Theatre in the round has been around for centuries.
But what about theatre on wheels?
The Alley Theater’s latest initiative is literally taking community theatre to the streets by converting TARC buses into moving stages.
The Alley Theater is known for producing quirky pop culture shows in Louisville, such as “Evil Dead: The Musical” and “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged).”
The Arts Caravan was inspired by a conversation producing director Scott Davis had about 10 years ago with Dwight Maddox Sr., who worked for TARC, Davis said.
They talked about how as theatre was increasingly losing its audience to television and film—how the artform wasn’t doing a particularly good job of adapting to stay culturally relevant, nor were companies reaching out to new communities with their work.
“And it seemed like there needed to be something that brought theatre back to what it was, which was an event—a community event,” Davis said.
“It wasn’t just something for the wealthy people to enjoy, and that was kind of the reputation it had.”
The conversation led to a concept: Create theater that was free, that could go into practically any Louisville neighborhood, and to “not just do a show, but do a full festival,” Davis said.
Originally, the idea was to have a single TARC bus that looked completely normal on the outside, but was renovated on the interior and completed with a hinged door that would fold out to reveal a stage; and TARC was completely on board, willing to donate a bus and do all the renovations.
However, Davis was offered a position with a film company in California and left town for a few years, halting progress on the initiative.
When he returned to Louisville, his vision for the project had grown. Instead of a single TARC bus, Davis drew up the paperwork for a “caravan” of three buses—which TARC allowed Davis to purchase for a dollar.
The Arts Caravan initiative is still in the midst of fundraising, but buses could be rolling around Louisville sometime in the late spring or early summer.
The Arts Caravan will travel to various locations like schools or community centers. They’ll provide that festival feel Davis is looking for, especially since he wants to collaborate with other community theatres.
Davis said he didn’t want all the shows to be just Alley Theater productions.
“We do mostly pop-culture, we are a pseudo-gateway drug for theatre-goers,” Davis said.
“We get them started and they realize that it can be fun, ‘Oh, that was not that different from TV and improv, that was great, let’s go see ‘Uncle Vanya,’” Davis said referring to Walden Theatre’s recent production of the Russian drama by Anton Chekhov.
In going to Louisville neighborhoods—including some that may not have access to live theatre on a regular basis—Davis plans for the Arts Caravan to deliver performances that are catered to their audience.
In a recent test-run at the Louisville Zoo, The Alley partnered with Teatro Tercera Llamada, a local Spanish-speaking theatre group, so that every visitor would be able to see a performance that resonated with them.
Davis is also reaching out to other artistic institutions—like the Louisville Visual Arts Association or the Speed Museum—in an effort to convert other buses that will open to reveal visual arts, music or other community organizations.