Arts and Culture

Two local arts groups focused on giving voice to theater artists from the region are teaming up this month.

The annual Louisville Fringe Festival runs July 28-31, and this year it features a partnership with Derby City Playwrights, a collective of Louisville writers. 

While Louisville Fringe and DCP have worked together in previous years, this time feels more pronounced, said Allie Fireel, founding artistic director of the Louisville Fringe Festival. 

Fireel explained that the collaboration felt right because of like-minded missions to foster local talent, particularly artists whose work and ideas might exist outside the mainstream. 

“So all of these other creators, who have a lot to say, and who I think bring a really valid and important perspective on life from the middle of the country, don’t always get a chance,” Fireel said.

Derby City Playwrights director David Clark agreed, adding that it’s always been DCP’s goal to foster and support theater artists.

“Not only do we have this great talent in Louisville, but maybe we can help keep some of that here,” he said. “There’s no reason you can’t write a play in Louisville, Ky., and get it developed and get it to where you need to go and then start exporting that work around the country. There’s no reason you can’t be here and do that.”

This year’s lineup

Part of the collaboration will be a staged presentation of Clark’s play “The Forest and the Flames,” which was written and workshopped during the 2019 DCP cohort. 

Actor Clarity Hagan described it as a “dark fairy tale with a lot of gender exploration.” 

“And as a nonbinary person, that is incredibly special and incredibly interesting to have a story that is incredibly queer but isn’t about, like, oppression.”

Hagan is also presenting their own work as part of the Derby City Playwrights New Play Readings at Louisville Fringe. 

“Joyfully Underground: The Story of the Lexington Six” is based on true events that unfolded in Lexington, Ky., when the FBI followed and harassed six queer people, pressing them for information about anti-war bank robbers.

“It’s about the right to privacy, which is getting even stronger now than when I first wrote it,” Hagan said. “I am a queer activist. So it felt like I was reading a story about the people who came before me. And that’s been really, really meaningful.”

Other playwrights with readings during the DCP event at Old Louisville Coffee Co-op include Cris Eli Blak, Matthew Jablow, Ben Gierhart, Kayla Nieporte Linkugel and Zoë Peterson.

Clark said he’s excited to have the readings this year at the new coffee house. 

“There’s all these other things like movement and direction, choreography, costumes and things that you associate with theater, that we all love about theater,” he said. “The reading, it’s not about that. It’s about helping the artists sort of get a little better grip on what they’re writing, to see it in front of an audience. It’s a testing ground… And having it in sort of a more safe, playful location, where there’s still a lot of things going around, I think might help ground that idea.”

As for the broader scope of the Fringe Festival, Fireel hopes it can encourage people to expand their definition of live theater. The event will feature one-person shows, performance art, music, drag, burlesque, storytelling and possibly “someone spitting fire” – highlighting “all the ways that performance leaks out into the community and into nightclubs and bars and stuff like that.” 

“And to me, that’s all theater,” Fireel said.

The full Louisville Fringe lineup is available here.

Hagan added that part of the joy in performing and presenting at the Fringe is seeing the other work.

“Creation of new works, and also the dialogue between different new works that is uniquely possible in the festival format is so important for creating new and interesting voices,” Hagan said.

And for Clark, he doesn’t think it’s possible to have “too many playwrights writing new plays.”

“They’re writing plays from their experiences here, so it’s stories from our community,” he said. “Even when they’re writing about fantastical places, or different areas, or whatever, all of their writing comes from their experience here in Louisville, Ky.”

Disclosure: Allie Fireel has previously contributed arts coverage to WFPL News.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.