Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer
Along with performing finished Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare productions, Chautauqua Theater Company keeps busy taking an active role in new play development. This will be evident beginning July 21 with the start of the New Play Workshop Festival.
The NPW Festival, which will run through July 31, includes three new plays, a one-man show, the first Chautauqua Play Commission, a panel discussion and “The World Onstage” series.
The three new plays being featured this season are “Elijah” by Michael Mitnick, “build.” by Michael Golamco and “Carve” by Molly Smith Metzler.
The NPW is something that Artistic Directors Vivienne Benesch and Ethan McSweeny started in their first season with CTC, and they said it has grown beyond their initial expectations.
“It was key to us to make new play development part of the mission of CTC,” McSweeny said. “It was key to us to make that part of the experience of the conservatory company, and it was key to us to bring new voices to Chautauqua. It just succeeded literally beyond our wildest dreams. The legacy of new play work is the thing that will endure long past our time here.”
This is also the first season CTC has had three new plays as part of the festival, rather than two. Managing Director Robert Chelimsky said this is because of the generosity of the Roe Green Foundation.
“We’re tremendously excited that we’re able to assert the role that we’ve had within the world of new play development,” Chelimsky said. “We’re able to bring these incredible writers here all together at the same time, so that there will be that interaction, and for the audiences here that have really, really embraced this programming well beyond what we could have imagined when they first envisioned the program.”
In choosing the three plays for the workshop, McSweeny said he and Benesch had to narrow down more than 100 submissions to just three for the festival.
“We look for story, and these are all good stories,” McSweeny said. “I think that’s probably overall true of everything that’s ever been at NPW. We look for something that’s theatrically sound, structurally has some challenges in it and tells a good story.”
Benesch said when it came time for her and McSweeny to narrow down the plays to just three, a big part of the selection process had to do with the mystery in each of the three selected.
“To me, what I’m looking at these and realizing is that each of them has mystery in it,” Benesch said. “There’s a mystery that is solved over the course of the play. Very different storytelling methods, very different kind of mysteries, but each a great play that will start somewhere and take you someplace unexpected. Each of these plays does that.”
The main stipulation for submitting a play for the festival was that it could never have been a full production anywhere. Benesch said this allows the festival to act as a bridge for these plays between process and full production.
“It could have had other workshops or readings, but never a full production,” Benesch said. “It’s right in that moment where we can still give them support, still give them opportunities to write, with the feedback of as intelligent an audience as Chautauqua’s.”
Benesch said this festival is an amazing opportunity for CTC to host these up-and-coming playwrights in a forum where they’re in dialogue with the Chautauqua audiences and also with each other.
Following the show, audience members are welcome to stay to discuss the play with the playwrights. This talkback period gives the playwrights information and feedback, which they can use when going back to the rewriting process of their play, Chelimsky said.
“The feedback of the community is tremendously important,” Chelimsky said. “This is who we’re creating the work for. That’s the one place where it’s really a totally living, breathing, growing, changing organism, and this audience very distinctly gets to be a part of it.”
The last day of the festival, July 31, will be a “marathon day.”
This means that all three of the new plays will be performed, beginning at 11 a.m. and finishing at approximately 10 p.m. McSweeny said there will be breaks for lunch and dinner, which will allow time for staff to prepare the set for the next play.
Each of the plays will have their own costumes and props, which are the responsibility of the design fellows, McSweeny said. When it comes time to actually perform each of the plays, actors can have script in hand, but the play will still have a staged set.
“The World Onstage” series also takes place during this season’s NPW Festival. This in-depth, pre-show discussions focus on the bigger issues raised in each of the new plays.
The first of “The World Onstage” discussions will be held at 12:45 p.m. July 26 and focus on “build.”
The second discussion takes place at 6:30 p.m. July 28 and will focus on worldly issues in the play “Elijah.”
The last of this series will be at 12:45 p.m. July 30 and will focus on issues in “Carve.”
All three discussions will take place at the Brawdy Theater Offices.
Several other events also make up this year’s festival. One of these is the first-ever Chautauqua Play Commission, awarded to playwright Kate Fodor. The commission is supported by the John C. Court Family Foundation and was given in conjunction with the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
A one-man show, called Chau-talk-one, will feature Michael Gaston performing “Swimming Through Abu Dhabi.” This performance will take place at 7 p.m. July 30 at Bratton Theater.
At 12:30 p.m. on July 29, a NPW Festival panel discussion will be held at Bratton Theater. This discussion will dig into the festival deeper than the Brown Bag lunches and will focus on the state of American new play development rather than simply the state of new play development in Chautauqua.
The festival will run over a two-week period, and tickets for each of the new plays are now available for purchase. The plays will be performed at Bratton Theater.