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March 11, 2008

There's something happening out here

Rich Copley


Michael Friedman, Jim Lewis and Steven Cosson (L-R) discuss This Beautiful City, the play they created about the evangelical community in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is part of 32nd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actor's Theatre of Louisville. Photo by Maggie Huber | Lexington Herald-Leader and LexGo.com.

Last week, I saw a performance of Lee Blessing's new play, Great Falls. It was an excellent piece of theater that belied the bells and whistles of so many shows today by focusing on two terrific, well-traveled actors under the guidance of a first-rate director.

And I was nowhere near New York City. Not even Chicago or San Francisco. I was in Louisville, a town most people only think about the first Saturday in May. But every year, somewhere around the last weekend in March, the Derby City becomes the center of the theater world with critics and theater professionals flocking in for the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

The festival, which has launched critically acclaimed plays such as Crimes of the Heart, is now into its fourth decade. It has had its up years and down years, but with recent hits such as Dinner with Friends and Omnium Gatherum, people still come to Humana hoping to be among the first to discover the next great thing.

Nowadays, when people describe Humana, it's often compared to the Sundance Film Festival, another major arts (yes, it attracts glitterati, but most of its offerings are geared to the art houses) event that thrives outside of major mets. Look south to Charleston, S.C. (John, are you ready?) and we have Spoleto, a major arts festival with a schedule that will make you da-rool, da-rool.

Chatting with Jim Clark, the president and CEO of LexArts, the United Arts Fund here in Lexington, he pointed out that one of the common denominators of these and other major arts happenings outside of the cultural capitals of America is that they didn't have great infrastructure to launch. What they had was a great vision that serious and substantial work could be done right where they were. It's the kind of success that should make you look around and wonder what could happen, wherever you are.

Posted by Rich Copley at March 11, 2008 8:11 PM


I wonder if the farther one is from NY, the less one worries about needing to compare to it. I've certainly never thought about whether the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (which thrives almost entirely thanks to Californians, I have to say) was "as good as" something from NY. I mean, I've seen good and bad theater not only in small towns like Columbia, Mo., and Eugene but also in London and in New York. There's crap theater everywhere, and often decent or good theater everywhere as well.

I do think summer festivals tend to draw famous musicians, actors and other performing arts people away from the cities (and universities) for a busman's holiday in beautiful, more rural(-esque) places.

All of that said, I'm looking forward to seeing Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, a new play about an Iraq War vet by Julie Marie Myatt, at the OSF in a week. I'm always jealous of the new plays, and I'm so glad new OSF director Bill Rauch is focusing some attention on new playwrights and new plays. Obviously, I need to come visit you during the Humana fest!


Posted by: Suzi Steffen at March 13, 2008 12:54 PM