New Year, New Voices

January 20, 2019

Happy New Year American Stage friends and family! And what better way is there to ring in 2019 than with fresh voices, fresh faces, and new plays. Rose Hahn here, 2018-19 acting and production apprentice, and new play enthusiast. I feel passionate about the power and impact of new work on the theatre community. Working on PIPELINE by Dominique Morisseau as a directing apprentice has demonstrated even more to me the importance of new plays, and their development. In my opinion, it is our responsibility as theatre artists to reflect the world around us and the world is constantly changing, so the work should too.

I was absolutely thrilled to be able to participate in 21st Century Voices. The playwrights, actors, and directors collaborated for a series of rehearsals, discussions, readings, and talkbacks. Those participating in the festival, whether as audience members or as artists, were a part of something really special. I was moved and inspired by the inciteful, open, thoughtful discussions that blossomed from the new work.

Once the selection process was over (for more information about that see the earlier blog post) and before the rehearsals even began, many people worked together to cast and build the teams for each play. Then, for one week, rehearsals were held for the artists to learn as much as possible from each other about the play. Most of the plays had about ten hours of rehearsal to prep for the readings.

The festival consisted of five unique plays. The first night, The Colony, by Gina Stevenson, based on the real story of Carrie Buck, explored the shocking truths about eugenics and the impact that enforced sterilization has had on women throughout history. The second night, Shruti Gupta Can Totally Deal, by J.Stephen Brantley, a romantic comedy of sorts, hilariously and poignantly told the love between an Irish immigrant and a D. A. C. A. recipient while touching on important social and political issues. On Saturday afternoon, The Flora and Fauna, by Alyson Mead, carefully and respectfully showed the relationship and comradery between two women and revealed the long term aftermath and effects of trauma. That evening, The Diary of Annie May Franklin, by Crystal V. Rhodes, beautifully depicted the struggle of a black family during World War II when a young boy from a Japanese American internment camp comes unexpectedly into their lives.

On Sunday, the play festival concluded with The People Downstairs, by Natalie Simons, American Stage’s playwright-in-residence. Natalie is the resident playwright here at American Stage. This means that she has been developing her play with us for about half a year now. Since I arrived at American Stage, I have been working with Natalie on her play in various capacities. I have read stage directions for The People Downstairs at two readings, and have also had the opportunity to shadow Natalie throughout her writing and editing process. I was able to continue shadowing Natalie as part of the 21st Century Voices process. Her facility with language and honesty as a writer are elements that I hope to emulate in my own writing. I plan to read her future rewrites and attend future meetings that she has to learn as much as possible about playwriting and the play development process.

Overall the festival was a huge success. Talkbacks between the audience and playwrights were well monitored by Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte, Community Outreach Associate Colleen Cherry, and Emerging Arts Leader Fellow Sadie Lockhart. Playwrights received feedback from the audience, and were even able to ask some questions of their own. They were able to see the reaction to their work from a fresh audience. Since most of them are from out of state, St. Petersburg audience members provided a unique point of view for them. Those attending were open minded, and respectful. Attendance also increased by one third since last year – woohoo! With readings such as these, audience participation is crucial and their respect is even more so. The delicate topics discussed in some of these plays demanded empathy from audiences and the presence of the playwright meant that it was important.

It’s a wonderful experience to watch these plays come to life and give our community a better understanding of how plays begin and grow. A consensus among the playwrights was that they are all eager to see their plays go to production. American Stage is honored to be a part of their plays’ journeys. Submissions for our 2020 New Play Festival will be open in March of 2019.

To learn more about 21st Century Voices, visit americanstage.org/NEW