Baylor's Horton Foote Festival to Honor Award-Winning Playwright Tina Howe

Oct. 9, 2007
News Photo 4274The Baylor theater department will host the Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival Oct. 25-27. Award-winning playwright Tina Howe will be the featured honoree.

by Paige Patton, communication specialist, (254) 710-3321

Theater professionals from across the nation will gather at Baylor University Oct. 25-27 to honor award-winning playwright Tina Howe at the third Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival.

The semi-annual festival, named for the famed Texas playwright, consists of three intensive days of play readings, panel discussions, performances, a Master Class presented by Howe and a full production of Howe's Museum. New York's Slant Theatre Project also will present The Horton Foote Project, which is an adaptation of Foote's The Orphan's Home Cycle.

Best known for her plays Painting Churches and Coastal Disturbances, Howe has been nominated for a Tony Award for best play and twice-nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for best play. She won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, the Obie Award for distinguished playwriting, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a Rockefeller grant, two NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim fellowship. Howe is a member of the council of the Dramatists Guild of America and teaches playwriting at Hunter College in New York City.

"If a playwright is invited to a prestigious university to be honored with the Horton Foote Award, her mandate is clear - to interact with the students in a way that would make Mr. Foote proud," Howe said. "And how would she do that? Via the medium he's mastered, par excellence - a play! The festival won't be about me, but [the actors]--their sass and vigor--with Mr. Foote's inspiring example hovering overhead. I for one can't wait, and will be sitting in the front row with my heart in my mouth."

Stan Denman, chair of the Baylor theater arts department, describes the Horton Foote Festival as an invaluable opportunity for theater scholars and enthusiasts to get up close with established playwrights.

"What we see onstage originates with the playwright, and the Horton Foote Festival is a privileged glimpse into the mind of these creative artists," Denman said. "Tina Howe is among the most influential female playwrights of our generation, and she is sure to spark some vigorous discussions. One would be hard-pressed to find another theatrical experience like this in Texas."

Howe's play, Museum, is one of the quirkiest plays ever staged by Baylor's theatre department, with more than 40 characters, some truly bizarre works of art and virtually no plot. Museum takes place in a contemporary art museum in Manhattan on the last day of an exhibit.

During the day, the exhibit is visited by connoisseurs and novices, each of whom offers up his or her own interpretation of the all-but-impenetrable artworks. The art provokes something different in each guest, from fits of ecstasy to fits of laughter to an overwhelming desire to "smash the ugly thing." The one constant is a vigilant security guard who discovers he has little true authority when things get out of hand. Through the zaniness, Museum raises some thought-provoking questions about the nature of art and who gets to judge it. And, for all the laughs it produces, it might induce a few squirms as well, as people recognize glimmers of themselves in the characters onstage.

"The beauty of Tina Howe's Museum is that she gives dramatic voice to what one might assume is a silent act: looking," said Thomas Ward, an assistant professor of theater at Baylor who directs the play. "She writes with the warmth and expertise of a modern art devotee, while maintaining a sense of humor and irony lest we take ourselves too seriously. I believe that anyone, no matter their gender, age, or background, will find a character in this play with whom they can relate, while not even once being talked down to. I am drawn to plays that at the very least straddle the lines of genre and style, and at best obliterate them. Museum is one such play."

Museum will open Oct. 19, and will be the cornerstone production of the 2007 Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19-20, 23-24 and 27, at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 and 28. All performances will be in the Mabee Theatre of the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center on Baylor's campus.

The Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival is a semi-annual celebration of American playwrighting, held at Baylor in honor of one of America's leading playwrights and screenwriters, Horton Foote, winner of two Academy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy Award.

"I have been struck time and again by the intensity and clarity of Foote's dramatic vision, and by his commitment to the American theater," said Dr. Marion Castleberry, associate professor of theater arts, and editor of Horton Foote: Genesis of an American Playwright.

Each festival will focus on the work of a great American playwright with performances, an academic symposium on the writer, and an award in Foote's name. The first festival, held in the spring of 2004 on the Baylor campus, honored Foote's own remarkable contributions to American theater. Two years ago, the Festival honored award-winning playwright Romulus Linney.

Past productions of the Horton Foote Festival include Heathen Valley by Romulus Linney and Traveling Lady by Horton Foote. Performed at the inaugural Horton Foote Festival, Traveling Lady enjoyed an extremely successful off-Broadway run in New York in 2006. It received a Drama Desk nomination for "outstanding revival of a play."

For ticket information or a complete schedule of events, visit Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival or call the theater box office (254) 710-1865.

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