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October 31, 2012

Theater: Distinguished film and theater director visits U of L

University of Louisville’s African American Theatre Program brings Kenny Leon to town to participate in a free public presentation from 5-8 p.m. on Monday. Leon, who is known for his work on Broadway and regional theater, produced the all-black “Steel Magnolias” remake that premiered this month on Lifetime. LEO spoke with Leon about theater and inspiring folks who do what they love.

LEO: As co-founder of True Colors Theatre in Atlanta, what made you start your own company?
Kenny Leon: I actually had no intention of starting my own company. After my time at The Alliance, I wanted to spend more time developing my artistic potential. I was planning on spending a lot of time developing projects and had plans to move to New York, and then I was approached by a couple of friends with the idea of starting a national black theater. I wasn’t sure about the idea, but they encouraged me to just talk about it. I was interested in sharing stories of African-Americans, but also in stories of other cultures and in persons who were different from each other sitting next to each other. I didn’t want to do black plays for black people; I wanted to do diversity — plays for everybody — interesting ways to look at plays. So eventually I talked myself into doing it. Eleven years later, we’re doing very well. It’s a great place to call my artistic home.

LEO: What was the impetus for doing an all-black rendition of “Steel Magnolias”?
KL: True Colors had done a multi-racial stage production years ago, and the playwright really liked the concept. I was approached to do the film; it was already the idea to do a black version, and I said absolutely because I love the story and thought having an African-American family could make it even more universally appealing.

LEO: What was your favorite experience working on it?
KL: The last night of shooting was special because we felt like we were leaving family. We shot the last scene of the film, and it was very emotional and very beautiful. We had fun, we laughed together, and I think we created something wonderful.

LEO: What can we expect from your visit to the U of L campus?
KL: I’m always sharing with people my passion for the arts and how important they are, and I’m also trying to tell some real truths about our profession. I want to prepare people for the road ahead. I’m hoping I can leave more in Louisville than I bring. I’m hoping the folks will be better for my time there.

LEO: Any advice for theater students just starting out?
KL: If you can do something else, you should; but if you wake up and you know you’re born to do this, then go for it, because it can be the most rewarding profession there is. But you gotta find the reason why you love it so you can talk to people about it.

Kenny Leon
Monday, Nov. 5
U of L Playhouse
1911 S. Third St. • 852-8443
Free; 5 p.m.