LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In the standing-room only atmosphere of Actors Theatre of Louisville‘s Pamela Brown Auditorium on Saturday night 2017 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award-winning playwright Nate Eppler represented Nashville, its theater community and himself with humor, humility and happiness. He wanted to thank others, especially the Music City that adopted the Michigan man as one of its own.
What follows is the text he prepared and then used after he accepted a plaque and a $1,000 check from American Theatre Critics Association New Plays Committee Chair Lou Harry and Executive Chair Bill Hirschman. The presentation occurred before the performance of 10-minute plays by Krista Knight, Will Eno and Eric Pfeffinger that highlighted the final weekend of the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays. Some moments of audience reaction have been inserted by Nashville Arts Critic in parentheses:
(Following a sustained round of applause) “First I’d like to thank Actors Theatre of Louisville for being such incredible hosts. Your total commitment to new plays and to bourbon makes this place the theme park I’ve always dreamed of. (Sustained laughter and applause) Thank you for inviting me.
“Thank you to the Steinberg family for their ongoing support of new plays.
“Thank you to the American Theatre Critics Association for this tremendous award and to the critics who have championed me along the way, Martin Brady, Jef Ellis, Amy Stumpfl, and the brilliant, beautiful Evans Donnell. Not just for the kind reviews but for the ongoing dialogue and for providing context. My strange little play is a one woman show but it has three actors and it’s sort of about a somewhat violent and definitely infamous Olympic figure skater who is making a movie of her life with Barbie dolls and it features a cosmonaut – and that’s the sort of play that needs some context for folks to buy tickets. (Laughter) So if for nothing else thank you for being an integral part of the conversation I’m trying to start with the audience.
“I’m here not solely because of my own work but because of the work of many collaborators along the way and instead of list all of them here I think I’ll just, you know, thank them privately over and over again for the next three years. But there are a few I want to thank publicly: René Copeland and the team at the Nashville Repertory Theatre Ingram New Works Festival especially Shane Burkeen who always knew what the play was even when I didn’t, everyone at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, the phenomenal Quinn Corbin for her unending support, Vali Forrister and Jessika Malone and Mitch Massaro at Actors Bridge Ensemble the best production team I have ever worked with, my remarkable actors Rachel Agee, Amanda Card and Tony Nappo, and the brilliant dramaturgical minds that fixed the play when it was completely broke-ass Andrew Kramer and Tori Keenan Zelt. And thank you to Donald Margulies, who hated it so much one January that I had no choice but to fix it by May. (Sustained laughter)
“But most of all I want to thank Nashville. I’m not from there, I’m a poor kid from Flint. But they adopted me and gave me an artistic home. Through staged readings and productions and everything in-between, they’ve given my work incredible support. And I don’t think it’s just me that they like, there’s a real appetite for new works in Nashville. And of course there is – they’re a blue dot in a red state trying to make sense of this new world we’ve all found ourselves in. It’s a city deeply engaged in making room for art in the places we need it. They have made a very public commitment to new works in all forms and I have been very lucky to be a beneficiary.
“So thank you Nashville. I hope I’m making you proud. Because I would not be here without you.
“Thank you all.” (Sustained ovation)
The play for which Eppler was honored, “The Ice Treatment,” had its premiere last July at Actors Bridge Ensemble under Eppler’s direction with a cast that included Rachel Agee, Amanda Card and Tony Nappo. The 2014-15 Nashville Repertory Theatre Ingram New Works Lab and the 2016 Great Plains Theatre Conference aided the development of the work before its ABE full production premiere. Eppler serves as Playwright-in-Residence for Nashville Repertory Theatre.
His play was also one of six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award (five years ago he was a semifinalist for “Long Way Down“). On Saturday the $25,000 award went to Michael Cristofer’s “Man in the Ring” while two citations that each carry $7,500 prizes were presented to Tracy Letts’ “Mary Page Marlowe” and David Rabe’s “Visiting Edna.”
What About This Year’s Humana Festival? A very informal and thoroughly unscientific survey of theater practitioners and journalists by Nashville Arts Critic put at least two plays in the “This show will likely have legs” category: “Cry It Out,” a vibrant piece about new moms that among other things begs the question, “Why wasn’t this powerful play about this critical subject written by someone before now?”, and “Airness,” where a thoughtful theatrical riff on the air-guitar world glows under a very energizing spotlight. If there was perhaps one play that sharply divided audience opinion, it was the show Nashville Arts Critic got to see Sunday afternoon: “Recent Alien Abductions,” which begins with a very long and often funny monologue (major kudos to Jon Norman Schneider, the actor who delivers the show-starting speech) centered on an episode of The X-Files (allegedly) set in Puerto Rico before revelations about the young man Schneider plays take the audience on a very unexpected, disturbing and intimately dark journey. For more on the complete lineup of the festival that concluded Sunday please click here.
*Photo of Nate Eppler by Jennifer Richmond courtesy of both.