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Playwright Liz Fentress

September 2, 2009

Five questions with five Louisville playwrights

Liz Fentress

Liz Fentress is a playwright, director and actor. In Louisville, she directs and acts for Stage One and is a teaching artist for Actors Theatre’s New Voices program. In 2008, her play “The Honey Harvest” won the North American Actors Association’s annual Playwriting Competition and was staged in London’s West End. KET’s production of her “Circus Story,” which she wrote and performs, won the 2005 National Educational Television Association award for Best Dramatic Narrative. The former associate producer of Horse Cave Theatre, she is an editor of “World Premieres from Horse Cave Theatre: Plays by Kentucky Writers,” to be published by MotesBooks later this fall.

Q: How does the Louisville theater scene fare for playwrights?

A: Playwrights fare well in Louisville. This spring, in addition to the Humana Festival, I attended a world premiere by a Louisville playwright, an evening of 10-minute plays by local playwrights, and I missed, unfortunately, a production of a full-length play by a Louisville playwright. Last fall I directed a world premiere by a Louisville playwright. That’s a lot of new work. Also, the Humana Festival gives a great deal of energy to the theme of new play development here, and it gives Louisville playwrights an opportunity to see what is happening on the national and international levels.

Q: How can theater in this town improve and/or thrive?

A: It would be great if there were a theater or a group dedicated solely to developing and producing new work by Kentucky playwrights.


Q: What’s the first play you ever saw?

A: “Volpone” by Ben Jonson, directed by Tyrone Guthrie at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. I was 11 years old, and seeing that production changed my life.



Q: What play can’t you stand?

A: I can think of lots of plays I love — but I can’t think of any I can’t stand. 


Q: If you had one wish, what would it be?

A: I would like to see more full productions of my plays!

 

Brian Walker

Brian Walker is the artistic director of Louisville-based Finnigan Productions. He has written and produced several plays in the area, including: “The Time I was Kidnapped by the Church,” “Smoke this Play,” “Great American Sex Play,” “dirty sexy derby play” and “Zombie.” He is the creator and producer of Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun, an annual festival celebrating independent theater artists in Louisville. Check out www.finniganbeginagain.com for more.

Q: How does the Louisville theater scene fare for playwrights?

A: The Louisville theater scene fares great for playwrights who are willing to get out there and get their plays produced themselves. With the exception of the Humana Festival, there really isn’t a consistent outlet for new plays to be seen in Louisville — perhaps plays that are new to Louisville, but not new plays to any audience ever. Doing new works is really risky because you never know if anyone will show up to see it, so many groups find it safer to do more tried-and-true pieces as opposed to original works. But there are some fantastic companies here in town taking risks and writing and producing some quality original works, and having fun doing it.

Q: How can theater in this town improve and/or thrive?

A: The most important way this city’s theater community can and will improve and thrive is the addition of more performance spaces and theaters for the companies operating in Louisville to utilize. When this begins to happen, the theater scene here will blossom, and the kinds of theater available to us will become much more varied and (dare I say) exciting.

Another vital asset to theater communities, especially the independent ones, is coverage in the local mainstream paper, which has seen a sharp decrease in recent years — for obvious reasons. If the local media isn’t concerned with Louisville’s theater scene on a consistent basis, it’s hard to make the average non-theater/artist-type people interested, too. It could be a very helpful thing for many of the local companies in Louisville to enjoy more consistent coverage from The Courier-Journal, but who knows if it will ever happen again.

Q: What’s the first play you ever saw?

A: “Christmas Carol” at Actors Theatre of Louisville. I was probably 10 or 12. It changed my life! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Q: What play can’t you stand?

A: “Death of a Salesman” — god, bring a book! What a bore ... and it’s so freaking depressing! It’s no wonder people don’t think about going to see a play anymore if that was the last one they had to suffer through. If I never see another production of that play as long as I live, I will die happy.

Q: If you had one wish, what would it be?

A: World peace. And my own theater space.

 

Christa Basil Kreimendahl

Christa Basil Kreimendahl is an award-winning playwright and founder of Out On The Edge: Louisville’s Queer Youth Playwrights Collective and Louisville Dramatists. Her plays have been read and produced throughout the Southeast, Chicago and Louisville. She has received an Arts Meets Activism grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and her work has been published by Dramatic Publishing.

Q: How does the Louisville theater scene fare for playwrights?

A: I haven’t been here very long, but the possibilities right now seem a bit limited. There are a few companies who make an effort to work with new playwrights — Finnigan, for one. Working with new plays is always a chance that a theater company chooses, and a noble one at that.

Q: How can theater in this town improve and/or thrive?

A: Be bold, take chances, have venues with cheap or free seats. I think several companies here aspire to these goals. We have to find a way to get younger audiences, and audiences who don’t normally go to the theater because they think they won’t understand it or that the plays won’t be about their lives. Well, let’s face it, many plays appeal to white upper-class, because that’s who’s writing them — that’s who they’re about and that’s who can afford to see them. We need intelligent, diverse, bold and affordable theater.

Q: What’s the first play you ever saw?

A: My own. It was a short play that got produced along with other new plays in Atlanta. I went to participate and saw live theater for the first time. After that, though, “The Trip To Bountiful” by Horton Foote. I volunteered so I could watch it every single night for the whole run of it, and purposely, every night, sat down right next to the producer/director, who now tells me to say my “pleases and thank yous” and to “sit up straight.”

Q: What play can’t you stand?

A: I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me someday, but “The Shape of Things” by Neil Labute. I could name a few, but for some reason this one stands out to me.

Q: If you had one wish, what would it be?

A: This is one of those guilt-ridden agonizing questions, because who am I to know what is needed. I could mess it up even more with my good intentions.

 

Antoinette Oglesby Taylor

Antoinette Oglesby Taylor, who goes by Toni, has been writing poems and short stories since 1978. In 1999, Lorna Littleway of the Juneteenth Jamboree of New Works asked her to write a play celebrating Black History Month — the beginning of her prolific writing experience. “And the Next Day They Changed the Water” premiered at the 2000 Juneteenth. Since then, she has written “This Land is Your Land/Can You Hear It?,” “Miss Amanda’s Place,” “More Than Cooking Going On in this Kitchen” and “The Triangle.” She has also served as director of all but one of her plays.

Q: How does the Louisville theater scene fare for playwrights?

A: The Louisville theater scene for local playwrights is a good one — there are various venues one can use to perform a play. I have to thank Lorna Littleway and the Juneteenth Jamboree of New Works for my foray into playwriting. I have had the opportunity to have five of my plays staged at the Juneteenth Jamboree. One problem comes to mind, though, and that is the cost of some of the venues if one wants to produce; often it is too costly to rent a place for the performance.

Q: How can theater in this town improve and/or thrive?

A: Theater in Louisville is best represented, of course, by Actors Theatre, which is world-renowned. That being said, we must also realize that the economic climate we are all in right now has something to do with the thriving of all the arts. I also think that theater is not just for stages … we must think outside of the box. A good example of that is the Elevator Plays. I have been asked to write several short works for a restaurant that has outside seating to help facilitate foot traffic.

Q: What’s the first play you ever saw?

A: I was in the second grade at what is now the Chance School, and it was “Little Red Riding Hood.” Keep in mind that this was in the ’50s, and I was quite magically amazed at the entire production.

Q: What play can’t you stand?

A: Well, that is like saying that someone has nothing to give to society. I dare to believe that in any creative entity there will not be something to salvage. I remember during one of the talk-backs after one of my plays, there was this lady who absolutely hated the play. To her, there was no redeeming word in the entire play, but to the majority of others, it was a play with a message. So I would hesitate to name a play I could not stand.

Q: If you had one wish, what would it be?

A: My one wish would be that there was no sickness on earth. My sister-in-law is battling cancer right now.

 

Gregory Maupin

Gregory Maupin is a founding member of Louisville’s Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, a six-member actor/creator troupe with which he has performed in and co-created 10 original productions since 2004, plus his own adaptations of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “As You Like It,” and Molière’s “Don Juan.” He is also a charter member of Under the Table Ensemble Theatre in New York and co-created and performed in its first four productions. A Louisville native, Maupin trained in physical theater at Dell’Arte International in California, and also holds a B.F.A. in performance from U of L. Go to www.LePetomane.org for more.

Q: How does the Louisville theater scene fare for playwrights?

A: I’ve never submitted a script to another company in Louisville, and all the original pieces I’ve been a part of with Le Petomane have been created during the rehearsal process by the ensemble (Heather Burns, Tony Dingman, Kyle Ware, Kristie Rolape and my wife Abigail Bailey Maupin). There are anywhere from two to six of us involved in each piece. So I’m only 1/6 of a playwright. So I have no idea.

I will note that Le Petomane gets larger audiences for classics than for originals, but the reasons for that are probably obvious and common everywhere.

Q: How can theater in this town improve and/or thrive?

A: Improve: More people can come see more of it — then they’ll be more difficult to please and all of us involved will have to up the ante constantly. Which would rock. Thrive: An increase in rentable and affordable performance spaces and a decrease in ticket prices. But the arts are like cockroaches — they always survive and usually run their best while attempts are being made to crush them.

Q: What’s the first play you ever saw?

A: Blue Apple Players did something about leprechauns in St. Helen’s gym in 1979 or ’80. Logic implies St. Patrick’s Day. There was a tree that, in my memory, is an honest-to-God real tree, huge and knotty, though that’s probably not so. I still remember some of the songs about knocking on wood for good luck.

Q: What play can’t you stand?

A: A production in which the on- and off-stage participants haven’t thought about why they’re doing it. (This is usually pretty obvious to an attentive audience and, to me, should be the question in everybody’s mind.)

Q: If you had one wish, what would it be?

A: About theater: that it could be treated as an experience for anyone to enjoy and not placed in the rarified and inaccessible “Fine Arts” ghetto by those who talk about it most. Not about theater: a pony.