Actors Theatre’s 43rd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays is all about new. So, new this year is “Share the Spark,” an encore panel in the last week of the festival that will be made up of panelists selected from public submissions.
That’s right… Anyone with a vision for the future of American theater can apply and present that vision in a public forum.
Permeating every part of the five-week festival is an enthusiasm for innovation in theater and new stories and perspectives, as well as new ways of sharing those stories. So it only makes sense to round things out by openly sharing ideas to keep the creativity flowing and challenge the standards of American theater.
“We are looking for people with a strong point of view, who are eager to interpret the theme in unique ways,” said Actors Theatre’s Artistic Manager Zach Meicher-Buzzi. “Our great hope is that there will be a diversity of perspectives, identities, and artistry represented onstage, and the shared ideas will truly spark unexpected exchanges and inspiration.”
Diversity has been a prevalent topic in discussions throughout the theater scene in recent years. Theater — and stories in general — are about the human experience. And nowhere is diversity more important than in new theater. It’s crucial not just to have a diverse cast, but diverse theater creators and production, not just for Actors Theatre but for theaters all over the country.
The hope is that the “Share the Spark” encore panel will bring voices and perspectives of all kinds, each sharing their vision for the future of American theater and pushing it to become more diverse and more innovative.
To clarify, this isn’t the first year that The Humana Festival has ended with an encore panel. In fact, the tradition of discussing the future of American theater in the last week goes back to the beginning of the festival. It is, however, the first year that the encore panel is accepting public submissions to get a wider range of voices and perspectives.
Erin Meiman, Actors Theatre’s festival and events manager, said the program began with TED Talk-style presentations from Actors’ staff during the festival’s College Days programming. “The fascinating, insightful, and varied presentations have been a huge success. We’ve expanded that concept for the public festival Encore Weekend to include the brilliant minds in the larger theater community as presenters.”
Actors Theatre lays out all the information about applying to be a “Share the Spark” presenter on its website. The guidelines say selected panelists must attend an “on-site dress rehearsal,” which sounds almost theatrical in itself. A “TED Talk-style presentation” gives a good idea of what we can expect. Each panelist will have five minutes to give their presentation in their own way. They can pitch ideas for things they’d like to see in new plays going forward. They can explain an epiphany they’ve had about American theater or take the opportunity to challenge American playwrights, actors or casting directors to do better in the future.
But it’s not just about the presenters talking to each other, something that could cause an echo chamber no matter how diverse the panel might be. “Share the Spark” is an open forum to the public, in which interested audience members can attend and offer feedback.
“We designed the event to dedicate time for both presentation and a facilitated feedback forum between the presenters and the audience,” Meicher-Buzzi said. “Our hope is that the conversation will continue for our guests and permeate their Festival experience!”
It’s a conversation for anyone really passionate about the future of theater, at Actors Theatre and beyond.
As for those who don’t have a presentation in mind, but do have an interest, “Share the Spark” opens on April 5. It might just be the perfect encore after checking out your favorite new plays of the year. •
How to apply:
The deadline to apply is Jan. 18.