Every new play follows a unique path in getting from a playwright’s head to the stage… and the path doesn’t always end there, either. More and more theatre practitioners are realizing that a play keeps growing, often in really important ways, through two or three productions. Of course, when one of those productions goes up at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, you’ve really got a chance to learn exactly what kind of play you’ve wrought. I chatted with a few of the playwrights at the Humana Fest about what their journey to (and after) the Fest looked like.
“You don’t really know what a play is until it’s up,” said Greg Kotis, author of Michael Von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards, which had its premiere at this year’s festival. “Seeing it up on its feet for the first time makes it easy to see what’s working… and what isn’t.”
On the other hand, most playwrights agree that continuing to work on a play after it’s been produced is no mean feat. It’s easy to get attached to what we’ve seen on stage, especially once we’ve seen it over and over again in rehearsal and production. Mona Mansour, whose new play The Hour of Feeling also premiered at Humana this year, put it this way: “I do sometimes feel like the more ‘written’ a play is, it starts to feel like you need a scalpel to make changes. And one change causes another.”
Some playwrights, furthermore, prefer to put their energy into the process before production. When Lucas Hnath learned that Actors Theatre was planning to produce his play Death Tax, for example, he immediately set up a reading at New Dramatists to help him discover for himself what he’d written, figure out what he wanted to do, and give him whatever he needed to start rewriting in advance.
Of course, for some playwrights, the Humana experience is really an opportunity to discover—to your great delight—that you’re really quite thrilled with what you’ve created. Idris Goodwin, author of How We Got On, wants to devote his energies, post-festival, to spreading the word about his work: “I’m putting new plays on the back burner,” he said, “so I can focus on getting this play everywhere it can be.” And with Humana as his launching pad, he’s likely to succeed.
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