Kentucky by Liz Bussey Fentress
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Nov 15, 2019

Since opening Louisville’s Bard Theatre in July, 2010, Doug Schutte, a DG member playwright, has produced or co-produced 32 full-length plays by Kentucky playwrights, 72 ten-minute plays by Kentucky playwrights, and nineteen world premieres. Including work by other companies, the space has seen more than 400 weeks of theatre. Schutte—he really doesn’t like the name Doug—says he’s most proud of the fact that he’s produced more plays by women playwrights than any other Kentucky theatre, and he’s hired more women directors.

Hard to believe, but Schutte was a football coach before opening the Bard’s Town, the restaurant and bar venue that houses the Bard Theatre. “I was a good coach,” Schutte says. “My team had just won a championship when I decided I wasn’t going back. It would have been easy to do football—and I knew I’d have to put everything I’d saved into the Bard’s Town plus go into debt. And I realized that if I lost it all, I’d kick myself forever. But it was also clear that I’d kick myself forever if I didn’t do it. So I decided to go for it.”

Schutte credits his time as a Treadwell Fellow studying with Glynn MacDonald at London’s Globe Theatre as a significant turning point. “I liked the shared light with the audience in that space and being able to make direct eye contact. I liked the noise of the city. I felt called. And I wanted to try to do what Shakespeare and his contemporaries did—new stuff! The idea of writing and producing plays became a primary passion. Then I came across English pub theatre and I think that’s when things started to click.”

“I didn’t have a restaurant background,” Schutte says. “But I thought if I could find the right space, the theatre could bring customers for dinner; that was basically my business plan.” Schutte and an old friend developed the Bard’s Town menu which features items like “Aside Salad,” “Merry Fries of Windsor,” and “Parting is Such Sweet Potato.” Schutte is proud that everything is made from scratch and, since 2014, Chef Schutte has done all the cooking.

I asked Schutte how he chooses plays for production. “Some plays just hit me. I see something special and, in that moment, I think it’s the best play I’ve ever read. And I have relationships with the playwrights I’ve produced,” Schutte said. “They send me stuff; they know the play will be treated well.”

Schutte also produces his own plays at the Bard. Years ago, he wrote several screenplays but says Glynn MacDonald got him excited about theatre again: “The connection of live theatre… You get that moment. You can’t get it out of film.” Schutte’s full-lengths include Chasing Ophelia, Misses Strata, Just Like Life, and The Kings of Christmas, a Louisville favorite Schutte has produced annually since 2011. “I needed a holiday play and I read about a lady who put a cat in a microwave (‘Marley’ in Schutte’s play) and I love Elvis... I wrote it in five weeks. I took the first printed copy to the read-thru.” The play has been described as “among the best-written, best-executed riffs on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol you’ll ever see.” Schutte directs and also plays the role of Stein King, an Elvis impersonator who plays the spirits of Christmas past, present and future. Yeah, you read that right.

Doug Schutte directs, acts, and cooks—and, I happen to know, in his role as producer, replaces HVAC systems and fixes sinks. But he says, “I identify with the writing thing first. I find validation comes from that more than anything else.”

Kentuckians, please send news about playwright happenings in your area. And join our Facebook page, Dramatists Guild – Kentucky Region.

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