a dogged authenticity. They create a tension of their own―is what's coming next a break-through or a breakdown?―that is as theatrical as any rapid-fire dialog. Each silence is a chance for the actors to color the stage. Some extended pauses are awkward, others are peaceful.Many of Brooks' recent directing projects have been louder, faster, talkier (Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's “Hunter Gatherers” and “boom,” John Cameron Mitchell's “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), but “The Aliens” shows Brooks knows how to pace a show that almost resists pacing―paradoxically, the long pauses never impede the play's deliberate unfolding.We learn over the course of the play that KJ's health is fragile and that Jasper's an autodidact with a keen sense of his own outsider status. But they are a family, these two, taking care of each other with an unabashed brotherly love that betrays no tired traits of the competitive, hyper-masculine bromance. They make music together, seemingly only for each other. Cox and Anthony have such gentle chemistry, and they each imbue their characters with a tender sense of humanity, in every philosophical question and nervous tic. They have moments of singular physical beauty, too―Cox's dreamy dance with a Fourth of July sparkler, Anthony's Beat-infused reading from atop the dumpster. It's easy to see how Evan (a pitch-perfect Zachary Burrell), a nerdy, stilted, up-talking busboy, could become fascinated with their bizarre little nest, an inner zone where the needs and acts of the outside world need not intrude, and feel like he, too, might belong to it and to them.KJ and Jasper don't bond over albums and video games like most small-town guys their age. They love the poems of Charles Bukowski, and manage to make what is often a cautionary character trait seem charming, even innocent. And if they are job-less losers with nowhere better to go than the picnic table next to a coffee shop's dumpster, they are at least creating―out of KJ's wild imagination comes an endearing original song, and Jasper's writing a novel, no worse than many first novel drafts that make their way into university workshops every day. Their potential is there, but the realization is stunted by circumstance and their ability to move forward in the world―if only, if only, this play seems to say. I have known these men, as probably many have, and they and their lost potential are one tragedy after another. To watch a young Evan devastated by them is yet another round. Really, this entire play is a heartbreaker. (Isn't that one reason we go to the theater, to break our hearts over and over? Think of it as good exercise.) And yet Baker's optimism shines through even a tragic ending. These men, overlooked by most, were there for each other. They mattered to someone.As in previous productions, Theatre 's artistic affiliates are in fine design form for this show. Karl Anderson's set makes solid use of the intimate VJ stage, creating a delightfully authentic nest (those awful, sturdy green plastic chairs; the ubiquitous empty flower pots that signal hope for a cheerful oasis has withered from neglect). His fence and gate surrounding the patio also allow some key differences between the characters to take physical form. Jesse AlFord's lights literally illuminate a beautiful moment the three share when Fourth of July fireworks begin. And while Anthony's sound design plays a less prominent role in this show than in others (there's a lot of silence, remember), linger a bit after curtain to hear the beautiful recording of the “Frogmen” song, a small bit of legacy KJ and Jasper can leave behind (recorded by The Greens, Michael Chernus, the original KJ, and Patch Darragh).“The Aliens” opened Friday and runs through Oct. 13 in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Today on Byline, WFPL's arts and humanities reporter Erin Keane gave a quick rundown on some of the many arts highlights for this weekend, including productions by Theatre 502, Kentucky Opera, and Looking for Lilith.Then she spoke with Lynnelle Edwards, President of Louisville Literary Arts, which puts on the annual Writer's Block Festival. The festival this year takes place next weekend on Market Street in Louisville, and includes panel discussions of the publishing industry and young adult writing; showcase readings by numerous local authors; and workshops in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and young adult literature.
The Kentucky Opera opened a company premiere last night of Benjamin Britten's "The Prodigal Son," an installment of the celebrated 20th century composer's Parables for Church Play trilogy. It's part of the company's contemporary chamber series, staged in St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church in Harrods Creek and featuring a small chamber orchestra ensemble, members of the Choral Arts Society and the Opera's studio artists."The Prodigal Son" tells the biblical New Testament parable of loss and redemption. A younger son leaves his father and older brother behind on the family farm to go off into the world and sample its pleasures, only to return home in disgrace when he wastes his inheritance. Britten staged the opera as a play within a play, using the conceit of the medieval church mystery play, in which monks act out the story for the benefit of their largely illiterate congregation. Staging the production in a church brings a site specificity to the experience that illuminates the necessity of theater as a storytelling vehicle in early European life.Seeing an intimate contemporary opera so soon on the heels of the season opener, Puccini's grand tragedy "Tosca," provided a delightful study in contrasts. The audience for "The Prodigal Son" was a bit less formally dressed (church clothes rather than opera gowns) for a less formal, though no less solemn, performance space. "Tosca" is a three-act heavyweight, hurtling non-stop toward its tragic end, while "The Prodigal Son" is a brisk 70-minute one-act that many will know ends in reconciliation and redemption. The musical experience is quite different, and not only because "The Prodigal Son" calls for an odd little mix of instruments in its chamber ensemble (organ, viola, bass, flute, horn, trumpet, harp and percussion), rather than the full orchestra backing "Tosca." Britten's compositions are also beautifully volatile, incorporating calls and response over Puccini's arias. His score reflects Balinese and Japanese influences (the program notes are quite handy) and sounds thoroughly modern, showing how far opera and classical composition came in the 20th century ("Tosca" premiered in 1900, "The Prodigal Son" in 1968). The cast is all male, save one child member of the chorus, so the overall story tone is different without a lead soprano like the riveting Kara Shay Thomson (Floria Tosca) to both anchor and soar. The cast is young, even if you don't count the pint-sized chorus members who provide the top-end notes. Kentucky Opera's studio artists (emerging singers in residence who are learning the repertory and professional ropes before going out on their own) give "The Prodigal Son" a youthful energy, particularly compared to the grounded, full maturity of the experienced "Tosca" cast. Brad Raymond plays the lead monk who introduces the play and so he takes on the shape of The Tempter, a Satan analog who encourages the daydreaming younger son (Patrick MacDevitt, younger than most as a trainee studio artist) to forsake his father (John Arnold) and older brother (Greg Jebaily) and head off to the big bad city for drinking, gambling and consorting with a bad crowd. Raymond, who played the evil henchman Spoletta in "Tosca," demonstrates a solid acting talent, able to do much with his eyes and body while singing a demanding role. His presence on stage grows when not competing with the formidable Michael Chioldi (his evil boss, Baron Scarpia, in "Tosca"). "The Prodigal Son" has one more performance tonight at 8 p.m. at St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church. The next Kentucky Opera production to open is Massenet's "Cinderella" (Nov. 2-4) in the Brown Theatre.
It’s fine to hit the downtown First Friday Trolley Hop without a plan. Park, wander in and out of galleries, grab a drink or dinner with friends and hop a TARC trolley from one end of downtown to the next and back—you’re sure to find something to catch your eye or ears.But with so many events and gallery receptions happening at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so every month we take a look at five don’t-miss art events happening during the hop.Garner Narrative Contemporary Fine Art: "Globalized Art, and What Does This Mean Now?" Keith Stone's Red Penguin Series considers how art travels and changes meaning, using the trademark 21C Museum Hotel red penguins, brought to Louisville from an artist collective in Italy via the Venice Biennale. 642 East Market St.Zephyr Gallery: "Light Box." For this exhibition of new large-scale works by Letitia Quesenberry and Chris Radtke, each artist has created their own room-sized installation in which the lack of light requires an immediate adjustment of the viewer's senses. The exhibit explores the artists' shared interest in perception and presence. 610 E. Market St.The Green Building: "Local Fare." Art and food collide in an exhibit exploring the theme of food and and our relationships with it, even celebrating a shared vocalbulary (color, texture, presentation). Social, political, moral and environmental issues surrounding the production and consumption of food are also addressed in work from Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New York and several Louisville artists. 732 E. Market St.Tim Faulkner Gallery: "The Peripheral." James Russell May's distinctive renderings of the human form are on full display in this new exhibit. The Faulkner building is a must-stop on the opening circuit any month, thanks to a festive vibe created by live music and the convivial gallery owner and staff. 943 Franklin St.Firehouse Gallery: "PhotoRESINation." Photographer and Louisville native Jenny Zeller mixes app-driven smart phone environmental portraits with layers of wax and resin for a surreal mixed media approach that melds old-fashioned tactile sensation with a digital sensibility. The gallery also hosts "13 Artists' Points of View," a group show. 221 S. Hancock St.[BONUS] River Bend Winery: Costumes from "Beauty and the Beast." Musical theater fans can plan a refreshment stop at River Bend to check out costumes from the upcoming Broadway in Louisville touring production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Please don't spill anything on Belle's dress. 120 S. 10th St.
Theatre  closes its second season with Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” an Obie Award-winning play about three misfits who bond behind a Vermont coffee shop.“The Aliens” opens Friday in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville and runs through Oct. 13.Theatre  co-artistic director Mike Brooks says when he read “The Aliens" two years ago, it jumped to the top of the company’s “must-produce” pile. “It was all a matter of when the right team came together and clicked, because these are some very specific characters coming from some very specific points of view. Also, the dialog has such a specific rhythm and musicality to it. It’s like Mamet, but with THC instead of testosterone,” says Brooks. “We like to say it’s a little Bukowski meets Beckett.”“The Aliens” premiered off-Broadway at Rattlesticks Playwright Theater in 2010. It shared the Obie for best new American play with Baker’s 2009-10 premiere, “Circle Mirror Transformation.” Baker, 31, is a member of New Dramatists and a graduate of the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.“I think this show really puts right out front some incredible strengths of hers,” says Brooks, who also directs. “To be so young and to have such insight into people and the way that they really behave, in ways that are not always grand or well-considered, but are true and that speak to what really move us deep down.”“The Aliens” tells the quiet story of KJ and Jasper, two creative misfits who, having claimed a staff-only space behind a coffee shop as their hangout, adopt high school coffee shop worker Evan (the playwright describes him as “existing in a state of constant humiliation”) into their strange fold.Three intertwined coming-of-age stories—with different starting points—follow. Brooks calls the characters “people who can’t always take care of themselves taking turns taking care of each other.”“They’re trying to understand the world around them and how they can fit into that. In trying to find this common ground and common language, they tell us a really beautiful story about the struggle to connect in a society that’s advanced beyond our capacity to really understand it or come to grips with it,” says Brooks. “As humans, our hardware can’t possibly evolve as fast as our software. We’re all trying to run HTML 5 on an Atari 2600.”Brooks and his co-artistic directors, Amy Attaway and Gil Reyes, formed Theatre  last summer. It’s safe to say the company has made a big impression on the arts community with its first two seasons. This year, the fledgling company took home a LEO Reader’s Choice Award for best theater troupe, with runner-up nods for best production (2011’s “Broadsword”) and best performing arts group. The company will reprise their very first play, Reyes’ production of Mat Smart’s “The Debate Over Courtney O’Connell of Columbus, Nebraska,” in the Slant Culture Theatre Festival in November.“It feels great to have met with the reception we have and have the kind of success, not just artistically, but building our audience, bringing people through the door and telling our stories,” says Brooks.Now, Brooks says the artistic directors are “knee-deep” in play scripts, planning for their third season. The artistic team has always been candid about wanting to produce the kinds of plays they want to see–recent, relevant works by exciting, living playwrights like Baker (and Jordan Harrison and Rajiv Joseph).“There are so many great writers out there telling stories of humanity and cruelty and unexpected twists, left and right, and we think we have some real surprises up our sleeves for Louisville,” he says.
This week on our new audio diary series “The Big Break,” Louisville Ballet trainee takes us inside rehearsals for "Lady of the Camellias" with choreographer Val Caniparoli. Actors Theatre apprentice Samantha Beach contemplates holiday audition season and Kentucky Opera studio artist Brad Raymond, fresh off his turn as evil henchman Spoletta "Tosca," prepares for another devilish role in "The Prodigal Son."Learn more about our audio diarists, who report in every Thursday about what it's like to work in a professional performing arts company.
The Kentucky Opera opens a company premiere this week. Benjamin Britten’s “The Prodigal Son,” which premiered in 1968, is part of Kentucky Opera's Chamber Series of Contemporary Opera staged in alternative venues around Louisville.Performances are Thursday and Friday evening at St. Francis in the Fields Episcopalian Church in Prospect. “The Prodigal Son” is one of three parables told by Jesus that deal with loss and redemption. A rich landowner’s younger son asks for his inheritance so he can leave home and pursue a life of pleasure, only to end up penniless and back at home, begging forgiveness.The one-act opera is the third installment of Benjamin Britten’s Parables for Church Performance trilogy. Opera general director David Roth says Britten took his dramatic inspiration from Japanese Noh theater and medieval church dramas performed by clergy for largely illiterate congregations. “Britten effectively uses the setting of a medieval church in England to emphasize the timeless lesson of the Prodigal Son," says Roth. "He constructs the work, performed here by the monks, as a sacred drama, a form used in the early centuries of the Catholic church."Roth says that he feels Britten is one of the greatest modern classical composers of the 20th century. “With this company premiere of The Prodigal Son, we are joining in a worldwide celebration of Benjamin Britten’s 100th Birthday that runs through 2013," says Roth. "The Choral Arts Society will continue that celebration here in Louisville when it performs Britten’s War Requiem in April.”The one-act opera is produced in partnership with the Louisville Choral Arts Society. Principal roles in the opera are performed by members of the opera’s emerging studio artist program.
Stage One Family Theatre opens its season at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts with "Wiley and the Hairy Man," a world premiere musical for young audiences. “Wiley and the Hairy Man” isn’t a new play. Suzan Zeder wrote it 40 years ago, adapting a Depression Era tale from the Works Progress Administration’s Folklore Project. It’s the story of a young boy who lives in a swamp with his mother, a magic-wielding "conjure woman," and his loyal dog, headed for a showdown with a big, hairy trickster. "The roots do come from the South and it’s a very, very old story that has a brand new telling," says Zeder.When Stage One approached her about producing "Wiley" this season, Zeder mentioned that she had always wanted to see it as a musical. Cue Louisville jazz composer Harry Pickens, whom Stage One commissioned to collaborate with the playwright to set "Wiley" to song. The two worked for 11 months to incorporate Pickens' original compositions into the story. Zeder says she thought she knew her play well until the music came in.“The play had always been carried by its story. It’s a great story about a little boy with a big fear," says Zeder. "The minute we added music the primary language of the play shifted, and I needed to create breath in the play to allow music to really tell the story.”"So it’s really quite different. The basic plot line is the same, but I think the characters are deeper. They have moments when they can show us their emotions," she adds."Wiley and the Hairy Man," which is recommended for students in kindergarten through grade 3, has been produced all over the United States and translated into six languages. Zeder is one of the leading playwrights of theater for young audiences in the country. Her plays have been produced in all 50 states and internationally, and she teaches in the playwriting program at the University of Texas at Austin, where she holds an endowed chair position in theatre for youth and also teaches in the Michener Center for Creative Writing. Zeder says it's a common misconception that theater written specifically for children has to be simple, but it does have to move fast.“I think it has to have vitality. I think it has to have genuine emotions. It can’t pause and linger and get too obscure," says Zeder. "I think really, really good theater for young people is good theater for anybody, because the one thing every adult in the world has in common is they were once a child.”About 26,000 early elementary students will see “Wiley and the Hairy Man” this month. It's part of Stage One's underwritten "Play It Forward" program, which provides tickets at no cost to public, private, parochial and home school groups.“Wiley and the Hairy Man” shows mainly to school groups, but tickets to public performances are available for October 13 and 20 in the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theatre.
The Louisville Ballet opens its 2012-13 season this week with Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias.” The ballet, with music by Frédéric Chopin, runs for three performances on Friday and Saturday in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts’ Whitney Hall.“Lady of the Camellias,” a romance based on a 19th century Alexandre Dumas novel, tells the story of Marguerite, a courtesan whose doomed affair with Armand, a provincial member of the middle class, meets a tragic end. Dumas’ story has been adapted in nearly every medium, from Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” to the 1936 Greta Garbo film “Camille.”The ballet comes with its own tragic backstory as well. This adaptation was originally conceived in the early 1990s by choreographer Norbert Vesak and costume designer Robert Glay de la Rose for Ballet Florida. With libretto written and music chosen, but no choreography yet designed, Vesak died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.The project lied dormant until Ballet Florida recruited Caniparoli to rekindle the show, which premiered at Ballet Florida and Ballet West in Salt Lake City in 1994. It was Caniparoli’s first full-length work.“It’s a challenge to take something someone started and turn it around and make it your own,” says Caniparoli. “This was a huge challenge, because no way could I do it the way Norbert was going to do it. I turned the music around. The concept of the libretto, I changed it around and totally reworked it to make it my own, but also to honor Norbert Vesak at the same time.”Caniparoli, whose “Lambarena” was last seen in April’s 60th anniversary mixed repertory program and who revamped “The Nutcracker” for the Louisville Ballet in 2009, drew his inspiration for “Lady of the Camellias” not from Verdi, but the Garbo movie and film noir in general.“A lot of the images that are so incredible in the film, I tried to incorporate into the ballet itself,” says Caniparoli.Caniparoli calls the last five minutes of this ballet one of his most poignant endings, though the dancer doesn’t dance a step.“It’s her looking in the mirror, dying,” he says. “This is ballet, it’s not a film, it’s not a theatrical event. It’s dance and it’s told just through gesture. I think it’s a challenge for the ballerina who does this role. You use your body but it’s mostly in your eyes.”“A lot of times we—dancers—especially in this country, are not trained in acting,” he adds.But Caniparoli was—he even played Armand, Marguerite’s lover, in the stage adaptation in college. Caniparoli studied music and acting before fibbing his way into dance training at 20 (“I lied and said I was 16 to get a Ford Foundation scholarship, and everyone bought into that.”), giving him a strong foundation in storytelling on stage."Before I took a step I was doing music and theater," says Caniparoli. "I know now how to try to bring that out of dancers."In its nearly two decades on stage, Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias” has been revised and refreshed several times, expanding to fit large companies like the Boston Ballet and decreasing its run time by about 40 minutes through storyline editing. The costumes remain Glay de la Rose’s original designs. For this production, a company premiere, Caniparoli has replaced some of the music. He considers this flexibility a benefit of working with the Louisville Ballet, artistic director Bruce Simpson and this company of dancers.“They’re willing to try a lot of things. I love placing demands on them and they go for it,” says Caniparoli. “I love the attitude in the studio of really wanting something to work. The egos are set aside.”
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company opens an all-female production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” this week, setting the merry war-between-the-sexes romantic comedy in the days following the end of World War I.The production opens Thursday and runs through October 13 in the new downstairs mainstage space at the Alley Theater in Butchertown’s The Pointe (1205 E. Washington St.).Mounting a full Shakespeare production has been a goal of Looking for Lilith’s since the feminist theater company staged an evening of scenes and monologues by Shakespeare’s women characters titled “Women of Will.” When director Kathi E.B. Willis directed an all-female version of “Macbeth” a couple of summers ago, she found the process presented a fresh look at Shakespeare’s classic scripts.“By putting only one gender on stage, automatically the language about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman literally lifts itself up off the page, because you’re hearing those comments in the voices of, in this case, just women and of course, way back when, just men,” says Ellis. “Much Ado About Nothing” is the story of a group of men returning from war who settle into a small country estate to relax after battle. The dashing Benedick has a long-standing “merry war” of wits brewing with feisty Beatrice, whose more tradition-minded cousin Hero is swept off her feet by Benedick’s fellow solider Claudio. Shakespeare’s romantic comedy tropes are out in full force in this play—false rumors, disastrous miscommunication, full-force matchmaking and one of the Bard’s best fools, the malaprop-spewing constable Dogberry.In this production, the women playing male characters will be costumed as men, echoing the Elizabethan origins of Shakespeare’s original productions, when all roles were played by men. “When you make choices to do one-gender productions, particularly of Shakespeare but any show, there are so many variations of how to approach it in terms of the story you want to tell,” says Ellis. “Because Lilith is a women’s theater company and we are always looking at things through women’s perspectives, the idea of lifting up women’s voices—even though we’re seeing a quote-unquote ‘traditional’ gender division through the costuming—was an intriguing way for us to look at this particular script.”“Benedick is a man, Beatrice is a woman. Claudio is a man, Hero is a woman. So when we hear what looks like a man talk about what he thinks a woman should or should not be, we’re still hearing it with a female voice” she adds.The script’s concern with gender roles fits particularly well into the time period Ellis chose for her production—1919, immediately following World War I, when the first wave of the feminist movement was in full swing in the United States. The debate over women’s suffrage reached a fever pitch before the states ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920, and men returning home from war found more women working outside of the home. “The most obvious example in the script is Beatrice is very forthright, not a woman who is easily silenced. She is as comfortable talking girl talk with the girls as she is taking on any number of the men, young and old, family and non-family, in how she lives her life,” says Ellis.Benedick and Claudio are fighter pilots—those dashing daredevils—while Don John and his cadre of cads perform less romantic roles in battle. Ellis says ragtime music and silent films also factor into the design of the production, especially the party scene.“We’re on the cusp of Prohibition as well, so this is, you know, the idea that we can still party—so let’s,” says Ellis. “The more we looked at it the more we found lots of things that made sense to bring into all of the storytelling in the script.”
Director Owsley Brown III will accept a Gramaphone Award for best classical music film for "Music Makes a City," a documentary about the Louisville Orchestra, at a ceremony in London today. Brown will accept the award on behalf of the Louisville-based production team, which includes co-director Jerome Hiler and producer Robin Burke. “Music Makes a City” documents the Louisville Orchestra’s rise in 1948 from a struggling semi-professional ensemble to a full professional orchestra with an internationally-renowned new work commissioning program.The commissioning program reached new heights in 1953 when the Rockefeller Foundation funded weekly new compositions for three years. The orchestra’s commissioning project created hundreds of new classical works by internationally-known composers, performed weekly and recorded in Louisville, launching the orchestra into international renown. The visionaries in this story are Robert Whitney, who came to conduct the orchestra in the wake of the 1937 flood, and then-mayor Charles Farnsley, who believed a robust arts community is a vital part of a strong city. The film employs archival footage and recordings and features interviews with classical music experts and composers. Watch the trailer and learn more about the film. “Music Makes a City” illustrates how novel ideas can help revive a struggling arts organization. The orchestra’s 75th anniversary season opened this month after a year-long hiatus due to a prolonged labor dispute. The Gramaphone awards are judged by Gramaphone magazine critics and other classical music industry leaders, including musicians and arts administrators. “Music Makes a City” was released in 2010.
The Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, which provides free studio arts education to Kentucky high school students, will reinstate its new media program for the next fiscal year. Earlier this month, the arts education organization announced it would suspend the new media program for one year to help address its $50,000 budget shortfall, the result of state-wide 8.4 percent budget cuts designed to address Kentucky’s structural deficit. GSA is an agency of Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage cabinet. A private donation from Louisville philanthropists Gil and Augusta Holland, as well as additional funding from the office of the secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage cabinet, will pay for the program this year. Cabinet spokesperson Gil Lawson says the state contribution came from leftover cabinet grant funds. “Our agency was able to fill that gap because we felt it was important and we were able to muster the resources for this,” says Lawson.Suspending the new media program would have recouped about three-quarters of GSA’s $50,000 budget shortfall. The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts will raise an additional $13,000 to address GSA’s remaining budget shortfall. GSA executive director Carrie Nath says the new media program accounted for a larger chunk of the budget shortfall than they had originally calculated.“This specific discipline has a lot of equipment costs and additional costs other disciplines might not have because of the nature of the artistic discipline," says Nath. "The total when we were completely finished was $37,000.”Last summer, GSA served 225 students in nine disciplines in its competitive three-week summer residential program. New media students study video production, animation and digital imagery in the summer program and at free workshops held across the state every fall.In 2013, GSA will pare down the summer new media program slightly, admitting ten students instead of 12. New media will be offered at all four of this fall's four ArtShops, the free day-long workshops GSA offers to high school students across the state. Applications for the 2013 summer program will be available online in October.