The Actors Theater of Louisville will not be hosting a 2022 Humana Festival of New American Plays, either online or in person, executive artistic director Robert Barry Fleming has confirmed with WFPL News..
“There will be no Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2022… The Humana Festival of New American Plays, as envisioned prior to the global pandemic, has inspired a new approach to developing and producing new works across multiple platforms while throughout the year,” Fleming’s email statement was read, in part.
In one interview with WFPL News in October, Fleming said the annual event, which typically takes place over several weeks in March and April, had undergone an evolution, both in response to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and broader changes within of the theater industry..
“It’s partly because if you keep trying to force the lens of what happened before, you’re actually eliminating your effective ability to keep doing the work that you’re doing,” he said.
In that same interview, Fleming said it was less important to try to fit the development of the shoehorn game into “some sort of six-week window, a specific way to implement it. In fact, we do the work and contribute to the canon, and continue to innovate.
The festival, which has existed for more than four decades, is an internationally acclaimed event focused on producing and elevating new works and theatrical voices. It has fostered hundreds of world premieres.
In 2011, a story of NPR considered the festival, “the envy of nearly every theater in America.”
Actors Theater has canceled performances at its 2020 Humana Festival of New American Plays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regional theater company turned to showing some of these plays that had been able to be opened online with a new on-demand streaming service called Actors Theater Direct.
“For this community and the national and international theater industry, closing the Humana Festival is no different from canceling the [Kentucky] NCAA basketball derby or tournament — a pivotal event in the national and international arts landscape,” Fleming said. says Louisville Business First in 2020. “To my knowledge, there was no other theater in the country whose recent decision to close resulted in five world premiere plays being halted.”
In 2021, Actors presented a virtual exhibition of new works under the banner of the Humana Festival and with the support of the Humana Foundation. The programming included virtual reality productions, digital plays, community projects and an interactive video game. These offers debuted over the past year, and a number of them are always available online.
Play festivals of this caliber can represent a significant expense for the regional theaters that host them.
In recent years, Actors Theater has received support from the Humana Foundation in Louisville and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
A Humana Foundation spokesperson said the organization has not received a new request for support from the Actors Theatre.
A statement said the foundation is “proud of its longstanding commitment to the arts and its 40-year sponsorship of the Actors Theater of Louisville and the Humana Festival of New American Plays, which has created powerful stories and a platform -form of artistic expression”.
“As the Foundation’s strategy has evolved to focus on health equity by addressing the social determinants of health, we have aligned our investments to support this direction,” he continued. “Investment realignments are not easy and as the Foundation plans its investment relationships for 2022 and beyond, we will focus on advancing our strategy and co-creating communities where leadership, culture and the systems work to improve and maintain positive health outcomes.”
“As we evolve in our relationship with the Humana Foundation, our organizations share an investment in the health, well-being and full development of our community, and we look forward to continuing a sustained exploration of the intersection of art and social enterprise,” Fleming said in his statement to WFPL News.
As for the future of the Humana festival and whether it will ever return, a spokesperson for Actors said that is yet to be determined.
Fleming said their current priorities are the work they’re doing rather than what’s not.
He pointed to Actors Theater’s upcoming world premiere of a show written by Jefferson County Public School students. It’s called “THREADS OF OUR HISTORY: Where we intertwine”, and examines social justice in Louisville both currently and throughout history, according to its online game summary.
The company also closed its in-person run of “All the small things” last month.
Some playwrights consider the Humana Festival as a reference in their career.
Actor and playwright Colman Domingo’s play “Pointran at the festival in 2015. He already had big credits on his playwright CV, but felt validated by having his work at the festival.
In an article in American Theater magazine that year, Domingo said it made him feel like a real playwright.
“Something about it really solidifies me,” he said. “The history and legacy of this one makes you feel like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely part of that tradition. “”
Disclosure: Louisville Public Media President Stephen George is a member of the Actors Theater of Louisville Board of Directors. WFPL is part of Louisville Public Media.