For playwrights, there is no telling when that big break is going to come. To help the next generation of theater pens find their footing, the Gulfshore Playhouse is lending its stage to voice their latest expression with its annual New Works Festival. Now in its third year, the festival has grown in scope—staging four plays in a staged-reading format—and in reach.
“The first year we received 86 plays, so we decided to cap it the second year at 100. We received that in about 48 hours,” said Kristen Coury, Gulfshore Playhouse’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director, during a phone interview. “This year we decided to cap it at 125 plays, and we received that in five and half hours. The submissions were closed almost before they were opened.”
|Actors Jessie Shelton and Cody Nickell rehearse with Director Kristen Coury from the inaugural New Works Festival in August 2013.|
The New Works Festival is unique in that it fields new plays from the latest generation of playwrights, giving them a chance to present their work to an audience, read by professional actors, and guided by a director. The only criteria Gulfshore Playhouse requires is that the play has never been produced before. Meaning the four plays chosen are wholly new works for the audience to experience, while giving the playwright a chance to see how the work pans out.
“Plays are written in a vacuum, but not meant to be performed in a vacuum,” said Coury. “As a collaborative art, it is hard to know if [a play] is working without all the component parts—the actors reading the roles, audience to hear and react, the director’s vision on what part might need more or less words. There are so many pieces that work together in theater to make a piece work.”
Which is why New Works is such an invaluable tool for the playwrights chosen. “We aim to serve the playwright by giving them a week in a room with a director and professional actors. In many cases they have not even heard their work read aloud by actors, bringing those characters to life, let alone a director saying you know I don’t think we need this scene, or if you added this here…”
For New Works, playwrights get 15 hours of rehearsal, working with the director and the actors to tweak and perfect the play. Then the work is presented to an audience in a staged-reading format. “It is really nothing but a bare stage, music stands, and the actors…so nothing but the actors and the words.”
|Staged reading from the inaugural New Works Festival.|
Despite the minimalist staging, New Works delivers a pretty powerful performance, something the audience really seems to relish. “Its totally barebones, Inside the Actors Studio kind of stuff,” said Coury, “but the audience loves being a part of it, meeting the playwrights, interacting with the actors, and giving their two cents of what they think the story is and could be.”
The festival has been a rousing success, not just in terms of offering unique performances so early in Naples pre-season, but for the participating playwrights themselves. Last season, Gulfshore Playhouse produced and performed the world premiere of The Butcher, the play Gwydion Suilebahn presented in the first New Works Festival, while Out of Orbit by Jennifer Maisel, another inaugural year graduate, got the full production treatment by the California Repertory Company in the Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. “[The works] are growing and going into the world,” says Coury.
For the third year, after a long vetting process, the New Works committee—Coury, Artistic Associate Jeffrey Binder, and Artistic Assistant Audrey Zielenbach—selected four new plays: Embalmed, Buried, Gone by Ashlin Halfnight; Ariadne on the Island by Kato McNickle; Other than Honorable by Jamie Pachino; and White by James Ijames.
“I am really excited about the four plays,” says Coury, pointing to their diversity, not just in gender and geographic location of the playwrights, but in the subject matter as well. A personal favorite? “They are all my favorites,” Coury laughs, “I love all my children equally.”
When the New Works Festival debut on Thursday, September 24, so to does the Gulfshore Playhouse’s 2015-2016 season, one in which Coury is especially excited about. “I think this is going to be the most well-balanced season ever,” she said. “In terms of huge comedies, classics, new, really new thought-provoking works, I really feel like we got the exact perfect balance of it all.”
The first full production of the season, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, is also a first for the playhouse, a co-production with the Weston Playhouse in Vermont. Running from October 10-25, Coury spent part of the summer in Vermont directing the play, and has now brought the cast and set back with her for the start of the Naples season. It speaks to the playhouse’s growing presence in the theatrical scene: what started as a small production company headquartered out of Coury’s apartment 11 years ago has now grown into a regional powerhouse with a $2.36 million budget, producing new and original work.
“We still have lots of places to go, continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Our aspirations are increasing with each passing year: We aim to be a Tony Award-winning regional theater, and one of the top regional theaters of the country. That’s our end goal,” says Coury. It’s a goal I am certain they will achieve.
- The New Works Festival takes the stage Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, September 27. Admission costs $15 for one show, $25 for two, $35 for three, and $45 for all four stagings. For tickets and more information, visit gulfshoreplayhouse.org/2015season/NewWork.
For showtimes and play descriptions, as provided by Gulfshore Playhouse, head to page 2:
Showtimes and play descriptions, as provided by Gulfshore Playhouse’ are as follows:
Embalmed, Buried, Gone | Ashlin Halfnight
Thursday, September 24 at 8 p.m.
“A young man kills himself under unusual and upsetting circumstances, and his sisters immediately return to their childhood home in Michigan to honor his memory. When the town denies his body a proper burial, and even a funeral looks unlikely, the family members battle fiercely amongst themselves to claim his legacy, and come to terms with his life and death.”
Ariandne on the Island | Kato McNickle
Friday, September 25 at 8 p.m.
“This play begins on an island of refuge during a mechanized war zone and tells the story of a hard fought conflict from four perspectives: Peter, the hero; Via, the comrade in arms; Dante, former leader of the resistance; and Ana, daughter of an enemy commandant. With a story with which our audiences will connect, but that also borrows beautifully from our theatrical and historical past, Ariadne on the Island asks the timely and important questions: What are the effects of war on varied peoples? How do we recreate ourselves, and our social structure in destruction’s wake? And can we ever truly love our enemy?”
Other Than Honorable | Jamie Pachino
Saturday, September 26 at 8 p.m.
“Other Than Honorable is the story of Grace Rattigan, a former military officer who resigned her commission under sealed terms and now works in a high profile DC law firm. A new client arrives at her office-AWOL after stabbing her immediate superior-reopening Grace’s old wounds. As Grace pursues the new client’s case, the layers of her own experience with the base’s Commanding Officer leave Grace at a crossroads. She can come forward and tell the truth about her past, or stay AWOL from that part of her life. Touching on hot button issues in the news right now, Other Than Honorable is the story of one woman confronting the real meaning of the military’s codes of honor, courage and loyalty.”
White | James Ijames
Sunday, September 27 at 3 p.m.
“Gus wants to be a famous painter. Vanessa wants to be a famous actor. When these two artistic dreamers cross paths, both of their assumptions about being an artist and making art are dismantled. Gus’ desire to be acquired by a major contemporary art museum looking for “new perspectives” inspires him to “sculpt” a woman to claim his work as her own. This modern take on the Frankenstein tale spins out of control as it explores issues of race, gender, sexuality, and art.”