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Putting Down Roots: The Actors Theatre of Louisville Builds a Stage to Call Home



A young man dressed in white faces three older men in suits across a dinner table. The table is strewn with the remains of a meal-- half-empty wine glasses, an empty wine bottle, used dinner plates. In the forefront of the scene, the younger man grabs the

Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros's play Omnium Gatherum, starring Edward A. Hajj and Robert Lee Simmons, was performed at the 2002-2003 Humana Festival of New Plays, produced by the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky. Photo by John Fitzgerald

1969In 1964, a pair of Louisville, Kentucky, theater companies -- Actors, Inc. and Theatre Louisville -- merged to become the Actors Theatre of Louisville. From a small company performing in a space that sat only 100, the Actors Theatre has grown into one of the most well-respected regional theaters in the United States, currently presenting approximately 30 productions each year to an annual audience of more than 200,000.

In the late 1960s, the Actors Theatre was forced to leave its performance space -- which had been converted from an abandoned railroad station into a 350-seat theater -- to make way for a connector highway. In 1969, the company received an NEA Resident Professional Theatre Program grant of $10,000, which allowed the Actors Theatre to establish a permanent facility and technical staff. The Actors Theatre merged two buildings -- the old Bank of Louisville and the Myers-Thompson Display Building -- to form a new theater complex. The 637-seat Pamela Brown Auditorium opened in 1972, and the 159-seat Victor Jory Theatre opened in 1973. The new space allowed the company to present plays on both a thrust stage and in a three-quarter arena performance space, thereby increasing the company's programming and fostering its artistic growth. In 1974, the Actors Theatre was named the state theater of Kentucky in recognition of its artistic excellence and growing importance to American regional theatre.

The adoption of a permanent facility allowed the Actors Theatre to develop the Humana Festival of New American Plays, which, since 1976, has showcased new theatrical work and revived interest in the one-act play.  Since its inception, the Humana Festival has premiered numerous Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, and the Actors Theatre has produced more than 300 Humana Festival plays representing the work of more than 200 playwrights. The NEA has continued to support the company, most recently with an Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $45,000 for the 30th Annual Humana Festival and an accompanying anthology. 

The Actors Theatre has continued to transform and update its performing spaces, allowing for more flexibility and innovation.  In 1994, the company built the 318-seat Bingham Theatre and enlarged and enhanced the Pamela Brown Auditorium and Victor Jory Theatre stages. The Actors Theatre's leadership and achievement in American regional theater has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Tony Award for outstanding non-profit resident theatre. The company also has toured its productions internationally, presenting more than 1,500 invitational performances in more than 29 cities in 15 foreign countries.