WORDS / HANNA CURTIS
To patrons of the theatre who just can’t get enough and are a bit sad that the season at the local stage may be over for a while: fear not, there is a glimmer of hope. The 2014 Arkansas New Play Festival offers attendees the chance to get intimate with brand new plays by meeting the cast and playwright and being a direct influence on future productions of the works. Performances can be witnessed at The Rep in Little Rock on June 7-8 and TheatreSquared in Fayetteville on June 12-15 with more information on the TheatreSquared and Arkansas Repertory Theatre home pages.
During the Fayetteville fest, three reading performances will be accompanied by a fully staged production for the first time, a Young Playwrights Showcase, and a 24-hour Play-Off where groups get together to write and produce the best play in only a day. And the topics of the plays are as diverse as the people who will gather to experience them hot off the press.
B Side: Myself is about one musician living a worst possible scenario – his band has the gig of a lifetime and his mates fail to show. Directed by Sean Patrick Reilly, the first-ever full production at the Festival features a live band playing the score from the stage. Just Like Us, based on the book by Helen Thorpe, depicts the changing lives of four Latina girls whose immigration statuses and friendship are tested. In What God Hath Wrought, a customer service agent is faced with everything from exploding burritos to Morse code messages not bound by time.
Disfarmer is named after the real life photographer who captured everyday emotions in Heber Springs, Arkansas, and tells the story of how his work changed everything for the residents of a tiny town. It is playwright Werner Trieschmann’s fourth time to present the story of photographer Michael Meyers, who changed his name to Disfarmer. The first time Disfarmer was presented in the New Play Festival it was about an hour long, more of a long one-act than a full-length play. These last two presentations have allowed Trieschmann to expand and revise the play so it is more of a full-evening and improve the quality of the play.
Playwrights in the New Play Festival rehearse with actors and the director for roughly two weeks before the play is read in front of audiences, which Trieschmann finds “exceptionally valuable.”
“Plays are meant to be performed,” he said. “A writer sitting in front of a laptop at home or in a coffee shop can only imagine so much. Plays are also collaborative acts. The New Play Festival provides the vital early steps in that collaboration. There is no other theatre company in the state that does this. If you see me crying at the festival, you’ll know it’s not because I am upset but because I’m grateful for TheatreSquared and for this chance.”
Every play has to start somewhere, and the Festival provides an excellent cradle from which young plays can grow and develop. According to TheatreSquared Artistic Director Bob Ford, “audiences in Fayetteville and Little Rock will be given unusual access to these bold new plays before they take the national stage — and directly impact how they are shaped.”
The audience of every live stage production plays an important part as an indirect participant – emotions flow both ways in the theatre and a receptive audience can do wonders for a performance – but audiences at these performances will get to participate more directly, giving feedback right to the playwright and cast. The Arkansas New Play Festival promises to be an exhilarating opportunity for theatre-lovers not only to witness fresh material first-hand, but also to get to participate more in the nitty-gritty process of shaping new work.