FOOTE IN THE DOOR: It's probably exaggerating to call playwright Horton Foote the patron saint of Tucson Art Theatre, but the small company has won critical acclaim for its lovingly realized productions of his plays over the years.
The company chose Foote's Valentine's Day for its first-ever production, artistic director David Greenwood remembers, because "the play is about a couple coming together for a life together, preparing for the birth of their child. We thought it was an appropriate metaphor for a new theatre company." Since then, Tucson Art has done four other Foote plays.
"I'm interested in his work because I think he's the best playwright today," Greenwood says. "You have Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill. I think he's their equal in quality, and surpasses them in quantity."
The 79-year-old Foote, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a few weeks ago for his play The Young Man from Atlanta, will be in Tucson in two week's time lending his expertise to local theatre people, partly through the efforts of Greenwood. The annual Arizona Theatre Conference will be held at PCC Center for the Arts June 2 through 4, and Foote will be around the whole weekend to guide participants in the workshopping of his play Roads to Home, a series of three one-acts.
Better known to the general public for his extensive film work--he won Academy Awards for his screenplays for Tender Mercies and To Kill A Mockingbird, and an Indie Award for Trip to Bountiful--Foote has had a long and respected career in theatre. The low-key plays penned by this Texas native are heartbreaking dramas about small-town communities, family life and loss.
It's a real coup for the Arizona Commission on the Arts to have landed an artist of Foote's stature for the conference, and the commission's Claire West points out they were able to do it only with Greenwood's help.
"All I did was make an initial phone call," Greenwood says modestly. "He's very approachable. This is a man with no ego whatsoever."
Greenwood was on the committee that helped put the conference together. "When we were getting ready to have the conference we wondered, do they (speakers) have to be local? Chris Wilken (associate artistic director of Borderlands Theatre) said, 'Why don't you call Horton Foote?' "
Greenwood and other company members had already established a relationship with the genial playwright.
"We had been in contact with Horton back when we were doing (his play) Spring Dance in November of '93," Greenwood says. He wasn't able to make the show, but we kept in contact by phone and letter and then last summer we all went down to Wharton, Texas together and had dinner at Horton's house."
Ken Cavett, one of the Tucson Art Theatre actors who went to Texas to see Foote, then continued on to New York to appear in a Foote play, Talking Pictures, produced by the Signature Theater. This unusual 4-year-old theatre each year devotes its entire season of four plays to the work of a single playwright, who is in residence to offer his or her insights into the plays. This year's season was capped off with Foote winning the Pulitzer for the final play.
Foote will be doing a bit of the same at the theatre conference in Tucson, answering questions, giving advice, explaining characters. A Saturday-afternoon session will have Foote meeting with local playwrights. Three directors, including Wilken, have already been chosen to workshop the three one-acts. Participants can audition for acting parts or sign up to work on a design team.
On Sunday, rough readings of pieces of the play will be given, since no one expects finished scenes in such a short time. And once the conference winds down, Tucson Art Theatre will present a revival of its own production of Spring Dance, one of the three one-acts that make up Roads to Home. Cavett, fresh from his New York turn, will come down to pick up his old part.
"Horton believes in collaborative effort, as I do," Greenwood says. "He believes that a theatre is essentially a group of people."
The conference will also feature a keynote address by noted Broadway director Marshall Mason, and workshops on new technology, voice control for actors and ways to make local theatre relevant.
The Arizona Theatre Conference will be held June 2-4 at Pima Community College Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Dr. All activities, including the staged readings and Tucson Art Theatre performance, are open only to conference registrants. The fee is $65 for individuals, $45 per participant belonging to a group of three or more, $25 for students. Groups of five or more get one registration free. Limited scholarships are available. For an application or more information call Claire West at 602-229-8231.
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