Butchertown isn’t an industrial slaughterhouse along Story Avenue. It’s not the gritty refinement of the riverside neighborhood’s historic architecture—or the swaths of urban fabric that disappeared during the 1937 flood. It’s the connected stories of its inhabitants, past and present. Those stories are at the center of Naomi Iizuka’s play, At the Vanishing Point, opening tonight at Actors Theater.
The play was originally performed inside an abandoned warehouse in Butchertown for the 2004 Humana Festival of New American Plays and is back as part of the Brown-Forman Series, running through February 15. And we’re giving Broken Sidewalk readers the chance win two tickets to Thursday’s 7:30p.m. showing of At The Vanishing Point as well as two tickets to Friday’s OFFstafe@Actors party at the Copper & Kings distillery in Butchertown (details below).
At the Vanishing Point is “based on interviews with locals and an extensive exploration of the area’s history.” Those community stories are shaped around the collective memory of the neighborhood and accompanied by the cello music of Ben Sollee, who will be playing live at every performance.
“The piece is about the spirit of a place,” Iizuka told Actors Theater, “and what drew all sorts of different people to this extraordinary part of America.”
Hannah Rae Montgomery, dramaturg at Actors Theater, put it this way:
Imagine having lived and worked in the same neighborhood your whole life. You’ve watched it grow and change as the years pass, your story one snapshot among many in an ever-evolving collage of neighbors, friends, and family.
For the characters in Naomi Iizuka’s At the Vanishing Point, that neighborhood is Louisville’s historic Butchertown. Drawing inspiration from archival research, interviews with long-time residents, and the work of Kentucky photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Iizuka has crafted a finely detailed, yet remarkably fluid look at this close-knit community. In At the Vanishing Point, historical fact merges with fiction and local legend, music complements storytelling, and past and present intertwine.
These memories and community histories are reinterpreted by Iizuka in the play. “It’s set in Butchertown, and all the references are about Butchertown,” Actors Theater art director Les Waters told Montgomery, “but it wasn’t just a matter of going and taking down what people said and editing it together… What we’re not trying to do is recreate Butchertown onstage.”
The set design by Annie Smart reinforces this state of transition in its abstract form. According to Montgomery, “It includes trees and grass, which evoke the characters’ descriptions of afternoons at the Point or by the banks of Beargrass Creek, placed amidst more industrial, metallic surfaces (an indirect nod to the neighborhood’s meatpacking origins).” Photographs will be projected onto the set at various times.
“Visually, this should feel as if it’s going from something incredibly small to a torrent of images coming at you,” Waters told Montgomery. “So it gets very very big and then settles down to something very still again. It’ll have a strong poetic quality, as if the past is trying to talk to us.”
We’re thrilled to see Actors Theater’s continued interest in using the local community as a backdrop to its performances, and At the Vanishing Point is sure to present a fascinating look into the spirit that has shaped Butchertown over the past three centuries.
To enter the drawing for two tickets to Thursday’s showing of At the Vanishing Point paired with two tickets to Friday’s OFFstafe@Actors event, simply leave a short comment on this article below about a memory you have of Butchertown (be sure to use your real email so we can get in touch if you win) and share this article on Facebook or Twitter. That’s it. We’ll pick one winner at random and announce the results tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28 at 5:30p.m.
Here’s some additional information about OFFstage@Actors, taking place at 6:30p.m.:
Join us for a fun, casual night, featuring live music from members of the Slow Charleston and JOE, a one-of-a-kind collection of Louisville bluegrass and folk musicians. Plus, sample bites from some of Louisville’s favorite hotspots, including Harvest, Joy Luck, Comfy Cow and Garage Bar, and enjoy a fully-stocked cash bar with drink specials.
Good luck! And be sure to check out At the Vanishing Point before it closes February 15.
[Top Image: A lone boat floats down Main Street during the 1937 flood. (Courtesy Metropolitan Sewer Collection, UL Photographic Archives)]