Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer
From now until July 31, Chautauqua Theater Company will be busy with the 2011 New Play Workshop Festival. In addition to the three new plays in this year’s NPW Festival, CTC, in conjunction with the Writers’ Center, is commissioning a play for the first time.
The recipient of the Chautauqua Play Commission is playwright Kate Fodor. While Fodor is the first recipient of the Commission, this is not her first time in Chautauqua. Fodor already has brought two of her plays to CTC to be workshopped in NPW Festivals in the past.
The first production, “100 Saints You Should Know,” focused on ordinary people searching for faith. This play was a part of the 2006 NPW Festival, and Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch said this was the play that really put CTC’s festivals “on the map.”
Managing Director Robert Chelimsky said this play had audiences lining up, even at the end of the play’s run.
“That was first time that we really saw people lining up,” Chelimsky said. “The final day of that performance, there were over 100 people waiting in the wait-list line to get into that final performance.”
The second play Fodor brought to Chautauqua was “Rx.” This play was part of the 2009 NPW Festival and is a comedy set in the pharmaceutical industry.
The Chautauqua Play Commission is $15,000 and was given in conjunction with the Writers’ Center and the backing of the John C. Court Family Foundation. In addition to this commission, Fodor also is the recipient of the McKnight National Residency & Commission from the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. This is a $12,500 award and one Fodor had to apply for with a specific idea for a play in mind.
The two commissions have almost identical time schedules, and Fodor said she will be going to Minneapolis in September for an experience similar to her time here during the NPW Festival.
Both of these financial backings have allowed Fodor the opportunity to focus solely on her writing. Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny said these two grants “are going to enable Kate to quit her day job and be a writer.”
Fodor said while the commission is a huge financial help, it also has reaffirmed her as a playwright.
“Financially, this is actually the first year that I have not had another sort of corporate job, so it’s the first year that I’m really trying to make it through just on grants and fellowships,” Fodor said. “Financially, it’s a huge help, but I think there’s also something — it was so affirming to have it be coming from people who I had worked with before, and knew my work, and who knew what it was like to work with me and were willing to do it again.”
The commission is set to take place over a two-season period, beginning with the 2011 Season and finishing in the 2012 Season.
This season, Fodor will be in residency during the New Play Festival Workshop to work on her play and also to teach a playwriting workshop at the Writers’ Center. She also will meet with the artistic directors, Benesch and McSweeny, to discuss what direction the play is taking.
In the 2012 Season, Fodor will be expected to return to Chautauqua with the new play in hand to either be premiered as a workshop or full production to be produced by CTC.
“The intention would be that Kate would have a play that was NPW-ready next year,” McSweeny said.
When it came time to select a recipient of the commission, Chelimsky said choosing Fodor was not difficult.
“She was a pretty natural choice,” Chelimsky said. “This is somebody who understands what this place is and what this world is, and we really felt she could sort of take the inspiration of this place to figure out where she wants to go and what she wants to do with this new work.”
Benesch said another big reason Fodor was a perfect fit for the commission was because of the way she writes about issues that are important to people in everyday life.
“Kate is an incredibly intelligent, articulate writer who writes about spiritual issues,” Benesch said. “She writes plays that look at many of the questions people come to Chautauqua to ask.”
For the commission, Fodor said she has a play she has started working on that may or may not end up being the play featured here next season. This play — Fodor has 30 or 40 pages written — focuses on marriages and has the working title “Fifty Ways.”
“It sort of occurred to me that marriages, particularly failed marriages, are sort of like ground zero in that everybody has their own equally true and yet incompatible narratives,” Fodor said.
Fodor said that although this play may not be the one for the Commission, it does revolve around the thing she is really interested in as a playwright, which is the reasoning behind human behavior.
“I would say that one of the things that I’m interested in are the stories that people tell themselves about their own behavior,” Fodor said. “When you watch somebody behaving in a way that seems outlandish to you or immoral to you, what is their own internal narrative that’s making that behavior make sense to them? I think that’s a fascinating question as a playwright.”
It also handles an issue Fodor said she was worried about, which was the age range of the CTC actors. Fodor said this play, which has four characters, has roles for conservatory members in their 20s as well as guest artists in their 40s or 50s.
The NPW Festival runs from now through July 31, and Fodor said this time in Chautauqua will give her an opportunity to focus on her play for the 2012 Season.