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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Producer Lorna Littleway
Louisville, KY

Who Lorna Littleway founded Juneteenth Legacy Theatre in Louisville, KY. A New York native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in theater arts communications from the University of Southern Maine, a master’s degree in playwriting from Goddard College in Vermont, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Littleway has been a producer, director, stage manager, playwright, and actor. She came to Louisville in 1994 to teach at the University of Louisville in the nation’s only degree program in African-American theater. Juneteenth Legacy Theatre is named in honor of the date in 1865—June 19—on which African Americans in the western territories of the United States learned that slavery had been abolished more than two years before with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth Legacy Theatre is dedicated to giving voice to the African-American experience.

What “As a producer, you select the artistic statement you want to make. You have to define what mission your company is going to serve. You’re serving a general audience, and you’re also serving artists. A producer has to look at theater as a business—selling it. You determine what audience is there and how you can reach that audience effectively. You look for funding sources and identify people who are going to be committed to a project.”

When “I work all the time. There’s no such thing as a day off in theater. If you’re not involved in a project, you should think about creating a project.”

Where “Juneteenth Legacy Theatre has offices on West Broadway in Louisville. We don’t have a performance space, because having a space is about real estate management.” (Juneteenth rents performance space for its productions in existing theaters in Louisville and on tour.)

How “A producer works with everyone. Everyone I meet I try to interest in Juneteenth Legacy Theatre. They are potential artists, donors, or audience members. You have to have the ability to compromise and make decisions. In a company that’s starting out, you have to be able to say, ‘That doesn’t make good business sense for us.’ An artist can be very keen about a play, but sometimes I have to say, ‘I can’t sell that.’ Other times you’ll say, ‘I will go ahead and do that despite increased expense to the company.’ You weigh those kinds of decisions all the time.... The greatest challenge is finding money to produce plays and reaching individuals and businesses and selling them on the importance of the arts in the community. In the case of Juneteenth Legacy Theatre, it’s selling the idea of how an African-American theater company serves everyone in the community or the Commonwealth.”

Why “I do very much enjoy the audience’s response. But the greatest adventure is the collaboration with the artists. My goals for the next few years are to increase our earned income, to make our tour profitable, and to establish a core performance group, a group of artists that our season will be based on.”

Getting There “Do all facets of theater—acting, directing, writing. Having familiarity with everything except design has helped me very much in being a producer, in selecting material and matching artists to projects. Pay attention to the audience response to different kinds of work. And see as many different kinds of theater as possible.”

About the photo: The backstage photo shows Littleway in one of her other theatrical “roles,” conferring with musicians as director of a production of Robert John Trick the Devil at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company in spring 2003.

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