A multitude of new plays awaits visiting critics
- Article in the San Francisco Chronicle June 1, 2004 (Robert Hurwitt)
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- Olympia Dukakis is commanding the American Conservatory Theater's stage
as a Gorky matriarch re-imagined by Constance Congdon. David Eggers is
making his playwriting debut with Campo Santo at Intersection. A caveman
is inventing the concept of theater at San Jose Stage, and radio host Brian
Copeland copes with growing up black in racist San Leandro at the Marsh,
while there's a gay-bashing murder, a rape and a battle over black supremacy
in three plays at the Magic Theatre.
- That's just a small sampling of about 20 new plays (out of some 50
productions) on the boards at present in the Bay Area -- not counting the
half dozen at the Exit Theatre's DIVAfest, which closed last week,
and another 11 new one-acts at the two new-works festivals opening June
- It's a fitting welcome for the 100 members of the American Theatre
Critics Association arriving today for its annual national conference.
New plays are the lifeblood of the theater, and ATCA honors their importance.
Besides nominating the recipient of the regional theater Tony award, the
group administers two major national awards -- the ATCA/Steinberg, for
the best new play to premiere outside of New York each year ($15,000, with
$5,000 to each of two runners-up); and the Elizabeth Osborn Award, $1,000
to an "emerging" playwright.
- The local meetings -- co-hosted by The Chronicle -- will have something
of a new-plays focus. Besides seeing Congdon's "A Mother" at
ACT and at least one of the Magic's Hot House rotating repertory of three
world premieres, the critics' week of meetings and theatergoing will include
three panels on aspects of new play development.
- One of two panels Wednesday at Yerba Buena Center -- both set up by
Theatre Bay Area -- will discuss avenues through which scripts are commissioned,
workshopped and produced. The other, moderated by former Chronicle critic
Bernard Weiner, will focus on companies that develop work for a particular
ensemble, from the San Francisco Mime Troupe to Campo Santo. The third
panel, Friday at TheatreWorks in Mountain View, will look at the creation
- It all seems a long way from the lonely writer sending scripts flying
over any available transom -- though some of the critics will get to visit
Tao House in Danville, where Eugene O'Neill labored in torment over "A
Long Day's Journey Into Night." The transom model still holds, as
many local playwrights can attest. But the Bay Area is rich in different
approaches, from well-supported commissions at major companies to writers
banding together for discussions and staged readings.
- "A Mother," three years in development at ACT, is only one
of its three world premieres this spring -- after S.M. Shephard-Massat's
"Levee James" and preceding Eve ("Vagina Monologues")
Ensler's "The Good Body." And ACT, which last week hosted its
second First Look set of readings of works in progress, is also opening
"Ladies of the Canyon" on Saturday at Zeum, a Young Conservatory
dramatization of Joni Mitchell songs by Craig Slaight, who commissions
many new plays for the conservatory.
- The Magic, a hotbed of new drama since the Sam Shepard days, is wrapping
up an all-world premiere season that's boasted such notable names as Edna
O'Brien and David Mamet. Less conspicuously, the Magic and David Dower's
Z Space are in the midst of a three-year New Plays Initiative to develop
15 new pieces collaboratively with other theaters -- Leigh Fondakowski's
"Stories From Jonestown" in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's next
season is one of those plays.
- TheatreWorks, which offered another New Works Festival in April (in
tandem with its world premiere of Scott Schwartz's "My Ántonia"),
has been particularly active in developing new musicals ("Memphis,"
"Everything's Ducky"). The Marin Theatre Company has just announced
a New Works Program of staged readings for its next season.
- Many companies of various sizes are dedicated to new plays, from the
regular development and premieres of new work at the Marsh or Theatre Rhinoceros
to the numerous small groups that make use of the Exit Theatre.
Perhaps unique to the Bay Area is the number of theaters devoted to developing
their own work -- from the Mime Troupe's 40 years of creating a musical
political comedy every summer to Traveling Jewish Theatre's ensemble-based
works and the continuing experiments of Art Street Theatre and Central
Works. Campo Santo has been particularly prolific, developing new works
with the likes of Denis Johnson, Naomi Iizuka and, now, Eggers.
- Then there are the independent development programs. PlayGround opens
its eighth annual Emerging Playwrights Festival -- seven short works selected
from 36 developed in a year of staged readings -- at Traveling Jewish on
June 10. Which is the same night Killing My Lobster opens its second annual
Bruno's Island New Plays Festival of one-acts at the Magic. The 11-year-old
Playwrights' Lab, coordinated by Weiner, will hold a "Writers With
Attitude" festival of short plays in September at the Throckmorton
Theatre in Mill Valley.
- That's but a small sample. The Magic has been working to form a Bay
Area League of New Plays Theatres to enhance collaborative and collective
projects. Stay tuned for further developments.
- E-mail Robert Hurwitt at firstname.lastname@example.org
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