Monday, September 24, 2012

A Story Told Well Is for All Listeners: KY Opera Opens the Season with Tosca

Kara Shay Thomson & Jonathan Burton in Tosca.
Photo by Patrick Pfister.

By Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica after the play by Victorien Sardou
Directed by David Roth

Review by J. Barrett Cooper.

Entire contents copyright © 2012 J. Barrett Cooper. All rights reserved.

On Friday night, the Kentucky Opera celebrated the opening of its Brown-Forman Sixtieth Anniversary Season with a gala evening. Studded with tuxedos and evening gowns, the W. L. Lyons Brown Theatre sparkled in all its glory – excitement and anticipation palpable with the return of the Louisville Orchestra to the pit of the Brown, and the “Pope” was out front to take pictures for the society papers. On first glance, one might expect that what was about to happen would be only for the Society elite – that this evening’s pageantry would not be for the masses.

In one sense, they would be correct. The finery sitting in the house might not be available or affordable for most entertainment seekers. However, what was presented on the intimate stage of the Brown would and should, in this humble reviewer's opinion, appeal to anyone seeking to hear and experience a story that is both entertaining and thought provoking.
Under the delicate direction of Kentucky Opera’s General Director, David Roth, this offering of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca sets the bar high for the rest of the season and is one that will be sure to bring back opera afficiandos and, hopefully, lovers of good stories well told.

Set in early 19th century Kingdom of Naples, during Napoleon's invasion, the story revolves around the love affair of the artist Cavaradossi (Jonathan Burton) and his paramour, the jealous Tosca (Kara Shay Thompson), an opera singer whose mercurial impetuosity is at once humorous and aggravating yet, as seen in this production, masks a vulnerability which leads to her tragic end. Cavaradossi, in attempting to aid an escaped political prisoner, Angelotti (John Arnold), incurs the jealousy of his love Tosca and the wrath of Chief of Police Baron de Scarpia, who is searching for the escaped Angellotti and pursuing the physical love of Tosca.

Michael Chioldi & Jonathan Burton in Tosca. Photo by Patrick Pfister.
The performances in this beautifully crafted production are nothing if not understated and powerful. Burton’s Cavaradossi is a man caught between the jealousy and love of Tosca and the attempts of Scarpia to destroy him. Mr. Burton finds humor and agony as he fends off the paranoia of his love and then is tortured and betrayed by both Scarpia and Tosca. In the role of Tosca, Kara Shay Thompson returns to the Kentucky Opera where two seasons ago she appeared in Cavallaria Rusticana, and we can be thankful for that. Ms. Shay is superb. Her strong soprano voice is able to capture all the delicacy and power that this role seems to call for: soft and delicate, humor, beauty, wrath and pain. She is beautiful in the sumptuous gowns designed by Howard Tvsi Kaplan.

But I believe the evening belongs to Michael Chioldi’s portrayal of the villain Scarpia! Mr. Chioldi’s warm, rich baritone is stunning. Physically imposing, he commands the stage with ease and grace. While being the essence of an operatic villain (even one time making a reference to Shakespeare’s Iago), Mr. Chioldi never makes us feel as if we were watching a caricature. His scenes are solid and filled with nuanced rage and pain. In "Va, Tosca!" ("Go, Tosca!") and "Già, mi dicon venal" ("Yes, they say that I am venal"), the full range of his talent and power are apparent. The beauty of Puccini is in full bloom during the “Te Deum Laudamus” (“We Praise Thee, O God”), where Mr. Chioldi and the Kentucky Opera Chorus bring the first act to a thundering end.

The supporting cast does able work: Studio Artists Brad Raymond (Spoletta) and Greg Jebaily (Sciarrone). Noel Bouley as Sacristan has some nice moments that add a lightness to the beginning, and John Arnold as Angelotti contrasts that with the urgency and fear that pervades the town.

The Louisville Orchestra, under the direction of returning Maestro Joseph Mechavich, is a welcome sight and an aural delight. They’ve never sounded better.

Design in the production is both bold and understated. Scenery was designed by Robert Little and is perfect for the space. It was lit with a deft hand as that of Jeff Bruckerhoff. Atmosphere and mood are expressed with subtlety and natural light sources are enhanced with care. This adds to the production in an almost subliminal way. 


Friday, September 21, 8 p.m.
Sunday, September 23, 2 p.m.
Friday, September 28, 8 p.m.
Kentucky Opera at
The Brown Theatre
315 W. Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202

[title of show]

Bryce Blair, Susan Crocker, Josh O' Brien & Jennifer Poliskie
in [title of show]. Photo courtesy of Little Colonel's Playhouse.
[title of show]

Book by Hunter Bell
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Directed by Janet Morris

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

A fun little show opened and closed this weekend at the Little Colonel Playhouse in Pewee Valley, and I hope you got a chance to see it. Known by the bizarrely literal title [title of show}, it ran for only four performances but will not be quickly forgotten.

The show told the story of its two composers, Jeff and Hunter (Bryce Blair and Josh O’Brien), as they composed a new musical initially for a competition, then ultimately to take to Broadway. They were assisted in this undertaking by their actress friends Heidi and Susan (Jennifer Poliskie and Susan Crocker) and their mostly silent accompanist Mary (music director Kim Stover Hartz). It had very little plot-wise, but it made for a nice framework on which to hang a lot of clever musical numbers and fun vignettes about the many struggles this small group faced on their journey from obscurity to the lights of Broadway.

For the most part, it worked; all five of the performers made the most of the material without a weak link in the cast. Blair and O’Brien turned in especially impressive turns as their characters carried the brunt of the emotional element of the show, while Poliskie and Crocker managed to steal scenes from them right and left. Hartz’s moments were especially funny as she rarely spoke except when she wanted to remind us she was there (and she was the sole musician giving accompaniment tirelessly on the piano).

Janet Morris’s direction kept things flowing nicely from musical number to vignette to musical number. Hunter Bell’s libretto was mostly fun and comedic, but it seemed to lose steam for a while in the second half when the tone turned from lighthearted to cynical. But things recovered nicely by the end. Jeff Bowen’s songs were generally a lot of fun, but there were one or two that I frankly just didn’t enjoy. (I thought “Change It/Don’t Change It” would never end.)

But overall, this was a nice departure from the G-rated fare we usually get from the Little Colonel Playhouse, and this reviewer hopes it is a sign of great things to come.

[title of show]

Featuring Bryce Blair, Susan Crocker, Kim Stover Hartz, Josh O’Brien, and Jennifer Poliskie.

September 20-23, 2012

Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Crestwood, KY 40014
(502) 241-9906

The Bard’s Town Delivers “Exceptionally Enjoyable” Program of Shorts in Ten-Tucky Festival

Brian Hinds and Julane Havens in Sweet Virginia
Photo by Doug Schutte.

The Ten-Tucky Festival of 10-Minute Plays

Reviewed by Todd Zeigler.

Entire contents copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

It would be fair to say it's a great time to be practicing theater – acting, writing, directing, any aspect if it – in Louisville.

Fair, but not entirely up-to-date.

It has been a good time for a long time, and it keeps getting better. Multiple openings every week, innumerable shows to audition for, more opportunities for local writers to see their work staged. And in the case of The Bard's Town, all this and a place in which to put it.

In only its second year, the performance space/pub and grub has become a cornerstone of an artistically vibrant community whose one major shortcoming is a sore lack of performance spaces. The added benefit is the focus Executive Director Doug Schutte and Artistic Director Scot Atkinson give to local work. Twelve of the fourteen new plays they will stage in 2012 are by Kentucky playwrights. And of the 100 Commonwealth-generated submissions for their second annual ten-minute play festival, they have compiled and produced an exceptionally enjoyable evening of new theater.

Schutte plays host for the evening with an affable, Conan O'Brien-like quality and links the plays together quite well. He also appears in the supporting role of Dr. Bob Kane (if you get that reference, you can already see where this is going) in the opening piece, "Knightstalker and Canary," written and directed by local actor Ben Gierhart. Dr. Kane is psychoanalyst to Canary, a superhero sidekick with a distinctive red and yellow color scheme who is having issues stepping out of the shadow of his dark-hued, gravel-voiced mentor. When Knightstalker shows up at the doctor's office, hilarity ensues...for the most part.

Gierhart couches the style of the piece in the archly serious yet tits-adorned style of Adam West-era "Batman." What made that style so funny is the utter seriousness of the caped crusaders amid the lunacy surrounding them. Here, there is not quite enough conviction in the characters, and some overly self-conscious attempts to play for laughs keeps the piece from being as funny as it should be. But JP Lebangood and Colby Ballowe work well off each other and make this lighthearted look at some issues between the dynamic duo we've all thought about for a long time (They share a bed? Really!?!)  highly enjoyable overall.

Patrick Wensink's "A Falling Piano with Your Name on It" is a clever little character piece about two detectives, one of whom has two big secrets to tell the other. Wensick's dialogue is musical and captures well the generational difference between a grizzled, seen-it-all cop and his young partner. Director Brian Walker keeps the pace moving and the tension building to the big reveal, and Sean Childress and Eric Welch exhibit a great natural chemistry that brings the climax home quite effectively.

Doug Schutte's "Stained Glass" is a character piece of a different sort. In it, a man faces   cold feet on his wedding day with help from a best man who is caught in a different marital crisis. This is an incredibly mature and informed piece, well-staged by director Amos Driesbach. Colby Ballowe is effectively high-strung and well balanced by Corey Music, a talented comedic actor, who does a wonderful job revealing the wounded core of his character without a hint of melodrama. Very real, very good. And I particularly enjoyed the ending, well-crafted by Schutte, that keeps the play from straying too close to sentimentality.

April Singer and Ryan Watson in Gay Encounters
of the Third Kind.
Photo by Doug Schutte.
Nancy Gall-Clayton's "Aphrodite in the ER" is exactly what it says it is: a Greek goddess in labor caught in the maddening throes of the American health care system. JP Lebangood turns in great character work as the nebbish bureaucrat Bud; and April Singer goes for broke as Aphrodite, attempting to retain her regal majesty while squeezing a baby out. Clever jibes at the mythological material and performers enjoying the material make this a fun end to Act One.

Act Two opens with a look at what has got to be foremost among first world problems in Andy Epstein's clever and insightful "Gay Encounters of the Third Kind." In an extended monologue, Ben (Ryan Watson) guides us through the great crisis of his life: he's not gay, but everyone thinks he is. Ben explores the history of his problem, shows us how it affects every aspect of his life, and finally arrives at how he might use it to his advantage. As Ben, Ryan Watson fills the stage with his endearing, exasperated presence. Yet his eyes call to mind Jim Parsons: penetrating, accusatory and put-upon, keeping us just distant enough to be able to laugh uproariously at his plight. John Scheker and April Singer do excellent work as different men and women in Ben's life who compound his problem.

From here, Ten-Tucky steps into the quirky and surreal with Erin Keane's "Sweet Virginia." Hank (Sean Childress) is headed to Central America for three weeks and is leaving Kelly (Beth Tarantella Burrell) to look after his house...and his pets – Fluffernutter and Don Quixote (Julane Havens and Brian Hinds). I don't want to spoil what exactly Fluffernutter and Don Quixote are, other than to say they're nasty, they have a fresh litter, and they're existentially tormented. Keane's writing is hip and poetic, sometimes almost a little too much. But director Greg Maupin and the cast perfectly bring to life Keane's ideas about how tempting and elusive freedom can be for man and beast alike.

Also in the absurdist vein is Brian Walker's "Finn's Motel" about a young man searching for purpose in his life at a hotel that mysteriously shares his name. What he finds there, I don't want to spoil either. Suffice to say it (it being played by Corey Music) is a surprise, it may hold Finn's answers, and it is incredibly articulate about how much it wants to have sex with Finn (Ryan Watson) and his companion (Megan Brown). "Finn" and "Sweet Virginia" share a quality in that they both end on cliffhangers. "Sweet Virginia" feels like a more complete journey for the characters; you get the idea what will happen next. "Finn" doesn't quite resolve its protagonist's quest, which is a bit frustrating (in a good way, I think: I really wanted to know what happens next). But both Walker and Keane deserve a special mention for sheer audacity of imagination.

The festival finale is a touching meditation on competition in Trish Ayers' "Judging Quilts." Julane Havens, Hallie Dizdarevic and Meg Caudill embody three quilts on the international quilt competition circuit (there's a show circuit for everything, right?). Caudill is the take-no-prisoners pageant queen, Dizdarevic the serious-but-fair-playing pro, and Havens the wide-eyed newcomer who is competing for more than just show. The trio defines their characters crisply, and Ayers' use of something as traditional and personal as a quilt perfectly drives home the point that value doesn't come from a blue ribbon. A well-crafted, well-directed (by Melinda Crecelius) play – with a killer closing line – that will leave you positively charmed.

Doug Schutte says in his festival introduction that the theme of the show is "celebration." With so many talented actors, writers and directors taking part, he's exactly right. It's a celebration you should get in on. Bravo, Bard's Town!

The Ten-Tucky Festival of Ten-Minute Plays

September 20-23, 27-29

The Bard's Town
1801 Bardstown Road

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Retrospect: Celebrating 50 Years of the University of Louisville Photographic Archives

Richard Bram – Standing Up at the Downs, Louisville, 1991.
Curated by Elizabeth E. Reilly
Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Gary Winogrand, Hugh Hefner, Jesse Jackson,
Operation PUSH Fundrasier, Chicago, 1972.
When lists are compiled of Louisville treasures, more often than not, the University of Louisville Photographic Archives are included. Exactly why this is so may be lost on people outside of the worlds of art, history or journalism. But the walls of the Cressman Center for Visual Arts are currently filled with all of the evidence anyone would ever require to understand why. Retrospect: Celebrating 50 Years of the University of Louisville Photographic Archives opened on September 7. 
Walker Evans – Church, South Carolina.
Curator Elizabeth E. Reilly has taken great care in the positioning of the work, with images juxtaposed to reveal connections, some of which are somewhat obvious but still powerful. A picture by Gary Winogrand that shows Jesse Jackson and Hugh Hefner seated together at a 1972 fundraiser next to a photograph by Louisville native Richard Bram capturing Jackson at the Occupy Wall Street protest that took place last year charts a clear line through the long career of the once controversial social activist that is no less meaningful for being so easy a choice. The 1972 version has both fists exuberantly raised in the air, but Bram’s camera captures the world-weary wisdom gained of a further forty years of experience.

Other pairings, such as classic images of Babe Ruth and Pee Wee Reese alongside recent pictures of The Louisville River Bats, approach a more pedestrian level of observation but remain compelling.

Far more subtle and intriguing are the relationships to be discovered in groupings, such as that including Guy Mendes, Jean Thomas and Kate Matthews in which small details of form and human gesture are echoed in black-and-white images taken many years apart but speaking to the same tone and feeling of time and place. Since the older photographs were chosen by the modern day artists, the ancestry of influence may not be surprising. But one has to wonder if the contemporary artists themselves, upon seeing the combinations, have gained an even deeper understanding of their own place in the developing history of the medium.

J.C. ReigerStudio, Unidentified, 1918.
The format of pairing specific photographers lends formal consistency to the format but also allows recognition of local artists that serves to underscore the rich legacy of superior local talent behind the camera throughout the years: Sarah Lyon, Ted Wathen, Bob Hower, Mary Carothers, Barbara Crawford, John Nation and Guy Mendes are just a few of the Kentucky and Indiana photographers represented here alongside famous names such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Jerry Uelsmann.

The exhibit strives for more than simply representing the range and breadth of the archives. It certainly does accomplish that goal. But the depth of the archive collection allows this show to become something of a de facto retrospective of photography in America. It may not be one of the stated goals, but the exhibit almost cannot help itself from reaching for this ambition. From detailed and objective, journalistic observation to sumptuously rendered art photography, it charts many approaches to the use of the camera.

Retrospect: Celebrating 50 Years of the University of Louisville Photographic Archives

September 7 – October 13, 2012
Cressman Center for Visual Arts
Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville
100 East Main Street           
Louisville, KY 40202

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Different Kind of Theatre? An interview with Baby Horse Theatre Group Artistic Director Jon Becraft

By Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Jon Becraft, Danielle Burns and Kelli Fitzgibbon
of Baby Horse Theatre Group.
Baby Horse Theatre Group is a newly formed experimental theatre company here in Louisville. Artistic directors Jon Becraft and Kelli Fitzgibbon formed the group over the summer. Their goal is to break down the physical barriers between audience and performer, striving away from the traditional narrative form of mainstream theater. With their debut production, Biography of a Physical Sensation, the group is pushing the boundaries of traditional theater with the story of one woman’s life told only through physical and sensory impressions.

Arts-Louisville: What gave you the idea to start Baby Horse Theatre Group?

Jon Becraft: Kelli Fitzgibbon, the other artistic director, and I met in college. We both went to Hanover together, which is where I studied theater. She and I were good friends there, and after we graduated, we both moved permanently to Louisville. We had always been really interested in experimental theater. We wanted to do the kind of theater that wasn’t just the traditional narrative style, because that is going out of style and has declined over the past several decades. We wanted to see what kind of theater forms we could come up with that were different from what we’d seen and studied. 

AL: Did you have exposure to experimental theater at Hanover?

JB: Not particularly, though I was very pleased with the kind of work I was doing at Hanover. We [Kelli and I] had to broaden our horizons. Our first exposure to experimental theater was a trip to Austin, Texas. We met a lot of the theater companies down there during a festival. That’s where we met Rubber Repertory, the company that originated the show we’re doing, Biography of a Physical Sensation. We saw the first version of Biography there, and we were really blown away by the level of involvement and the connection that we had to the show. That was the moment where we thought, “This is something that Louisville doesn’t have.” We thought the perfect thing would be to start our own little company.

AL: What is the mission of Baby Horse Theatre Group? Do you have a specific message you are trying to get across?

JB: We want to do theater where there is no separation between audience and performer. Ultimately what will bring about the end of theater is the fact that movies and television provide the same thing that theater has for centuries. We believe that the future of theater will be an art form that presents the same ideas, concepts and stories that theater has in the past, but that can’t be duplicated by any other art form. We believe that what can’t be duplicated is physical interaction between performer and audience.

AL: Are there any particular artists who interest you who are doing what you’re doing?

JB: Rubber Repertory is one we admire, and also the performance artist, Marina Ambromovic. There was recently a documentary released about her called The Artist Is Present, where there was a retrospective of her work. In the documentary, she sat across from some people who came to see her work and they just sat and stared at each other for however long the attendee wanted to. The idea was to involve the artist and the audience physically. Back in the ’70s she did a performance where she stood in front of an audience with a huge series of objects in front of her. For six hours the audience could do whatever they wanted to her with any of the objects, and she wouldn’t resist. They were dangerous objects, some of them, and it was this really intense, moving, bizarre experience where the artist and the audience were engaged physically together.

AL: I don’t know if I would want to be the performer in that one.

JB: I don’t know if I would either. It takes a special kind of artist to do that.

AL: What is “Biography of a Physical Sensation”?

JB: It starts off with finding a subject, a person. We interviewed a woman who we went to school with. We interviewed her pretty extensively and got to know her entire life story with some very intimate details. We extracted what we felt were her most significant memories. From that, we extracted purely what she saw, felt, heard, smelled and tasted. We’ve since created this show where we are going to tell the story of her life but without the classic narrative style. We won’t provide any context for the memories. All we’ll do is expose the audience to different physical sensations, purely sensory things. Each audience member will have a different experience during the show because we have a huge list of different events that each individual audience member will experience. There are three different levels of intensity that the audience will choose from. That way, if they’re less inclined to get really intense, they can pick level one; if they’re a little bold, they will choose level two; and if they want to go all out for an intense, up-close, in-your-face experience, then they will choose level three.

AL: Do they get to change levels, or do they have to stick with the same level?

JB: They’ll choose a level before the show starts, and then stick with that one throughout the show.  -

AL: What is the performer’s role in all of that?

JB: We serve as guides and basically technicians for the audience members. We perform the sensations to the audience member using props, furniture, etc. We instruct them on little things to do. Essentially, we’re not as much performers as we are technicians.  -

AL: Is this your first foray into this kind of work?

JB: This is the first that we’ve done. We’ve been fans of it and have studied it for a long time.  -We’ve been developing this show throughout most of 2012. This will be our first time actually getting our hands dirty. We’re excited about it. 

AL: Are you nervous?

JB: We’re nervous because it’s the kind of show that you can’t rehearse for like most theater. - I’m used to knowing what the show will look like and what it will be a week before it opens. We really don’t know because so much of the shape of the show will depend on how the audience reacts. It’s unlike any theater experience we’ve ever had.  -

AL: What are your expectations about how the audience will react?  

JB: There will definitely be some people who will walk away from it feeling bothered or embarrassed by what happened, and that’s part of the show. We are performing sensations that come from the memories of a human being. Some of the memories are positive and some of them are negative. Even though the audience isn’t provided with the context from the biography of this woman, it might remind them of something that happened to them. They’re going to interpret it how they do, and we don’t have any control over that. I think there will be a lot of people who will initially be a little apprehensive about the experience, but ultimately the goal is to affect the audience. I would much rather have someone walk away with a negative emotion than walk away with no feeling whatsoever.

AL: Do you have any plans to write your own stuff?

JB: The next show we’re developing is totally original. The show after that is going to be entirely different. Our hope is to do as much original material as we can. If we do something that is based on a pre-existing work, our goal is to adapt it to our own style, not just stage it.  -

AL: What are your plans for the future? 

AL: We have two other shows in 2013 that we have scheduled. We have one that we’re developing right now called Intoxico, which will open at the Bard’s Town and will run two Fridays, January 4th and 11th. It’s what we refer to as a live drinking game show. We’re still in the developmental stages of it. It’s another one that is highly interactive, and a little extreme. It’s going to be a lot more fun and upbeat than Biography – more ambitious. We’re very excited about doing it and we’re very excited about getting everyone to see it because there’s not really a whole lot around Louisville that’s like this. We want to encourage more of it and definitely gain some support for the experimental form.

Biography of a Physical Sensation

Because each show has only 18 seats available, seating is very limited. Please reserve early.

September 21, 22, 28, 29 @ 7:30 p.m.
Highland Green Discovery Center
1401 Bardstown Road
Tickets:  $10.00

Originally conceived by Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer
Adapted and directed by Jon Becraft and Kelli Fitzgibbon

Based on the life of Lydia Lovell

Theatre Information:
Baby Horse Theatre Group
1106 Poplar Level Plaza
Louisville, KY 40217

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Watch This Space: The Alley Theater’s Ongoing Transformation

Text and photos by Keith Waits.

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Scott Davis.

Talk to most theatre producers in town and they will tell you that one of the things they desire most is a space to call their own – to cease the continual search for rehearsal and performance space and avoid the attendant rental costs. Scott Davis, Artistic Director of The Alley Theater, is in the enviable position of having such a residence. But his recent experiences might fall under the category: “Be careful what you wish for…”

Since 2009, The Alley has functioned inside The Pointe, formerly a warehouse on East Washington Street in the historic Butchertown district. Operating within a generous relationship with BET Realty, the firm who owns and manages the property, it has produced plays in no less than three separate areas within the expansive L-shaped structure, most recently in the eastern wing of the basement. It is here that Mr. Davis is determined to fashion a flexible yet permanent home for his company and its unorthodox mission. It has proven to be a challenge, as The Alley’s multi-phase development plan has not always coincided with the simultaneous physical development plan of BET Realty. The 2011-12 season took patrons down some rickety stairs one floor below the nearest bathroom, into a subterranean warren of office cubicles and two stages, all defined by a patchwork series of flats and doors that lends  The Alley’s current environment a certain ramshackle, underdog quality.

But as Mr. Davis proceeded with a full season of programming, the landlord fell behind schedule on an aggressive renovation timetable. The theatre had maintained compliance with fire and electrical codes applicable to its “temporary” status but now ran into problems with access once the renovation work cut off the stairs leading to the basement level. It forced them to cut short the 2011-12 season, interrupting a run of Gilligan’s Island: The Musical and cancelling a planned production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. The question of whether to stay in The Pointe or seek an entirely new space was pondered by the board of directors, who eventually decided to stay put and hope for the best.

“For the first time since moving here, we were in the red,” says Davis. “There was simply no cash flow.” The fiscal challenges followed a difficult season in which Davis was forced to step back from his artistic role and concentrate all of his energies on maintaining a functioning environment. Although the season featured several high points – a remounting of the popular Evil Dead, The Musical; a fascinating production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that packed the tiny black box space in the basement; and Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in 60 Minutes or Less, that will be returning by popular demand in October – for Davis and his creative team, the 2011-12 season did not live up to their expectations. “I’m not sure if any of us voted for ourselves as Best Local Theatre Troupe in LEO.”

Coming soon:  the new entrance off Franklin Street.

Yet the company is approaching the new season with a sense of determined optimism, and recently Davis took me on a tour of the still-evolving space. Changes that will allow The Alley to once again open for business in the next 30 days include: a new entrance into the building from the Franklin Street side that will allow access down a wide, winding corridor; a public restroom within the theater’s basement space; and an expanded concessions counter. BET’s ongoing renovation will include fuller facilities later in the season, but for now, The Alley Theater is preparing again for a lively line-up of theatre experiences, with plans for a third cabaret-style stage and a fund raiser scheduled for September 29.

Entitled “The Princess Bride Experience,” it is to be a festival of events that will include a staged reading of the classic film’s script, a Renn-style midway with vendors and food, and an ongoing screening of the movie itself. The fund raiser will take place, not at The Alley Theater itself (“Even without the current work taking place, this space isn’t suitable for this type of festival,” says Davis), but at 620 South Third Street, next to the Henry Clay Building.

Although Davis has not yet shaken off the weary mien that last season’s challenges have draped upon him, he will start the new season off with a bang: the Louisville premiere of one of the most talked about New York musicals of recent years, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, which opens October 25. Some of the material scheduled to follow will speak to the core twenty something audience that The Alley has cultivated: Living Dead in Denmark crosses zombies with Hamlet and a host of other Shakespeare characters in a show that promises heady onstage action; while two others, Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers and Commando Cody: Zombies of the Stratosphere, are both drawn from the original movie serial scripts that played in the 1930s.

Backstage of the thrust stage where
 Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson will be performed.

But Davis’s ambitions for The Alley are not limited to the self-referential pop culture constructions that have dominated the schedule of late. He seeks a mix of material that includes classics and the works of contemporary American playwrights such as Stephen Adly Guirgis and Sarah Ruhl. The strategy attempts to draw not only a broader audience but also the best acting talent. “There are very few companies that can offer a wide range of material to the actors they are working with,” states Davis. “It would be great to be able to do that.”

So the company pushes forward in an effort to rediscover the foundation necessary to accomplish all of these estimable goals. First up, after The Princess Bride Experience, The Alley will host the season opener of Looking for Lilith, an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis that will run October 4-13 on the main stage.

The Alley Theater