Backstory: What happens after Humana?

“I saw it at Humana.”

Sure, but did you see it anywhere else after that?

How quickly do plays launch out of the Humana Festival into the wider theatrical world? How high do they fly? How often do they stay put on the Louisville launch pad?

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: It’s not easy to get a play produced once, let alone in multiple productions. Landing a show at Humana is a significant achievement for any playwright. But while there are always hopes of going beyond this gutsy Kentucky theater (which lures potential producers from around the world to take a look), there’s a long list of reasons why that may not happen.

That being said, let’s look at what has happened to plays from Humana’s last few seasons.

Let’s start with last year, then head backwards (with the caveat that Actors Theatre of Louisville’s own database may miss info on a few productions).

On second thought, forget last year.

Because 2012’s plays haven’t had much time to gain traction yet—although Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On is off to a good start, with productions at Carolina Studio Actors Theatre and Boston’s Company One.

Skipping over to 2011, the breakout hit was, well, it depends on himgresow you look at it. A. Rey Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them scored at least eight productions from Coral Gables to L.A., but Adam Rapp’s cast-of-one The Edge of our Bodies played the more prominent venue, the Guthrie Theater. Then again, Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine not only found its way to at least six stages, but those included ACT in San Francisco and Playwrights Horizons in New York. (Personally, I was betting on more productions for the accessible, one-set Elemeno Pea, by Molly Smith Metzler, which did make it to South Coast Rep and Mixed Blood Theatre).

For 2010’s offerings, it’s not quite fair to count the subsequent productions of Rude Mechs’ The Method Gun since it’s a company-produced piece—in essence, a developing tour. Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Sirens had some traction, with at least nine productions at smaller theaters including St. Louis’ New Jewish Theatre. Otherwise, it was a launch-pad sitter of a year.

Like The Method Gun, Universes’ Ameriville played elsewhere after its 2009 Humana Festival stint—but not as independent productions. Charles L. Mee’s Under Construction saw the spotlight in university productions in Arizona, Illinois, and North Carolina. Allison Moore’s Slasher had at least nine productions at smaller theaters in, among others, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Alex Dremann’s On the Porch One Crisp Spring Morning also was picked up in L.A. and the Philly area as well as Columbus, Ohio, and a pair of Florida theaters. But Actors Theatre has no record of subsequent productions of Naomi Wallace’s The Hard Weather Boating Party besides a reading in Maryland (even with NEA Outstanding New American Play finalist status), which is more than has happened to Zoe Kazan’s Absalom.

Even if you take The Civilian’s company-created This Beautiful City and Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s performance piece the break/s—with 17 subsequent gigs between them—out of the equation, 2008 was still a strong year for pick-ups.32hf_becky_press_07

Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw had a successful run at New York’s Second Stage before new productions at Phildelphia’s Wilma Theater, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, South Coast Repertory Theatre, Actor’s Express in Atlanta and overseas at London’s Almeida Theatre and Australia’s Melbourne Theatre Company. And Jennifer Haley’s Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom has been seen at least 14 theaters. Carly Mensch’s All Hail Hurricane Gordo was offered at Cleveland Playhouse and both Elaine Jarvik’s Dead Right and Michael Thomas Cooper’s Tongue Tied had at least four productions each. And perhaps Michael Lew’s In Paris You Will Find Many Baguettes But Only One True Love would have had more than four subsequent productions if it had a title that could fit more comfortably on a theater marquee.


  1. Ilana Brownstein says:

    “Because 2012’s plays haven’t had much time to gain traction yet—although Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On is off to a good start, with productions at Carolina Studio Actors Theatre and Boston’s Company B.”

    {In the interest of accuracy, we’re Company One, not “Company B.”}

    We absolutely programmed How We Got On because of what I saw in the Humana production. As the Director of New Work at Company One, I had read Idris’ play after its workshop at the O’Neill. In many ways, it’s a natural fit for us, a theatre focused on inclusion and plays that expand the idea of whose stories get to be told. Lots of friends of our company had sent Idris’ play to us, and it was a good piece. But when I saw it at Humana, there had been so much excellent and nuanced work done by the artistic team and cast — people who had been with Idris on the project for the long term. It was a no-brainer for me: How We Got On was meant to be on our stage. The opportunity for the kind of intensive work that Humana provided the writer and his collaborators was instrumental in the growth of the play.

    It has never seemed to me that the whole measure of success of the Humana Festival was whether each play got X number of other productions out in the world. A more interesting question might be whether a greater or lesser number of Humana projects helped their playwrights grow their artistry and move their careers forward in some tangible way. This is not always the same thing as a single play getting more productions.

    – Ilana Brownstein
    Company One, Boston

  2. Iana,
    Thank you for the response.
    First, apologies for the typo. The play was also picked up by Sacramento’s B Street Theatre and it looks like I inadvertently merged your two theater. It has been corrected in the text.
    Second, you make very good points about the value of Humana Fest beyond launching shows into multiple productions. It was not my intention to imply that launching plays is the only sign of a Humana success.
    Another worthy story may be to take a look at where, career-wise, Humana playwrights were when they had their first plays produced here and then looking at where the writer, not the play, went afterwards. Of course, that approach argues for some sort of standard for success in this business, which, as you know, varies from writer to writer. Still, very worth exploring and I hope someone does.
    Again, thanks for reading and responding,

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