New Play Festivals: GO!

by Kitty Felde

I’ve done the ballpark tour: planning vacations to cities with interesting baseball stadiums, trying to visit every one of them. Unfortunately, new stadiums were being built at a rapid rate and many of the old ones I’d visited were being torn down, so that goal of seeing them all went out the window.

But I’ve started a new vacation tour: new play festivals. And fellow “emerging” playwrights, I highly recommend it for several reasons:

– The Work: It’s like Fashion Week. You get the opportunity to see who’s hot (or for cynics like me: which MFA playwriting program is currently churning out kids with promise), spot trends (gimmick plays, in case you wondered), and see plays that aren’t perfect – always a wonderful opportunity to practice your writerly skills and imagine how YOU’D fix the play.

– Ego Boost: Seeing new work can also be a real confidence builder. You realize that the quality of your writing isn’t lacking; you know you can turn out work equal to or much better than anything you’ve seen. It sends you home to your laptop with real determination.

– Relationships: In a business built as much on who you know as the quality of writing, these weekends are grand opportunities. This spring, fellow DC playwright DW Gregory persuaded me to join her in Louisville, Kentucky for Humana. They have two “industry” weekends, which I discovered means that artistic directors, dramaturgs, university theatre professors, and literary managers from all over the country show up. Very few playwrights. The schmoozefest began at the airport where – because there just aren’t that many flights to Louisville – half a dozen DC theatre folk were on the same flight. At Humana, there were pie meet and greets, seminars, and lots of drinking. Because there were so few playwrights, the opportunity to have actual conversations instead of 15 second elevator speeches was priceless.

– New Play Festival 101 – I also attended CATF – the Contemporary American Theatre Festival at Shepherdstown, West Virginia – this summer, again with local writer DW Gregory. This time, we brought our husbands, lured with the promise of bike rides along the C&O Canal. We saw two very good and one just awful play. How could that happen? We attended a Q&A session one evening after a show in a local restaurant (again, the alcohol flowed freely…) and got to ask how they pick their plays. The artistic director is the main guru, making final selections after others at CATF have sifted through the submissions from agents. (Alas, having no agent myself, that counts me out for a while.) But the one klunker we saw: it was an actress they had worked with previously. Her husband directed this particular show (by one of those hot young playwrights) in New York and they brought it down to CATF intact. Aha! That’s the way the theatre world works. Which takes us back to relationships and ego boost…

– Californians: I live in DC now, but I miss California – the beaches, the produce, the weather. But I also realize I miss Californians. At every new play festival I’ve attended, for some reason I find myself gravitating towards Californians. We think differently, perhaps we’re more open. And because we have SO much theatre, there’s a lot of us at these festivals.

– The Unexpected: the highlight of Humana for me was meeting Paula Vogel in a drink line at a loud, local bar. And SHE was excited to meet ME! Alas, not because of my playwriting, but because of my day job on public radio. But that led to a lovely conversation and subsequent following of each other on Twitter.

You lucky folks in LA have several new play festivals within driving distance: South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, the Ojai Playwrights Festival, Playfest up in Santa Barbara. They’re on my list. Look for me in the audience next year.

2 Comments

  • By Allie, August 13, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    Speaking of which, I hope those of you in LA will come check out the Stages New Musical Theatre Festival next week! 8 new musicals are being presented over the course of one weekend. Check it out! I’m playing Harriet in the musical Mad Bomber, which won the 2013 Search for New Musicals and is based on true story in New York in the 1950s.

  • By Marissa, August 17, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    Wondering what you mean by “gimmick plays” being the new hot trend these days. What kind of “gimmick” are you seeing specifically?

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