theatre (general)

reading ruminations: new play development is alive and well and living in manhattan

I am the new kid in town.  I’m building a network, patching together professional connections, getting to know locales and hideouts from my morphing perspective of multi-decade visitor cum new inhabitant.  I still expect to see Guernica when I visit MOMA, for example.  I first got to know the Algonquin during the 1970s with over-lit restaurant (Round Table long gone) and bright red leather booths and white walls and mirrors (my face squints with the memory, even now) and dusty front lobby with little bells permanently affixed to tables in the middle of random overstuffed chair arrangements.  The recent rehab is lovely but I remember when.  I then wandered as a tourist.  I’m adding to my map in my new role.

The New Black Fest. October 9-17, 2010.

One of the many ways I’m adding to my personal map of personal Manhattan is new play festivals and series.  The New Black Fest enjoyed its inaugural year this year, with events in Harlem and in Brooklyn, and featuring some of the finest talent anywhere.  [For more on the complete festival, see http://thenewblackfest.org/home/]  Readings of new plays and readings of plays that have had some productions.  I was able to attend just one day, October 16, of all the splendid readings at BRIC Arts in Brooklyn.

  • Seize the Day by Kwame Kwei-Armah.
  • Space by Keli Garrett.
  • Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten by J. Nicole Brooks.

I can’t wait to see what happens with this energy and these great minds in the months and years to come. Among the shows I viewed during my day of play readings was Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten. I saw the 2007 premiere at Lookingglass in Chicago featuring a war-torn set and powerful physical production values with warriors repelling down walls and climbing through crevices.  Most or all of that original Chicago-based cast was here for the semi-staged format presenting a script that has been tightened and slightly reworked — tweaks that strengthen the work in my opinion.  Keli Garrett’s Space riffs on post-Katrina New Orleans (and the 1927 New Orleans flood) in a masterful, flowing, melodic manner.  [It might pair intriguingly with a new play by Dan Dietz that takes on the Clytemnestra myth in post-Katrina New Orleans -- see notes below.]. Music events and panel discussion events.   A piece from the New York Times about the festival when it was first announced:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/23/theater/23arts-FESTIVALSPOT_BRF.html

Lark Playwrights' Week. October 18-23, 2010.

A second festival has been going on for almost 20 years as the cornerstone of programming of an ongoing new playwright development program: The Lark Play Development Center.  Playwrights’ Week. [For more on the week's adventures see: http://www.larktheatre.org/programs/pwweek2010-11.htm.]  I hung out for four evenings this past week at the Lark’s 2nd floor performance/rehearsal space on 8th Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets.  A building and a performance space for which years exploring Chicago storefronts and basements and backrooms featuring theatrical companies prepared me well — not luxurious, tucked away, but where theatre magic often happens.  The events I attended:

  • 18 October.  Meet the Writers hosted by Morgan Jenness. Joshua Allen, Dan Dietz, Laura Jacqmin, Kait Kerrigan, Laura marks,  Gabe McKinley, Michael Mitnick, Stacy O’Neill.
  • 19 October.  Floodplains by Gabe McKinley, directed by Pippin Parker.
  • 21 October.  The Last Pair of Earlies by Joshua Allen, directed by May Adrales.
  • 21 October.  Girls in the Eddy by Stacy O’Neill, directed by Portial Krieger.
  • 22 October. Clementine in the Lower Nine by Dan Dietz, directed by Leah Gardiner.

I include here no reviews of the plays I heard, just moments that captured my attention.  I present these fragments without a lot of context, almost as poetry.  Tempting tidbits. Interesting that across the festival readings I attended over the past week two were plays I had seen before in production or in readings (Black Diamond at Lookingglass in Chicago in 2007 and Clementine in the Lower Nine at PlayPenn New Play Conference in Philadelphia in August 2010).  As always, I am more than a little in awe at the wondrous skills of playwrights and related theatre partners.  Brought to tears in a dusty dark room.  Life epiphanies suggested by a chance juxtaposition of word and music.

From introductions to readings at the Lark:

  • “Plays don’t live until they’re on a stage.”
  • [After a 10 hour rehearsal process with actors preparing for a reading, the audience is] “stepping into the 11th, 12th, 13th hours of rehearsal.  The plays don’t really come alive until you come into the room.”
  • [about the playwrights] “they already had an audience before they came here, for work they hadn’t begun to finish.”

Seize The Day

  • “He’s a good man.  I like him like cooked food.”

Space

  • “This is America.  We don’t do history.”
  • “You’re in it but not of it.”
  • “People who read what you print turn the page.”
  • “I looked around and didn’t have nobody, not even myself.”
  • “Just because the world has gone away doesn’t mean we go away too.”

Black Diamond

  • “Are you here to be right or are you here to tell the truth?”
  • “If you look at us the wrong way, we shall consume you.”

Meet the Writers event at Lark

  • Michael Mitnick (Spacebar: A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman).  His play was “born by C-Section”.
  • Gabe McKinley (Floodplains).  Examining “the power and folly of tradition.”  “It started as a military play and ended up being a family play.”
  • Joshua Allen (The Last Pair of Earlies).  Morgan Jenness says of this play “This play is like watching scented smoke.”

Floodplains

  • [father to military representatives telling him of enlisted daughter's disappearance on duty] “What are the rules?” “There are no rules, sir.  This is a unique conflict.”
  • “The young make the best soldiers.  You feel it more when you get older.  It feels like you feel everything more.”
  • “I just walked to the horizon…. I shed my body armor and suddenly my skin could breathe.”

The Last Pair of Earlies

  • “I ain’t studying any more men.”
  • “Right here this place don’t understand us — and I need to go back to where we’d be understood.”
  • “The time comes when your head hits the ceiling, you gotta bust through.”
  • “Every time I look at her, I see less of her there.”
  • “I don’t have time to tell you what you don’t know.”
  • “I haven’t brushed hair that wasn’t mine for a long time.”

Clementine in the Lower Nine

  • “The songs carried the stories that carried them back to themselves.”
  • “Your songs aren’t the stories themselves, they carry them along.”
  • “On behalf of the piano player, I’m begging you — don’t let nobody pick the music but you.”

“Don’t let nobody pick the music but you.”  I have mused on this phrase already in another blog. http://mattiewade.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/managing-the-set-list/.  We’ll leave this now with the power of that sentiment.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 23, 2010)

About martha wade steketee

Lover of ghost lights, movies, stories of creative lives, magic of live performance, storytelling in song.

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