CTC Brown Bag to discuss New Play Workshop ‘The Guadalupe’, US-Mexico border

Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
The cast of The Guadalupe meets to run through a rehearsal of the New Play Workshop Tuesday in Brawdy Theater Studios.

The Guadalupe, Chautauqua Theater Company’s second New Play Workshop, debuts this week. The production is the last in CTC’s “New Works Month.”

The play tells the story of a Mexican-American family living near the New Mexico-Mexico border and grappling with issues relating to the changing face of the area. This week’s installment of CTC’s Brown Bag series will discuss the design and developmental elements to the workshopped production at 12:15 p.m. today in Bratton Theater.

“We are fed by it,” said Associate Artistic Director Andrew Borba, who coordinates the Brown Bags. “It’s not just to let the audience in on our process. It’s also to take from the audience and realize what they too are interested in, because many, many minds make a much better result at the end of it.”

New Play Workshops focus heavily on the process of putting a play onstage, as they allow playwrights to workshop their plays for a week with the company. The program relies on the company’s design fellows to create a set for the workshop while the set for the next full production is in the process of load-in.

Brown Bags showcase the play’s point of view from the writers’, designers’ and director’s perspective, according to CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch.

“The point of the Brown Bag is to give a little bit of the inside on the process and give the audience a context with which to enjoy the show,” Benesch said.

The Guadalupe, a thriller, presents challenges for a Brown Bag’s traditional programming, because no one in the audience will have seen the piece. Its first show is 8 p.m. tonight. Borba said the importance of keeping plot details and twists quiet is one of the most difficult aspects of holding Brown Bags.

“Much of the joy of storytelling or witnessing a story is not knowing, or being surprised by it,” Borba said. “It’s always a tap dance to talk about the process and to talk about each actor’s experience, the designers’ challenges,” without revealing the plot.

Director Ethan McSweeny, Benesch, design fellows and actors will also discuss the process of building suspense within the context of set and time constraints. The play takes place in a ranch house, and the script details specific stage direction from room to room.

“The [New Play Workshop] set budget is like $25, so we have to be able to do as much design work as we can do to serve the play without actually building a full set,” McSweeny said. “When you read the play, it’s so specific of where people are coming and going … We just have to figure out how to make that look theatrical and how to make it work in a proscenium.”

Benesch said though the New Play Workshop process is always difficult, the specificity of The Guadalupe’s geography may make it more so.

“How, in a staged reading, not a full production, will you build the physical suspense that is required of the story in this form?” Benesch said. “It all takes place in real time in the dark. How are they handling those theatrical challenges that way?”

The company also hopes to broach the play’s topical issues of border control and immigration at the Brown Bag.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get inside a community we know very little about,” Benesch said. “What do we need to know going into this play — do we need to know anything? What might we learn?”

How each topic will be tackled relies on the discussants and the themes the audience is most interested in reflecting on.

“We never quite know where the conversations are going to go,” Borba said.