Most people associate the theatre culture with large cities such as New York and London but Louisville, KY has been experiencing its own modern renaissance as of late.
With reputable performing arts venues located in Louisville such as: The Kentucky Center, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Louisville Palace Theatre, Iroquois Amphitheatre, ZFX, and Vault 1031 – it only makes sense that small grassroot independent theatre companies would emerge and begin to make their mark on the city’s vibrant arts culture as well.
Nipsey Green (33) created the Smoked Apple Theatre Group in 2014, to fill the void of black-owned theatre companies in Louisville. Being an admirer of the arts, he noticed that most live stage performances catering to the black community, generally contained heavy religious overtones.
Seeking to add some variety to the genre, Green sought out to create plays and performances that are modern and reflect everyday life. His goal is to provide content that the “average Joe” from the black community can relate to.
“Smoked Apple is a theatre company… It’s an idea of being able to present quality, thought provoking, ground-breaking black theatre and to fill a void of what Louisville lacks in that realm.” – Nipsey Green
Green is a Louisville native but his family relocated to his father’s hometown of New York City when he was a small child. His parents would divorce while he was a teenager resulting in he and his mother returning to Louisville during his high school years.
Following high school, Green would serve a stint in the military but later decide not to re-enlist – instead opting to return to Louisville. He would spent the next couple of years trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
He always knew that he wanted to be in the TV and film industry but had no experience in the field nor the finances to pursue higher education – so he did the next the best thing.
He decided to start an independent theatre company and bring in skilled actors, directors and playwrights to provide him with on-the-job training that will help him gain the necessary experience to succeed at the next level.
“I want to do the whole Spike Lee thing. I want to do it all. I want to be the guy that writes it, directs it, maybe star in a few of the films and I decided that the best way to start out was in the theatre. I’ve always been into creating my own opportunities so I decided to create a theatre company and then I’m just going to bring people to me.” – Nipsey Green
Prior to creating his first theatrical play, Green was introduced to fellow theatre enthusiast, Janelle Renee Dunn, by his finace. Dunn (34) is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina but earned her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in acting from the University of Louisville.
After a few discussions, the pair discovered that they shared similar visions in respects to theatre arts – so Green invited Dunn to become a partner of the Smoked Apple Theatre Group venture.
“I’ve been a theater nerd since my freshman year of high school… I’ve been in the arts all my life… Marching band, concert band, chorus but we didn’t have a theater program so that’s why I did everything else… And then I went to Berea College for undergrad – got into the theatre program there and just loved it… So I got my undergrad in theater with an emphasis on directing because I love directing. I wanted to be like the love-child of Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee.” – Janelle Renee Dunn
In December 2014, the group rolled out a series of black theatrical plays entitled “six-tens”. The format is structured to feature (six), ten-minute plays of original black theatre during each event.
To date, Smoked Apple has produced three performances of “six-tens”. The events took place in December 2014, May 2015, and December 2015, at local venues.
Smoked Apple opened their 2016, season on March 4 at the Vault 1031, with their rendition of the full length play entitled King Hedley II, written by the prolific black playwright August Wilson (1945-2005).
King Hedley II originally premiered in 1999, and played at several regional theatres across the country before landing a run of 72 shows on Broadway, at the Virginia Theatre, from May 2001 – July 2001.
The play’s setting takes place in Pittsburgh during the 1980s, and follows “King”, an ex-con who is desperately trying to make $10,000 to open a video store by selling stolen refrigerators.
In addition to King’s troubles, Wilson beautifully uses dramatic and comedic dialogue to address the issues of mass incarceration and police brutality affecting the African-American community at that time.
Wilson is commonly known as the American Shakespeare throughout the theatre arts world. His most prominent work is the Pittsburgh Cycle which is a series of ten plays (each taking place in different decades) that portray the everyday African-American experience in America during the 20th century.
King Hedley II is the eighth play of the Pittsburgh Cycle. The entire series earned two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama (1987 for Fences & 1990 for The Piano Lesson).
Following Hedley, Smoked Apple is progressing to a full season of full length plays for 2016, which will also include several training workshops. The next project, Oh Lawd! Mama Done Burnt the Biscuits, (written by Nipsey Green & directed by Janelle Renee Dunn) will take place at The Kentucky Center from July (8-10) & July (14-17).
Additionally Smoked Apple will be featuring a “Six-Ten” Festival this season which will take place at the Vault 1031 as well as other local venues.
“There isn’t any other black theatre company that I’m aware of in this region that’s doing it the way we’re doing it, with a full season announced. We’re trying to build something dope in Louisville.” – Nipsey Green
Smoked Apple accepts scripts from local and national playwrights which can be submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging the Smoked Apple Theatre Group Facebook page.
Novice and experienced actors & directors are also welcome to contact the group about auditioning for roles in their upcoming projects.
“There’s something that when you’re around your people that you don’t have to feel unabashed to say what you really want to say or how you really feel and you have somebody who understands that experience… And then to see that on stage… To see somebody like you on stage, that’s experienced something like you – that just speaks volumes.” -Janelle Renee Dunn
Follow the Smoked Apple Theatre Group on Facebook for notifications about upcoming events.