Christopher Arnott, the New Haven Advocate’s longtime theater critic (and the author of this self-serving article) is heading to the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, in Kentucky, this weekend. A pack of arts journalists from around the country will be posting features and reviews to http://www.engine31.org/, a pop-up website expressly created to cover the 2013 Humana Festival. The project is organized by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Casually switching to the first person now: I worked on the first, NEA-funded, Annenberg-run “Engine” project, Engine28 in 2011. I attended Humana last year for the first time last year, and not only was thoroughly impressed with how they run things at the only professional theater in Kentucky, but found lots of similarities between how they do things in Louisville and in New Haven. Both cities are major incubators of new plays.
Yale’s service to new plays has taken many forms over the years, but the Humana festival is a long-running institution with many traditions, running for 37 years. It’s considered one of the major new-play festivals in the country, if not the world.
The festival abounds with Connecticut connections. Actors Theatre of Louisville was co-founded in the 1960s by Jon Jory, shortly after he left another theater he’d recently founded, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. The new artistic director at ATL is Les Waters, who’s directed numerous plays at Yale Rep, particularly the works of Sarah Ruhl. (Waters also did two Charles Mee plays at Long Wharf.) Ruhl will appear in a panel discussion at Humana this weekend.
Several of the playwrights at Humana this year will be familiar to New Haven audiences: Will Eno, whose play The Realistic Joneses premiered at Yale last season, has his new one Gnit at Humana, directed by Waters. Rinne Groff, whose Anne Frank-based drama Compulsion was at the Rep in 2010, co-wrote Sleep Rock Thy Brain, an original work about “the science of sleep” which is being performed by the ATL’s Acting Apprentice Company. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins locally soon; the Yale Rep has commissioned a new play from him.
As for actors, it’s likely that at least a dozen of ‘em, out of the casts of the six shows at Humana, have Connecticut theater credits.
I’m thrilled to have another crack at Humana. I won’t just be posting on the Engine 31 site. It will also consume my own New Haven Theater Jerk blog, at www.scribblers.us/nhtj/ for a few days.