This year’s American Theatre Critics Association conference is taking place in New Orleans, to coincide with the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, March 25 to 29.
It was in New Orleans where Tom Williams became Tennessee, after he moved there in 1939 at the age of 28. It was in a boardinghouse in New Orleans “where his literary adventure and his sexual coming-of-age” began, according to Tennessee Williams biographer John Lahr.
“The first six weeks he spent in New Orleans he wrote about in his plays for the rest of his life,” says Thomas Keith. “It was one of Williams’ favorite places in the world, where he found a tremendous amount of inspiration.” — “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Vieux Carre,” and “Suddenly Last Summer” (which Southern Rep Theater is performing this year at the festival) are all set in New Orleans, as are several short stories and some dozen lesser known short plays.
Even when he moved to New York, Williams returned to the Big Easy many times. “I need a soft climate and softer people,” Williams wrote in his diary in 1945, before one such extended stay.
Keith, a New Yorker who teaches both at Pace and at The Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. is making his 14th annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the festival, which attracts thousands each year. He works at the festival: His duties this year include putting together and/or moderating readings and discussions involving cult filmmaker John Waters; playwrights John Patrick Shanley and Martin Sherman; actors Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon, and biographer Lahr. Keith will introduce the staged reading of a little-known Williams play “I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays” and he’ll oversee a conversation about the playwright’s critical reputation and popular image.
But, Keith says, he will find the time to be a festival-goer as well. “I’ll go to the scholar’s conference, and the weekend panels and the Thursday night birthday bash” — Williams was born on March 26, 1911 — and….”I don’t need to do everything.”