Humana Festival Wrap-Up

Just before our next episode drops, it's time to reflect a bit on that time when I drove down to Louisville and saw six plays in the blink of an eye.  

Actors Theatre devotes considerable amount of time and effort into making the Festival a seamless, easy experience. They take care of you. Someone else noted that my location was wrong on my badge on Twitter and they were on it, directing me to the lovely people in guest services. Actors Theatre keep people on the same ticket package together to help foster conversation. They have social events arranged for people to mingle. They make it very easy to purchase the scripts to these plays. Actors Theatre of Louisville puts on an awesome festival.

I attended Industry Weekend I hoping to meet people, maybe cast some pod with folk. That did not happen. It was actually a pretty lonesome experience. There was a stretch there where I didn't say a word to another human being that didn't involve asking for food or the bill. I don't eat much, so that didn't happen very often either. That's not on Actors Theatre or anything. I just need to be better at striking up conversations with stone cold strangers. My experience would have been a whole lot better if I had been there with someone or known anyone at all. Humana Festival is a lot of theatre is a very compressed amount of time and I recommend it to anyone. Would I do it again? Not by myself, no. Watching plays is like consuming any other cultural good: you want to talk about what you just saw. Consuming 6 plays in three days was crazy, but I don't think I did the plays any justice. There needs to be a conversation around a piece to make it come alive and that requires, uh, at least two people. Maybe some podcast listeners will manage the trip next year and we can have a special edition of Exit the Stage Door? Something to think about.

This would not be a good wrap-up if didn't rank the plays, right? No. You're right, I don't have to do anything that reductive. I hope for the best for each of these plays, which all have really great stories to tell. Several of them are just crazy and it would be amazing to see them in a different theater with different capabilities. I Will Be Gone in particular could benefit from having some more room to play. I enjoy the floating model and the doors and windows in the floor, but you could definitely present the ghost town and the various locations of the play in more detail in a different theater. You're very lucky in Philly, because I Promised Myself to Live Faster should have more life thanks to those awesome people at Pig Iron Theatre Company. That's a great cabaret show, the more intimate the space, the better. The Roommate is going to be in a city near you, no doubt, we'll be able to talk about that one soon, I think. The Glory of the World is a crazy show, just a fascinating experience. I would love to see it in a smaller theatre or to have the madness get mixed into the audience somehow. And poor, poor Dot. A set with sightlines for every audience member will help (not sharing the stage will enable that). This show feels like it needs some work, but I think it's earned a shot at that with a new production somewhere. It doesn't get my blood pumping, but I am curious.

Ok, it's time to go back to toting around a few microphones and a laptop and introducing myself to strangers. Odd how that seems easier than making small talk with industry professionals during half hour. But anyway, we've got a great run of shows coming up, good people making good conversation. Peace. Out.

Humana Festival: Day 2, Where Things Get Crazy

The Victor Jory is a really special place. I only spent one season at Actors Theatre of Louisville, but I spent quite a bit of it in the VJ. In many ways, it's a typical black box theatre. There is a pipe grid about 18' from zero. It's a thrust stage, with seats on three sides. The walls and the floor are painted black. But it's also tiny and oddly shaped. The main playing space is roughly 18' by 18', but there is an odd trapezoid that goes off into the south and becomes either the shop or a place to store props, depends on the show. The seats are crammed on top of each other. One side of the house doesn't go all the way to the ceiling, so what happens in the VJ does not stay in the VJ. It's an intimate space where the audience is deeply connected to the performers and to the set. Hell, the front row is often part of the play. So, basically I adore the place and no one ever uses it except for rentals.

Until the Humana Festival rolls around. That's when they put the craziest show they can find and jam it into the space that sees the least use and has the oldest technology (I mean, 1990's level of technology). Which sucks for the technicians, but it can be really glorious for the audience.

This year's Humana Festival features a collaboration with the Philadelphia based ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Co. called I Promised Myself to Live Faster. It begins with a fantastic drag performance of what I think is an original song (it contains the titular line, which is a strong context clue, but hardly a sufficient condition). And then the gay protagonist goes to a gay bar. And then the gay protagonist gets whisked off into outer space by intergalactic nuns who birth litters of homosexuals. The nuns are hunting the Holy Gay Flame, which has been stolen, because it threatens the existence of their homosexual babies. Yeah, it's that kind of show. Which is to say, it's an awesome show.

The drag performance at the top (which is tragically brief, but the actor has a drag cabaret show under the name Marsha Graham Cracker, so you should see if she's playing near you) sets the tone right away: tongue-in-cheek hilarity about a journey of re-discovery and re-connection after a bad break-up. You don't get warned about the Holy Gay Flame or dragon spaceships, but you get the theme. What follows is, as absurd and outlandish as it is, an allegory of sexual discovery, with all of the attendant clunkiness issues that the allegory thing brings.

On the one hand, the moments of discovery and connection are genuine, unforced, and just outrageously funny. On the other hand, you have a lot of very literal jargon about homosexuals and the Holy Gay Flame and Bishop Ahn-nie, who is an orphan (think about it . . . ok) which are necessary in an allegory because the spiritual journey of your characters is also a literal journey (think Pilgrim's Progress, but with a closeted space bishop). Normally, I prefer my exposition to be subtly woven into the show so I don't have to see the machinations and the payoffs land with the force of an unexpected blow. But when you are dropping atom bombs as punchlines, the exposition is a little like anti-aircraft fire. You have to worry about it, but you don't have to worry about it. And before too long, you'll be laughing so hard that you forgot to be worried about it.