“It’s not a fringe festival,” stressed Charlie Sexton, artistic director of Walden Theatre, about the upcoming Slant Culture Theatre Festival.
Despite the fact that the festival features five performing arts groups, music, poetry readings, and tarot card readers, it’s not a fringe festival. Those involved in the festival are also quick to point out that it’s not a young adult theater festival either, even though it will be housed at Walden Theatre and takes its name from a Walden Theatre play series that featured edgy works about teens performed by teen actors.
What it will be is the product of the minds and collective efforts of some of the most successful and thoughtful theater artists and producers in Louisville.
“Slant culture” is a term that comes from microbiology. It refers to the fact that if you tilt a test tube, it creates a larger surface area for reaction and growth on the contents.
The idea for the Slant Culture Theatre Festival seems to have sprung nearly simultaneously from the brains of many of the people involved in theater in Louisville, including Sexton, Walden Theatre’s managing director Alison Huff, and Kyle Ware of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble. A little over a year ago, they were all in attendance at a talk given by John Jory, longtime artistic director at Actors Theatre of Louisville, that was moderated by Theatre ’s co-artistic director Gil Reyes, another festival participant.
Jory said that mainstream theaters continue to see their season subscriptions dwindle and their production costs rise, forcing them to play it safer than in the past. He wasn’t critical of that, but merely noted the trends brought about by new economic realities facing most arts organizations.
Jory said the real voices that will drive the arts conversation in the coming years, the game changers, will be coming from the companies outside the mainstream – companies that are nimble, adaptable, and have low overhead. These companies won’t be beholden to subscribers to keep the lights on, because they don’t have lights to keep on.
“I remember talking with Mike [Brooks, co-artistic director of Theatre ] and [Reyes] later that night and there being a certain something in the air,” said Ware. “And returning to Le Petomane rehearsals where that conversation grew a bit more. A lot of philosophy and ideology. And you have [Sexton] and [Huff] talking, and both of them working to put all of that into action and make something happen with it. Looking back, I think we were all just ready to have the conversation.”
Another takeaway from Jory’s talk was that Louisville has a lot of unique things to offer the community – from traditional arts organizations to PechaKucha to the late Late Seating at Actors Theatre – but that there is often too little overlap between audiences.
Huff said, although there has been a shift in the local arts scene, many of the Louisville arts organizations operate in silos.
“While each group has its own core audience, there’s not as much cross-pollination as you would think,” said Huff.
In its pilot year, the Slant Culture Theatre Festival seeks to tap into the faithful fans of five performance arts groups in an effort to introduce these distinct audiences to each other and to new artists. The festival will feature works by these groups in two performance spaces over the course of 10 days. The producing companies are Walden Theatre, Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, Theatre , Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company, and the Louisville Improvisors.
“Louisville doesn’t have anything like this right now,” said Sexton. “There is a new era of semi-professional theater in Louisville.”
“A rising tide,” said Isaac Spradlin, communications manager at Walden Theatre. “Right now there are huge opportunities for theater professionals in town. We have a community. We have more resources, more talent, more initiative.”
On any given day of the festival, attendees can see two to seven performances of these groups back-to-back, engage in workshops, enjoy between-show performances by musicians and poets, and take advantage of food truck options. A day pass for the festival is $20 for a weekday and $25 for weekends; individual performance tickets cost $10-$15. However, the real bargain of the festival is the festival pass – one that lets you into as many performances as you’d like over the entire festival – at just $65.
Walden Theatre will present “Salvation Road.” In keeping with the Slant Culture Series from which the festival gets its name, this production is a recent work by DW Gregory, directed by Alec Volz, which features two boys trying to free a girl from the grips of a fundamentalist guru. Volz is responsible for directing some of the most memorable productions at Walden in recent years, including “My So-Called So-Called Life” and “When in Disgrace (Haply I Think on Thee).”
Also under the direction of Volz, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company will present “The Man with the Flower in His Mouth,” a 1922 one-act play by Luigi Pirandello. This will be co-directed by Barrett Cooper, founder and artistic director of Savage Rose. The play is a dialogue that takes place in a bar between a man who is dying and another man who has carelessly missed his train.
Theatre  will resurrect the first play it ever produced, “The Debate Over Courtney O’Connell of Columbus, Nebraska.” In this 45-minute play directed by Reyes, Courtney O’Connell’s jilted first love debates the man who has won her heart.
Also resurrecting a popular past performance, Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble will revive “5 Things” for the festival. “5 Things” is an original musical comedy featuring three desert island castaways. The play managed to be both howlingly hilarious and deeply touching last season. This reprisal of “5 Things” represents the second production in Le Petomane’s four-show 2012-2013 season.
“Buy the Book,” presented by the Louisville Improvisors and directed by Chris Anger, will feature readings by guest authors, including Councilman Tom Owen, John Boel of WAVE 3, and former WDRB morning anchor Barry Bernson. These readings will then be retold and reimagined by the Improvisors.
The festival will launch with an opening gala on November 8, featuring music by Cheyenne Marie Mize and Joel Henderson and the Forty Gallon Baptists. Performances run November 9-18. All events will be held at Walden Theatre at 1123 Payne Street. For more information on the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, visit slantculture.com.
-Melissa Chipman, @loueyville
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