Enter, Stage Right

Managing Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville Kevin E. Moore. Photo by Justin Philalack.

Actors Theatre looks ahead to a bright 2019

By Laura Ross

There’s a modesty about Louisville,” said Actors Theatre of Louisville Managing Director Kevin E. Moore, “and I said when I arrived two years ago that we’re not going to be modest anymore.”

Moore arrived at Actors Theatre two years ago from New York, where he was the managing director of the Theatre Communications Group, managing the business functions of the national organization for nonprofit theaters in America. His nationally respected business acumen was a perfect fit for Louisville’s most notable theater. Coming to Louisville gave Moore the inspiration and motivation to grow the legendary and world-renowned Actors Theatre to an even higher worldwide reputation in the arts.

“We have something special here,” he said.
“We must keep telling that story over and over to the world. I want people to know how lucky we are to have such an arts community in Louisville.”

Wrapping Up 2018

Actors Theatre, now in its 53rd season, presents almost 350 performances to an annual audience of nearly 140,000. It is recognized worldwide as one of America’s most innovative professional theater companies.

 Moore noted the success of the current season, which is well underway. “‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ was a huge hit for us,” he said. “And people really responded to ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’ as well. More people came to ‘Dracula’ than ever before, and this year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ was so joyous and inventive. ‘Santaland Diaries’ sold well, too. For every play we do, we want people to talk about it – we want to start conversations, and with these productions we hit a homerun.”

Moore and the Actors company of performers continually tweak the plays to create more awareness of issues, contemporary conversations and entertainment value for audiences.

As 2018 closed, Actors was not resting on its holiday celebrations. As soon as Tiny Tim said goodnight, actors began arriving in early January to start rehearsals for “Pipeline” and “Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin.”

“And then, the train starts running for the Humana Festival,” Moore laughed.

2019 Humana Festival

The Humana Festival of New American Plays, now in its 43rd year, runs March 1 through April 7 at Actors Theatre. The Humana Festival draws an international audience and has introduced more than 450 plays into the American and international theater repertoire. The festival draws artists, drama lovers, journalists and producers from around the country and is seen as the premier event of its kind in the nation. About 38,000 theatergoers attend the six weeks of plays and associated events, and that attendance number includes students from more than 50 colleges and universities.

“It’s a really exciting crop of plays this year, and they are bolder than in the past by design,” said Moore. “Our team reads more than 500 plays a year  trying to decide what we are going to present, and we landed on five plays this year. We do our best effort to produce plays that are timely, and all speak to issues going on today through both comedy and drama.” “Playwrights are – and have always been – sharply perceptive observers of the cultural moment they’re bearing witness to,” said Actors Theatre Literary Director Amy Wegener. “We see that reflected in the script submissions we read and in the new plays chosen for the Humana Festival every year. One of the exhilarating things about programming a festival of world premieres is seeing how writers are channeling the zeitgeist, reframing recent history and deepening vital conversations that are in the air.”

In addition to the plays, the Humana Festival is packed with activities, including weekend enrichment events for college students and discussions, network opportunities and parties for patrons and theatergoers.

“Humana’s participation and support of Actors Theatre is extraordinary,” said Moore. “Humana sees this support as not just a gift to Actors Theatre but a gift to the entire community.

“It has put Actors on the map,” he added, noting that the partnership with Humana is the largest and longest-running relationship between a corporation and a theater in the United States. Additional support for the Humana Festival is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

For Wegener, the Humana Festival offers audiences the opportunity to experience stories that imaginatively challenge and expand the understanding of the time we’re living through. “Part of the fun of attending the festival is taking in such different stories and artistic sensibilities in juxtaposition and enjoying the lively conversations they provoke, not to mention the thrill of discovery that comes from being an original witness to a play’s first production,” she said.

“Louisville has three things that garner international press – bourbon, the Kentucky Derby and the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre,” added Moore. “It helps build the global brand of Louisville to a tremendous degree.”

A Pivotal Point

Moore wants to build that global brand even further. He has a bit of a fresh slate currently as he settles in to his leadership role and looks to fill Actors’ missing artistic director position, which was vacated with Les Waters’ departure earlier in 2018.

Before plunging into a search for a new artistic director, Moore took a step back and strategically positioned Actors Theatre to reflect first on exactly what – and who – is needed. “We were very introspective for a period of time before we started the search,” he said, “We asked, ‘Who do we want to be, (and) what do we want to be for this community as we move forward?’ We are committed to embedding ourselves into the community better through more partnerships, more collaboration, more conversations and more opportunities to work with groups we might normally never touch.”

Actors Theatre wants to broaden its circle and not “just” be a signature theater and beacon in Louisville. The theater is looking for someone to lead with their own vision combined with the collective vision of the core of Actors Theatre’s staff, board and patrons. “We all agreed we need to get back to the community and reach out by having meaningful partnerships with others,” said Moore. “I’m anxious to see who that director is going to be and how he or she will manifest that goal.”

“Let’s do something exciting,” he added. “Actors Theatre is not just a community resource but a cultural disseminator. I want city leaders to think of (us) as a partner to help problems the city is addressing. Theater can do a lot of things by facilitating conversations around the issues of the day. Our new artistic director will need experience in partnering with the community because we want to be a part of the solution.”

While some may fret that the search is ongoing, others have lauded Actors Theatre for its diligence in taking the time to find the correct fit for an artistic director. Moore said he and the board of directors wanted to veer away from a traditional search process. “We wanted to be more inclusive,” he explained, saying that the search process included input from the board, staff, donors, community members and Actors’ teacher council.

“It’s fantastic because you get so many different viewpoints,” he added. “It is a lot more work, but this is the most important decision a theater can make. It’s game changing for the staff and board, and I’m very proud of that.”

Whoever the new artistic director is, he or she will dive into the fire immediately. While the 2019 season is already planned, the new director will begin work on the season from day one and will be integral in planning the 2020 Humana Festival. Moore anticipates one of the artistic director’s first tasks will include a listening tour of the community. “I want the person to meet the community, listen to their impressions of Actors and determine how we as a theater can be of use in this community,” Moore said.

At Actors, we might not be the largest theater in America, but are most certainly the most impactful theater in the country.”

Moore is quiet on the timeline for announcing the new addition, but said the pool of candidates is now small after initially receiving 67 applications. He hopes to make an announcement in early 2019. As for the 2019-2020 season, Moore is tight lipped, saying it will be announced in February. “We are looking at a mix of lighthearted shows and serious topics,” he said. “We’ve done a great job appealing to our audiences who want a range of experiences through the season. They’ll get ‘Dracula’ and ‘A Christmas Carol,’ of course, but the rest will be announced soon.”

Until then, Moore and his company happily continue the conversations generated in the 2018-2019 season. “That’s the point of what we’re doing,” he said earnestly. “We bring the experience of someone else’s story to you. Theater is the best teacher of empathy that we have. You listen to the joy, pain, love, tears and even hate of someone else’s story and you understand something that is not about yourself. Only live theater can bring that home so well. At Actors, we might not be the largest theater in America, but (we) are most certainly the most impactful theater in the country.” V

The Humana Festival will feature five world premieres:

We’ve Come to Believe

by Kara Lee Corthron, Emily Feldman and Matthew Paul Olmos

Feb. 24-April 7

“We’ve Come to Believe” features the actors of the 2018-19 Professional Training Company and looks at the bizarre world of collective delusion and groupthink. What is real and what is fake?

The Corpse Washer

adapted by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace, from the novel of the same name by Sinan Antoon

March 1-April 7

A haunting portrait of a young man’s coming of age and survival in war-torn Iraq, where life and death are intertwined.

The Thin Place

by Tony Award-nominated Lucas Hnath

March 5-April 7

Former artistic director Les Waters returns to Actors to direct “The Thin Place,” an eerie play that explores the line between this world and another, where those who’ve died live on.

How to Defend Yourself

by Lily Padilla, co-world premiere with Victory Gardens Theatre

March 13-April 7

Visceral and provocative, “How to Defend Yourself” examines the impact of rape culture, on campus and beyond.

Everybody Black

by Dave Harris

March 19-April 7

A blisteringly funny satire that explores how we chronicle and make sense of Black History.

For tickets and show schedules for Actors Theatre, visit actorstheatre.org