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New Awards Signal Development Of Louisville Playwrights

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For the casual theatergoer, it’s easy to see only the surface of what's here: the splashy posters and slick brochures for a Broadway Across America production that features national talent bussed in for one weekend, then gone the next.

But Louisville theater, of course, is more than that.

Over the last several decades, a plethora of smart community theaters have carved out a sustaining artistic presence within the city. They utilize the talents of local directors, actors, producers, and, more recently, the creations of area playwrights.

That’s why -- according to local theater pros -- a recent decision to add categories for “outstanding achievement in playwriting" to a Louisville awards show is such an important step for continued the evolution of homegrown theater.

For the last two years, Arts-Louisville and Broadway World Louisville -- two websites that cover area theater -- have held an awards ceremony honoring local productions at Vault 1031. The categories have included things like “Best Actor in a Local Play” or “Best Costume Designer.”

The upcoming 2017 awards ceremony marks the first time area playwrights will be included in the honors. There are two categories for which they can be considered -- short form (30 minutes or less) and long form (30 minutes or more).

It seems like a simple addition, but according to Louisville playwright Eli Keel (who, full disclosure, has written for WFPL), it means something more.

“Put simply, these playwriting awards are saying playwriting in Louisville matters,” Keel says. “And that’s not something that we as a community have said in the past.”

This might be due, in part, to the fact that more and more local playwrights are creating new works. Keel points to a weekend over the summer during which two locally written shows premiered while the The Derby City Playwrights New Play Festival (in which he participated) was going on.

Produced by Brian Walker and Doug Schutte in July, this was the first festival in the city that produced the full-length work of six local playwrights. Schutte, who owns the Bard’s Town Theatre, agrees that recognizing area playwrights is essential for the continued development of local theater.

“When I saw the news come out, I thought that it was a really nice next step,” Schutte says. “You see these little things happening here and there that really just show the way that the theater fabric continues to strengthen and grow.”

Keith Waits is the founder of Arts-Louisville and a co-producer of the awards.

“We want to find ways to make the awards more connected to the community in a direct way,” Waits says. “And it’s very clear that there is playwriting talent in the community.”

Waits acknowledges short play festivals have been around in the community for a while -- from the now-defunct Finnigan Festival to the annual short play presentations at Bellarmine University. But he, like the others, points out how the development of full-length works has increased in recent years.

“It seemed like [starting the playwriting category] was something sustainable by the work that is there,” Waits says. “You don’t want to start a category is you can only think of two nominees -- you want to think there is a field out there. And there obviously is.”

More information about the awards and how to enter is here. They'll be held in February 2017 at Vault 1031.