Idris Goodwin | Courtesy of StageOne

On Wednesday, StageOne Family Theatre announced that Producing Artistic Director Peter Holloway was stepping down after 11 years, and the multi-talented Idris Goodwin will be taking over.

Goodwin has an extensive background in all arenas of theater, but Louisvillians know him mostly as a playwright who has worked with both Actors Theatre and StageOne. 

It’s surprising and exciting news, so Insider reached out to Goodwin to talk about how it went down and what we can expect when he officially takes the gig in August.

Insider Louisville: How long has this been in the works?

Idris Goodwin: It’s been going on a few months now. I was telling Peter that I was interested in doing something else; I had been a full-time professor at a liberal arts college in Colorado for about five years. I have a background in a lot of different things — education, programming, community outreach and really using the theater as a meeting ground, as a space to bring different communities together. I wanted to get back to that.

We’d also been talking for a while about how StageOne could have a more regular relationship with me as a writer, and that wasn’t really materializing. So he told me, “I think I’m interested in transitioning and doing something different myself.”

So from there we got the board involved and the staff involved. There was a process that really got real in the fall, and it came together right at the top of this year.

IL: You have a really varied resumé. Do you see any of those other skills — playwrighting, poetry, essay writing — coming to Louisville with you?

IG: I’ve always done multiple things at once, you know? I’ve never just been a writer, or just been a director, I’ve always looked at my creative life as being really full and diverse. So I’m maintaining my national profile as a writer, but primarily for StageOne, I really want to just build on the programs they have in place.

I want to work with theater artists from the region — from Kentucky, Indiana, Cincinnati and beyond. I know a lot of great playwrights, some do TYA work, some who don’t but I think would be great in that realm.

IL: TYA? Is that teen … youth?

StageOne is one of the country’s leading professional theaters for young audiences and is the oldest theater in Louisville. | Courtesy of StageOne Family Theatre

IG: That just means “theater for young audiences.” That’s the new slang. (Laughs) That’s what we call it in the street. 

I have a lot of TYA work I’ve done for other theaters. So certainly some of that work could possibly appear in a StageOne season down the road.

But by and large, my interest is really in building off what Peter was doing, which is really thinking creatively about collaborations. And who’s in the room. How to make the room diverse and interesting, and how to make the city and the region excited about theater.

IL: You mention making the room diverse, and you’re bringing a diversity to not just StageOne but the Louisville arts community, which is predominately white, especially in leadership roles. And that reflects a problem in the community — the Ninth Street divide. Do you hope to speak to that in your role?

IG: Yeah, I believe in this moment, in 2018, what’s on our stages should reflect the communities we’re in. And beyond that, the country we’re in. This is a moment where we need collaboration across community and across culture.  

It’s bigger than just black and white. Louisville is a very diverse city with a variety of communities, and I think theater is uniquely in a position to celebrate that multiplicity. We can create rooms, both onstage and offstage, that really look like the city we’re in.

And that’s work StageOne has been interested in since I got to know them. Like the “Cassius” (“And in This Corner, Cassius Clay”) project we collaborated with the Ali Center on. Ali is something I think the entire city can agree upon, that they admire. So a project like that brings the whole city out.

William McNulty and Justin Cornwell in “Cassius Clay” | Photo by Hannah Wemitt

But then what’s been surprising is that other cities have been doing that play. So in a way, it’s like bringing Louisville to Portland, Ore. or bringing Louisville to St. Louis. So I’m really interested in those homegrown narratives that really reflect who the city is. And then as a result, multiple people who have multiple ways of loving this city are there in the audience.

I think there’s very clear approaches to being inclusive. And I think it starts with the story, then goes to casting, and it goes to who’s the team. Who’s in the room, who’s in the creative space. And then collaborations. Who can we partner with? There’s multiple points of investment for people to get involved, multiple levels.

IL: Before this announcement, StageOne already was producing another new play by you, “American Tales,” their next production. How did that come about? How did you pick John Henry, Pecos Bill and Brer Rabbit as your subjects?

IG: One of the good things about Peter, he’s a really good idea man. He was, like, ‘Listen, there’s an opportunity here to create the folktales of America. We read Norse mythology, Greek mythology, but what does American folklore look like?’ And so that was it. I got to pick which particular three I wanted to do.

Ben Evans (standing), Steffan Clark and Megan Adair in “American Tales” | Photo by Hannah Wemitt

And I write a lot about history — American history, history in the West. I write about the South. So for me, John Henry and Brer Rabbit came up right away. And Pecos Bill as well. They’re really about expansion and post-slavery and all of that.

I didn’t actually know much about Pecos Bill. Realizing he’s in that lineage of what they call “big man tales.” It’s like Paul Bunyan. These giant people who do crazy things. I thought it would be fun for a kids’ play to play with all that exaggeration.

John Henry and Brer Rabbit are so connected, deeply connected to African-American history and culture, so that was also something I wanted to get into as well. It was fun.

It was fun to put on stage and think about who we can put on stage. Because the thing about John Henry, you think about how diverse those rail communities were — immigrants, former slaves.

It’s like we think of America in one way, but I think of it as being, even in the past, always very diverse. There was always integration around work, around other things. For me it’s another way into that, and to reflect that. It’s maybe not as direct as “Cassius Clay,” which was about this African-American boy in the Jim Crow South who went to the Olympics and still couldn’t get a burger in a restaurant.

Whereas this is folk. This is fun. This is based on where the country was at.

IL: Will you be around for that show at all?

IG: I’ll be there on the (March) 24th for the opening. It’ll be really exciting.

IL: I’ve been excited about “American Tales” for a while. We spoke back in the fall about your project with Actors Theatre, the play for the apprentices.

IG: That was fun. Did you get to see it? It came out good.

IL: Yes, it was really cool. It’s funny, because although I’ve become aware since then of your other work with StageOne, at the time I only knew about the Actors thing, the site-specific project that was in all those different rooms at the Green Building. And it was about as far from children’s theater as you can get.

IG: Absolutely, yeah. Different lanes, different audiences. But storytelling is storytelling. And innovation. And I will try to bring formal innovation and the sort of collaborative spirit into this realm.

We often think about theater being a certain kind of way, in a certain kind of very straight-forward direct style. And StageOne is very good at the mainstage show, but they are starting to look at how can we bring theater to the people in a more direct way.

Robert Thompson, Katherine Martin and Ben Evans in “American Tales” | Photo by Hannah Wemitt

And I really want to think about immersive work, and I want to think about site-specific work you can bring the entire family to. We often think of immersive work as being this very cosmopolitan thing. But I think it’s very blue-collar, very working-class. It’s inclusive.

You can dictate your own experience with a theatrical piece. And I think that’s something the TYA world really needs to take more advantage of. Because really, when you think about it, if a kid can move freely through a space, that’s probably better than trying to get them to sit still in the dark.

So there’s a lot of opportunity, on stage and off — bringing people to the theater, but then also bringing theater to the people.

We’ll keep you updated on Goodwin and StageOne as they enter what sounds like a very interesting chapter. In the meantime, Goodwin’s “American Tales” runs at the Kentucky Center from March 24-April 14. Tickets are $15 for kids 12 and under, and $20 for everyone else. 

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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