‘fore-Play invites deeper look into world premiere of ‘The May Queen’

The May Queen is a child of the ’90s.

While the contemporary play’s allusions to ’90s-era high school may be unclear for some Chautauquan audiences, ’fore-Plays aim to clarify the context of each play to enrich the audiences’ experience.

Chautauqua Theater Company holds its second ’fore-Play of the season at 7 p.m. Sunday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. 

Featuring artistic associate Marlee Koenigsberg and the company’s design fellows, the event will offer dramaturgical information about CTC’s current production, The May Queen, which runs through July 27.

“There are a lot of references that can be mysterious,” Koenigsberg said. “We have references in this play that fall on 20- to 30-somethings’ ears in a different way than they would older generations. … It is interesting to think also, when this play is produced 80 years from now, what of those terms will need to be defined?”

Unlike the historic A Raisin in the Sun, The May Queen speaks specifically about modern life.

“For folks in the NOW Generation at Chautauqua this is going to be more familiar because it’s dealing with the exact time period for them. Some of the references will be newer, more recent, a little bit more fresh,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy.

Koenigsberg arranges the theater company’s dramaturgical packets for each production — a booklet with articles, definitions and statistics offering context for the play’s specific setting and time period. 

These packets are often the basis for the company’s ’fore-Play events.

For this weekend’s ’fore-Play, Koenigsberg will be joined by sound fellow Elliot Davoren, scenic fellow Izmir Ickbal, lighting fellow Kristin Neu and costume fellow Hannah Prochaska to describe the process involved in researching and producing a show set in their own time.  

Designers, actors, directors and producers worked from scratch on the CTC and Writers’ Center-commissioned world premiere by Molly Smith Metzler.

“There’s never been a dramaturgy packet for it,” Koenigsberg said. “It’s the first time it’s ever being staged and fully realized, so what we’re going to be examining for this ‘fore-Play is: What is that like for the designers?”

To produce a play set in modern day, designers must form a theatrical version of the everyday, while building a realistic set for an audience familiar with what the setting — in this case an office pod — looks like.

“We’re clothed in the same way we’re clothed today onstage. So what does that mean?” Koenigsberg said. “How do you go about doing that kind of research? And how does that translate? It’s a very different look from our previous programming for A Raisin in the Sun.”

Along with designer perspectives, the ’fore-Play will cover history of the May Queen tradition, ’90s and ’80s pop culture references and background on Kingston, New York, where the play takes place.