August 14, 2013

A&E Guide 2013: Spotlight on Slant organizers Teresa Willis & Alison Huff

Alison Huff and Teresa Willis are having a good year. It’s been eight months since they launched the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, a homegrown celebration of the eclectic Louisville theater scene. What started with a talk by Jon Jory grew into an 11-day festival, complete with all of Louisville’s favorite celebratory accoutrements (as Huff puts it: “Food, good. Alcohol, good. Party, good.”), drawing 1,214 people to Walden Theatre’s Payne Street location.

As Willis and Huff gear up for November’s second annual festival, they talk a lot about serendipity, the fortuitous circumstances that led to Derby City’s first local, collaborative theater festival.

A Louisville native, Willis had just moved back from California when she heard Huff’s idea: a festival produced by Walden, Savage Rose, Louisville Improvisors, Le Petomane and Theatre [502] featuring work that Huff characterizes as “a little bit experimental, a little bit off-beat, not something you’re going to see anywhere else.”

“I got to Louisville, looked around and went, ‘This place is just so ripe for this level of festival,’” Willis recalls. “For one thing, the town loves a freaking festival; you put the word festival in front of anything and they show up. I think it’s just one of those synergistic things where everything comes together, and if you look at the way the festival’s played out in its first year and the way it’s expanding in its second year, there’s just no doubt about how right it is.”

So far, the duo is thrilled with the results. Huff is especially proud of the cross-pollination between each group’s fiercely loyal but often-isolated audiences. The festival also attracted non-theatergoers, with Huff describing the ratio as 75/25. “This year, we hope to achieve a strong 50/50,” she says. “And then, maybe flip that ratio on its head.”

“We aim to do nothing less than to change the demographic of Louisville,” Willis jokes.

To that end, Willis and Huff are excited about what they insist will be a bigger, better festival this fall. While last year was limited to the producing companies, this year submissions were open to all local theater groups. “In that way, it’s like a Fringe,” says Willis. “It goes into our mission to say, ‘Louisville, this is what’s here. This is what’s available to you all year-round, and we’re going to serve it up to you in a fun way.’”

Also new: a Moth story slam. “It’s all storytelling through human experience, but with completely different audiences,” Huff explains. “We want to help people see the connections between the groups. Somebody who loves Moth will probably love theater, and vice versa.”

As for Willis, she’s excited to recreate the lobby vibe from last year’s events. “The lobby is the crossroads where community happens,” she explains. “It’s what makes it a festival instead of just a bunch of performances in the same place. I remember last year somebody pulled me aside and said, ‘Look around. It’s exactly what you said you wanted it to be.’ I can’t wait.”