Humana Festival’s College Days weekend offers students ideas for ways into art careers
The cast of "We've Come to Believe," part of Actors Theatre of Louisville's 2019 Humana Festival of New American Plays. Photo by Jonathan Roberts.
By Debra Murray
Pleasant Ridge Park High School, Class of 2020
Imagine this: Just weeks ago, you were one of the 366 college students attending College Days weekend at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival for New American Plays — a
weekend for students to learn about working in theater and see all the new plays that are part of the festival.
After arriving on Friday, March 22, you were among the many who filtered in for a breakfast
Saturday morning to mingle before sessions. You had coffee in one hand, a legal pad in the
other and high aspirations to succeed in a theater-related career.
For the past 14 years, the Humana Festival has dedicated a weekend to college students. During this weekend, participants got advice from a panel of professionals working in Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company who talked about balancing several careers in “I Want It All: One Career Path Isn’t Enough.”
They listened to a talk “Hungry Never Starving: Strategies on How to Maneuver and Sustain a Life in the Performing Arts” by playwright Idris Goodwin, who also is StageOne Family Theatre’s producing artistic director.
Makayla Smith, a sophomore at Ohio’s Malone University, was one of the hundreds of students at College Days. Smith attended the panel and Goodwin’s talk.
“I’m personally loving this experience, getting to see brand new works and meeting new people with the same interests that I have. It’s been very stimulating,” Smith said. “It’s very
encouraging [to see the apprentices], and it’s so cool to see people so passionate. They’re
working. They’re thriving in the fields that they’re in. It’s really nice to know that you can go into the arts and be successful.”
College Days is an opportunity for college students to make relationships with students who
share similar interests and to see what being a PTC apprentice is like. It gives students an idea of what being in theater is like and opens their eyes to other careers they weren’t aware of.
Smith said “The Corpse Washer” stood out for her. The play, set in Baghdad, focuses on a young man who wants to become an artist, but his father wants him to be a corpse washer, like himself and his forefathers. Smith said she was most moved during the scene when Jawad becomes a corpse washer like his father.
Many theater students are not sure of their plans after college, but some during College Days find their next career step in Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company. The company gives apprentices with experience help that can further their careers. Most work in acting, while others work in costumes, directing and other areas.
During a season, the company mounts its own plays as well as assists with Actors Theatre’s
regular season productions. During this year’s Humana Festival, the company performed the
play “We’ve Come to Believe.”
“I think it’s exciting and also daunting because you see their skill level we’re at a really high bar at the Actors Theatre, but it’s inspiring to what the next step could be,“ said Kayleigh Howland, an Indiana State University undergraduate student.
During this year’s College Day’s weekend, 89 people auditioned for the company. The auditions, an annual event during these weekends, were overseen this year by Actors Theatre Professional Training Company Director Christine Albright-Tufts.
“What I love most about this job is being around potential,” she said, “and then I’m at this weekend, where there are hundreds and hundreds of people who could potentially be a part of this organization in some way at some point and so to get to meet them was thrilling.”
Two current Professional Training Company members who auditioned during last year’s College Days weekend are Brent Schultz and Reagan Stovenour. Schultz said he came in without that much information.
“I never knew that regional theatre is killing it,” said Brent Schultz, Professional Training
Company acting apprentice who purchased the last College Days package available.
Schultz had learned that places such as New York and Chicago weren’t the only places where
theater was a thriving business and learned about the Humana Festival.
“This is some of the best theater I’ve ever seen in my life,” Schultz recalled thinking.
Like Schultz, many students don’t know about Actors Theatre’s thriving history, but after
attending the theater during College Days, they get to see what Actors Theatre is really like.
Stovenour came in 2017 and saw the Professional Training Company perform “The Many
Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield.”
“It was the most insane thing I had ever seen. It was wild and was such an incredible ensemble experience. I was like ‘this is what I want to do,’” she said.
The theater, said Albright-Tufts, later holds auditions in different cities and at colleges. After
auditioning, a person could be asked to apply and then be interviewed. Then, the selection
process begins. Albright-Tufts said there is no particular pattern to figure out who is chosen.
She added that she always looks for potential and believes that, while some may not be ready for the company now, in a year or two they could be the perfect fit.
Albright-Tufts’ outlook proves that artists can better orient their careers if they take the advice of some of the speakers on hand during College Days’ weekend. If it’s not quite your time just yet, always be working in other areas and towards your next step. You don’t have to be a starving artist, but as Idris Goodwin advised, “Stay hungry, my friends.”