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York's own Ken Ludwig honored at York Little Theatre

By Michelle Denise Norton
For The York Dispatch

When Laurence Olivier and Helen Hayes award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig returns to York County, it is an excuse for the local art scene to come out in force, spiff itself up and throw a party.

Ludwig's last return was four years ago for the dedication of York College's new performing arts center. Now, York Little Theatre has invited him back for their staging of his set-in-York comedy, "Leading Ladies."

When Ludwig agreed to visit the theater, arranging a worthy event became the goal.
"We planned all the things around Ken Ludwig. We want to focus attention on the great art tradition in York County," says Deb Thro, the theater's public relations manager. "A lot of people don't realize we have this really great artist from York."

The theater invited local politicians, members of the Cultural Alliance, DreamWrights Youth and Family Theatre and other arts organizations to a meet-and-mingle reception on Feb. 5, capped by the declaration of "Ken Ludwig Day" and Ludwig's remarks at 2 p.m. After a matinee performance of "Leading Ladies," Ludwig will stay for a short question and answer session with the audience. He also will sign copies of his anthology, with some of his favorite plays, including "Lend Me A Tenor" and "Leading Ladies."

Ludwig gushes when asked about the honor, "Oh my gosh, I'm so flattered, I'm thrilled, still in shock. I couldn't be happier."

"Leading Ladies," based on a snippet from "Huckleberry Finn," is the perfect prompt. Set in York, it tells the story of two struggling Shakespearean actors trying to con their way into a fortune and ending up in drag while doing it.

Studies: After graduating from York Suburban High School, Ludwig moved on to Haverford College, studying music theory and composition. He also began writing comedy for Haverford's Class Night, a college version of "Saturday Night Live."
"I wrote music and lyrics, would put them up and direct them. That was my role in the class," Ludwig remembers.

The next step was a professional degree.

"I applied to law school. It was the accepted thing; my brother had applied to law school and gotten in. I would do that. My father was a doctor, the only dermatologist in York."

But Ludwig, accepted by Harvard Law School, then had a dilemma.

"I was thinking of not going," he admits. "My parents said 'if you don't go, we'll kill you.'"

But Harvard proved surprisingly conducive to Ludwig's continuing interest in theater.
"In the middle of school, I got a scholarship to England, Trinity College, Cambridge University. I studied theater history in two years there."

Harvard University also introduced Ludwig to famed conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

"Bernstein was at Harvard prepping for the Norton Lectures, and he opened his door to music students. I showed him my compositions (and) he invited me to class."

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ludwig was looking for his next step.
"I settled in D.C.; my brother had settled there, (and) we're very close. I was going to be spending 90 percent of my time sitting in a room writing, I don't need New York or L.A.," Ludwig says. "I practiced law to literally eat, my day job, and wrote from 4:30 to 8:30 a.m."

Home: But through it all, York has always remained his foundation.
"'Leading Ladies' is set in York. A lot of my plays are set in smaller towns. In a sense, all (of them) are set in York, even if I call it somewhere else," Ludwig says. "I was born and raised there, that's my sensibility, the people I know, the people I love. I'm happy and comfortable there."

He adds to that an active, heartfelt commitment to comedy.

"It's largely a matter of who you are within yourself. Comedy isn't just about making the audience laugh," he says. "It's important to move the ball ahead in terms of our common humanity."

This is the intersection Ludwig has happily and successfully settled on. And it's a life story that York Little Theatre hopes will spur a surge of artistic development and appreciation in York County.

"I believe in sensible optimism," Ludwig says. It sounds like a solid footing for inspiration.

-- Reach Michelle Denise Norton at 854-1575 or news@yorkdispatch.com.

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