Cincinnati is hot these days — no, not outside. We’re talking inside — specifically, inside theaters, both those with big screens and those with stages.
From movies filmed in the Queen City earning stellar reviews or showing at the Sundance Film Festival, to new plays being produced here from up-and-coming playwrights Lauren Gunderson and the screenwriting team of Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek, Cincinnati’s theaters continue to earn national attention for the region.
The Know Theatre produced Gunderson’s "Toil and Trouble" in 2013 and is gearing up for her drama, "Silent Sky," opening in April. (Gunderson's "The Revolutionists" also is at Playhouse in the Park in February.) The Know also produced Martin and Hynek’s "The Afghan Women’s Writing Project." All the writers are having a big moment: Martin and Hynek recently sold their treatment for a live-action version of Mulan to Disney and the New York Times profiled Gunderson in January.
Andrew Hungerford, artistic director of the Know Theatre, spoke with ArtsWave about bringing new and innovative works from exciting playwrights to Cincinnati audiences and the significance these productions hold for Cincinnati.
AW: Thanks for chatting with us! It has to be exciting that artists whose work you’ve produced and put on your stage are getting big-time national recognition. Tell us the process for selecting works moving into the national spotlight.
AH: One part of this is keeping an ear to the stage, as it were. [W] e’re always on the lookout for new and exciting works and artists that aren't yet on the mainstream cultural radar. In 2013, when we produced "Toil and Trouble" by Lauren Gunderson, the Know was the first theater in Cincinnati to produce her work. Since then, she's won the Steinberg award, become one of the most produced playwrights in the country, and was commissioned to write a new play, "The Revolutionists," by Playhouse in Park. And we're producing her beautiful play "Silent Sky" this spring, the oft-overlooked true story of Henrietta Leavitt, the scientist who discovered how to measure the universe.
When (former producing artistic director Eric Vosmeier) had the idea of bringing the "Afghan Women's Writing Project" to the stage, he commissioned Elizabeth and Lauren to do the curation, in part because of Elizabeth's previous involvement with both the Fringe and the Know. (Elizabeth is married to Hungerford.) Beyond their writing skill, they were familiar with our resources, our space, and the local acting pool, so were a great fit.
GROWING ART HERE
AH: Beyond those artists that we discover through personal connections or diligent research, we're looking to develop more and more work right here, both with Cincinnati locals and outside artists who come to Cincinnati to work and create. We want to grow art here that we can export to the rest of the country. We want to upend the downward flow of art from NYC and focus on art that bubbles up from the heart of the country.
AW: It’s interesting that Cincinnati in particular is able to put on these works. Tell us more about why the Know Theatre is consistently producing this kind of programming.
AH: With our programming, we try to focus on voices or stories that would not otherwise be heard in Cincinnati, with a focus on very new works. The upshot of that mandate is fairly broad: it can mean plays about superheroes, brand new quirky musicals, magical realist plays, or adaptations of work that are unexpected. ...
We're not just bringing in the hot new plays from New York City and London, we're bringing new work to audiences that's only been done a few times before anywhere in the world. Cincinnati audiences get to be a very select group of people seeing this work... and sometimes that work will blow up to have a wider life, and sometimes it'll just be a special thing that we get to share amongst ourselves.
Additionally, by producing works that often can't be seen anywhere else in the region, we have the potential to help further establish Cincinnati as not just a theatre town, but a theatre destination.
CINCINNATI: LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
AW: What impact does the Know Theatre’s dedication to innovative works have on local Cincinnati artists and playwrights?
AH: Our Serials! program is instrumental in this. Over our last two seasons (and four rounds) of Serials!, we've given 33 new plays a chance to take the stage. Some of them are just for fun and of the moment, but many of them have the possibility of a future far beyond the Serials! Stage.
Not only did Lauren and Elizabeth's play "Saturday the 14th" get a run as part of Serials!, we were then able to produce it as a full length one act second stage show. Ben Dudley's "Cinderblock" is getting a revival as part of our Fringe Encore program.
Our Jackson Street Market offers opportunities for artists to come play with us and utilize the Know's resources to develop their art. We've had a number of artists move to Cincinnati because of the Know, and we've helped keep a lot of artists in the city for longer than they originally intended to stay. ...
All of this gives local actors the chance to work on scripts that are brand new, and often gives them the chance to be the first person to embody a role on stage. For audiences, it offers the opportunity to see new exciting works and get the first glimpse of raw talent on the rise.
And even residents who don't go to the theatre benefit from the thriving cultural landscape that is putting Cincinnati on the national map.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Lauren Gunderson’s "Silent Sky" opens April 15 at the Know Theatre, and "The Revolutionists" opens February 5 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.