The 2019 William Inge Theater Festival will be four days filled with activities including a family movie night, theater workshops, play labs, tours, social hours, picnics and tributes. The festival begins May 22 with a showing of "Coco" for a family movie night and ends May 25 with a tribute to this year's honoree, Octavio Solis.

Kicking off the festival will be a family movie night featuring the movie "Coco," in which Solis worked as a cultural consultant and the voice actor for the customs inspector character. The family fun event begins at 7 p.m. with pre-show activities in the parking lot of Community National Bank & Trust, 125 N. Penn Ave. Pre-show activities include face painting, crafts, snow cone and kettle corn food trucks, festive   music and more. Solis will speak shortly before the movie begins at 8 p.m. The public is invited to attend this free event.

In a recent phone interview with IDR, Solis said he couldn't believe he was named this year's honoree and is excited for the festival as it will be the first time he and his wife will see Kansas. 

"I am honored but I am also a little embarrassed," he said with a laugh. "I am just not used to this much attention on me, I really am not. I'm nervous because it's a little bit like 'This is Your Life.' But at the same time, I am deeply honored."

Solis said he and his wife, Jeanne, will be arriving in Independence a day early so they can get to know the town and maybe hike some local trails. Solis and Jeanne are working to visit all 50 states and he will be able to mark Kansas off the list. 

"I think we are just about over the hump — I think we are at like 26 or 27," he said. "This year was especially good because we got to mark off five states. I'm really excited about it."

During the telephone conversation, IDR discovered Solis' favorite part of his work — working with the actors. 

"I think that is really what I went for in becoming a playwright. I could have become a novelist and I still have aspirations to write books. But because I was an actor and that is what I trained to be and I love working in the theater, creating something as a community of artists — I kind of lean toward that," he said. "Part of my career is always solitary, I have to write my play by myself because nobody can help me do that. But the second part of my career is social, extremely social. Now I have to put this script that I preciously crafted and put it in the mouths of other actors and in their bodies and space."

Solis added that requires a lot of faith in actors abilities to make it sell. "It also means the script has to be porous, it has to be ready to take on the ideas of all these people to make it come to life," he noted. "That, I find, is the strength I have as a writer. I have to be generous."

Solis is looking forward to meeting residents of Independence and talking shop with fellow artists. He doesn't want to miss anything, he said. 

"That is the value of these festivals is you get the exposed to what people are thinking of now, what people are responding to now. It's always fantastic to see that," Solis stated. "It sort of gives you a sense of where the national trend is going in terms of thinking, in terms of reaching for something new, something special, that enables us to grow as a culture."

When IDR told Solis of the family movie night featuring "Coco," he replied excitedly, "They are going to show 'Coco!' We have had quite the experience with that as well. One of our goats is named Coco. He is sort of cocoa colored but also because he was born right about the time the movie was released." 

Solis said he doesn't really know what to expect during the festival but is looking forward to the whole experience. He noted the help he has received from Hannah Joyce-Haven, producing director of the William Inge Center for the Arts, and Chuma Gault. "They have been such terrific people," he noted. "They flew to my farm in Oregon and interviewed me and my wife for this. Then they got some footage of us working the goats and feeding the chickens and all that."

Joyce-Hoven said the festival is thrilled to celebrate Solis. "His work is deep and soulful, and he is a generous, curious and kind person. I look forward to welcoming him to Kansas where I believe audiences will see themselves honored and reflected in his stories."

"I am very excited to meet the other writers who will be coming up and I know they will be doing a number of excerpts from my plays and I hope that goes well," Solis concluded. "I get to enjoy it but I am so unused to this attention."

Other guest artists joining the festival this year are, Liz Duffy Adams, Michael Baron, Alex Barreto Hathaway, Harty Blackert, J.M. Bock, Gigi Bolt, Hannah Brooks, Jackson R. Bryer, Ai Vy Bui, Sean Byrd, Darren Canady, Juliette Carrillo, Cristina Castro, Jeff Church, Maxwell Collyard, Walter Coppage, Kara Lee Corthron, Jose Faus, Chuma Gault, Khalif J. Gillet, Allison Gold, Gabrieal Griego, Michael "Hawkeye" Herman, Cynthia Hyer, Allison Jones, Therese (Tess) Jones, Cynthia Levin, Chip Miller, Nora Montanez, Yumarie Morales, Xavi Moreno, Aubrey Near, Dr. Page Petrucka, Aaron Michael Scully, Laura Shatkus, Catherine Treischmann, Mark Valdez, Lizi Watt, Amanda White, Philip Middleton Williams, Erick Wolfe and Viviane Wolfe.

To see a schedule of events for the festival, visit ingecenter.org/festival/