Derby City Playwrights, or DCP, is the brainchild of Louisville natives Brian Walker and David Clark. Originally studying to be an actor, it was Walkerâ€™s dream to move to L.A. and find his fame and fortune in Hollywood, but after completing an artistic about-face, Walker determinedly returned home to write several full-length plays in a row and self-produce them in Louisville: â€œGradually, I became more confident with my work and started sending things to theatres outside of Louisville.â€
It seems that this confidence was well-founded. Not only were his plays met with critical success locally, nationally and internationally, but Walkerâ€™s work enabled him to obtain a coveted season-long residency at the Nashville Repertory Theatre during its 2012-13 season. â€œIt nourished and developed my craft in a way that had never happened before,â€ asserts Walker. â€œIt made me realize what we were missing in Louisville, what I was missing in my own hometown, so I decided to do something about it.â€
Up until college, Clark had planned on writing novels. From a young age, Clark was fascinated with putting amusing and thought-provoking tales to paper, but despite not being able to recall a time when he didnâ€™t act out those stories, he never previously considered playwriting as an option: â€œI went to college to be an English major, and because I liked acting, I thought maybe a theatre minor. Instead, I became enamored with theatre and became a double major, and after never getting an opportunity to take a fiction class, I fell into playwriting.â€
Clark attests that there was one assignment that changed everything. â€œI was supposed to create a 10-minute play and instead turned in 120 pages,â€ he recalls. â€œAnd I just didnâ€™t stop writing.â€ He eventually was accepted into graduate school for playwriting at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and during his time there, he also realized â€“ rather prophetically â€“ that â€œthe only thing that I enjoyed almost as much as developing my own work was helping develop the work of others.â€
The sparks that were eventually fanned into the flame that became Derby City Playwrights began on a fateful trip traveling back from the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Walker and Clark had made the trip together, and their resulting conversation covered the topic of theatre in Louisville, specifically playwriting.
This conversation incited an initial brainstorming session when they returned home, which led to the creation of the first season of DCP. The idea was simple: Local playwrights would have a safe but driven environment to present their work, and after a year of monthly private readings and constructive criticism within the group, each member would have a new play and staged reading to add to their credits.
This first year was undeniably ambitious and just as successful. Plays developed during last yearâ€™s group went on to win the Kentucky Theatre Association 2015 Roots of the Bluegrass New Play Contest and the 2016 Southeastern Theatre Conference Getchell New Play Award. Nonetheless, Walker and Clark mutually agreed that it was time to take it up a notch for season two and turn the groupâ€™s goals to a production-based format.
Season one saw 12 playwrights, but season two narrowed the focus and the parameters for acceptance into the group considerably, resulting in the eventual creation of only six plays. These new plays will be presented as completely produced works in a festival at The Bardâ€™s Town Theatre beginning July 7. â€œ[Bardâ€™s Town co-owner] Doug Schutte and The Bardâ€™s Town have been fantastic,â€ says Walker. â€œAs soon as I presented the idea to him last year, he not only wanted to give us a home to do it but wanted to co-produce it. Heâ€™s been a true champion for what we are doing, and without his support, this thing wouldnâ€™t be possible.â€
This yearâ€™s crop of DCP plays is a fun and varied group, according to Clark: â€œWe have a darkly comic romance featuring a scientist in need of skulls. We have siblings driving a stolen octopus across the country. We have teenagers becoming adults at the neighborhood bus stop. We have a ghost trying to find her way to the other side. We have stoners making art in a brownstone. And we have a hacker convention filled with corporate espionage, dangerous tech and trolls.â€ If there are any fears of overextension and loss of focus, Clark expertly assuages them: â€œAnd as vastly different these plays are in style and subject, they all share a theme of collapse. It is a fun festival, but I think all of these shows will leave you with something to talk about after they are over.â€
And that is the ultimate goal of DCP. Taking the non-traditional and seemingly disconnected and connecting them. Walker and Clark have ambition, but they will never forget why they created the group in the first place. Clark sums it up best: â€œI feel like DCP has begun to carve its own unique place in the theatre world. But more importantly, I hope itâ€™s starting to carve its own unique â€“ and necessary â€“ place in Louisville.â€ VT
The Derby City Playwrights New Play Festival runs July 7-24 at The Bardâ€™s Town Theatre at 1801 Bardstown Road. Tickets are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. A festival pass can be purchased for all six shows for $89. Tickets are available online at thebardstown.com. For additional information about Derby City Playwrights, follow them on Facebook or Twitter.Â