Next week, Actors Theatre of Louisville presents the New Voices Festival, a yearly collection of new 10-minute plays from high school students around the state. It’s a highly selective festival, and Actors Theatre only takes a handful of scripts each year.
This year, another Kentucky institution, the Governor’s School for the Arts, has three alumni — Amanda Maloyed, Parker Henderson and Carson Hardee — featured in the festival. It’s a pretty impressive number, considering there are only seven plays this year.
The Governor’s School for the Arts’ primary programming is a three-week training session every summer that brings together students from all over the commonwealth to work with professors to help hone their art.
Nick Covault, the director of the Governor’s School, spoke to some of the program’s important features.
“One of the things that makes the Governor’s School for the Arts’ curriculum so unique is while students do attend for one art form, we require all art forms to engage in interdisciplinary activities,” he tells Insider.
Of the three Governor’s School for the Arts playwrights in New Voices, only Maloyed attended for creative writing. Henderson was a drama student, and Hardee attended with a focus in dance.
Covault says the school can’t claim full credit for these students’ cross-discipline successes.
“I know these students are talented in various art forms, not just because of their Governor’s School for the Arts experience,” he says. “I think they are really shining examples of the power of collaboration that we really preach about at the Governor’s School for the Arts.”
Insider spoke with one of the young playwrights to dig deeper into what an individual creative process might be like. Hardee came to playwriting later in his life, several years after he discovered dance. Of course in this instance, “later” means when the Lexingtonian was 11 years old. He had started dancing when he was much younger.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 2,” he says. “I got started because my sister was a dancer, so I just followed in her path, and I’ve been dancing non stop ever since.”
His sister would play an additional role in Hardee’s development.
“I used to write these three-person plays and force my mom and sister to do them with me in our living room,” recalls Hardee. “And so ever since then, I’ve been writing on and off, and it’s just always been a part of my life.”
The high school senior has gotten to see several of his plays on stage this year.
“It’s a kind of nice change to actually have things produced and performed,” he says.
Many of Hardee’s works incorporate movement and theater, but “(bar)ri(e)rs,” his play in New Voices, is realistic drama.
“I started working on ‘(bar)ri(e)rs’ over a year ago,” he says. “It was inspired by a crush I had on someone, and I was thinking about the barriers that prevented this person and I from having a relationship.”
As he worked with the play, “(bar)ri(e)rs” stopped being what Hardee affectionately refers to as “a non-fiction piece,” about his life and began to explore his theme of barriers from a very different angle, one that pointed back to his love of movement: American Sign Language.
“I’m fascinated by nonverbal communication — dance is nonverbal communication, and (so is) sign language,” he says.
While Hardee was interested in the possibilities sign language presented for story, character and movement, he didn’t know much about the language or the community that uses it.
“I had to do a lot of research while writing the play,” says Hardee.
He was helped along in that research when he started working on the piece at Actors Theatre.
“Once it was selected for New Voices, we brought in some cultural consultants and some interpreters to make the show as authentic as possible,” he says.
In the professional world, the new play process only begins with a first draft, but often younger playwrights never get to the next step. Access to resources — including cultural consultants, dramaturges and experienced actors — are things Actors Theatre can provide these young playwrights.
Giving young artists greater tools and important developmental opportunities is the goal of New Voices and the Governor’s School for the Arts.
After students finish their time at the school’s summer program, staff often help them find the right college to nurture their artistic dreams, and if any of these kids have collegiate plans for playwriting, having Actors Theatre on their resume is bound to come in handy.
You can see the results when Hardee and the six other playwrights present their work on stage Monday through Wednesday, April 24-26. The shows start at 7 p.m., and tickets are a mere $5. Actors Theatre is located at 316 W. Main St.