Cast of CTC’s “Wandaland” | Courtesy of CTC

On Thursday, the Walden Theatre Conservatory, part of Commonwealth Theatre Center (CTC), is throwing an immersive theater experience called “Acting Up.”

In addition to being one of Louisville’s few examples of immersive or interactive theater, “Acting Up” also is a fundraiser with one very specific goal — raising money to support the conservatory’s robust scholarship program, which awards about $30,000 in scholarships each year.

Julane Havens, CTC’s associate artistic director who also took on the responsibility of overseeing the fundraiser, spoke with Insider about what audience members can expect Thursday night, as well as the reasons the scholarship program is so important to CTC’s mission and vision.

Julane Havens | Photo by Greg James

“We have an open-door policy,” she says. “We want to make sure any student in the area who wants to have theater training, that our program is accessible to them … it’s important to us that it’s not just rich kids that can afford to come do theater.” 

That policy has been in effect since Walden/CTC’s inception. 

“There’s always been, as long as we’ve been in existence, some financial assistance,” says Havens.

This is CTC’s first “Acting Up,” event, with a specific goal of inviting new guests and community members to discover CTC, then ask for help to support providing a theater experience to people of all income levels. 

In conceptualizing and implementing the fundraiser, CTC had help from NeXt, a program run by the Fund For the Arts.

“They have this yearlong training program for young professionals who want to be involved in the arts,” says Havens. “We were selected as one of their projects. So we have a team of eight amazing volunteers who helped us think this up and develop it and give us outside perspective on what would be fun and engaging for people who don’t know who we are.”

The idea that NeXt came up with grew out of their experiences with theater in other cities.

“Our NeXT volunteers where sharing that Louisville doesn’t have a lot of experiential performances, or tours where you walk through a building and experience a performance,” she says. “Their inspiration for that was the ‘Sleep No More’ performance in New York City.”

“Acting Up” will feature actors from each decade.

In “Sleep No More,” the audience wanders around a hotel, witnesses events in an adaptation of “Macbeth,” which uses a good dose of moody lighting and other horror film elements, including upping the ick factor by offering the visitors masks to wear throughout the course of the evening.

“We won’t be doing the creepy masks, but we are encouraging people to come dressed from the decades,” she adds.

Those “decades” Havens mention are each decade from Walden’s 40-plus year history, which is an integral part of the concept of the event’s immersive performance. Guests will take a tour of the building, but around every corner they’ll find former students performing, dressed as if they are still living in the decade in which they first attended the school.

Charlie Sexton — a lifelong member of Walden, first as a student when his mother was running the program, then as a teacher, and now as artistic director — is performing with a former classmate.

“They were in all the original shows, back in the ’70s,” says Havens. “That’s going to be so fun.”

Other alums from classes in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s will be on hand as well, dressed accordingly. Attendees are encouraged to dress like they did in high school to join and enjoy the nostalgia of looking back.

CTC students during an improv showcase | Courtesy of CTC

CTC are hoping “Acting Up” will function not only as a fundraiser and a way to invite in outside community members, but also a way for alumni to come back to perform and support the program, whose success is illustrated by those same former students.

“It consistently turns out excellent actors, and it’s because of the high quality and the level of the programing and the accessibility to that,” says Havens. “And that’s why the financial aid program is so important.”

“Acting Up” is going down on Thursday, April 26, from 5:30-8 p.m., at 1123 Payne St. Go thrifting for some old-school apparel, and nab your tickets — which are $40 in advance or $50 at the door. People who want to support the scholarship but are unable to attend can donate online.

This story has been updated, as Walden Theatre is now known as Commonwealth Theatre Center (CTC). 

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Eli Keel
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.