For lovers of adventurous new plays, Clubbed Thumb's annual SummerWorks festival is a must-go. The six-week festival (May 19–June 30) of new plays has garnered quite the reputation for championing exciting new voices in theatre and acting as a launchpad for "weird and peculiar" works from more established theatremakers (plays like last season's What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck will be remounted as part of New York Theatre Workshop's 2018–2019 season, and Jaclyn Backhaus' Men on Boats was co-produced with Playwrights Horizons following its SummerWorks debut).
So what makes a play a “Clubbed Thumb ” play?
“I sometimes say, 'unusual stories unusually told',” says artistic director and co-founder Maria Striar, who started the Off Off-Broadway incubator and production company with a group of friends 23 years ago. Their mission then, still holds true today: the organization supports plays that are “funny, strange, and provocative.” “We know it when we encounter it,” says Striar.
This year is a particularly exciting year for Striar, as every show in the series has touched one of the organization's development programs. In addition to SummerWorks, Clubbed Thumb offers year-round support to early-career and mid-career playwrights via writers' groups, a directing fellowship, commissions of new plays, and new play workshops through SuperLab, its partnership with Playwrights Horizons. (Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving play, which was developed through this program will have its world premiere at Playwrights as part of the 2018–2019 season; Tin Cat Shoes, debuting at SummerWorks, also came out of the program).
The playwrights and directors of this season’s three SummerWorks plays tells us what makes them a bit weird, and why you should check them out this summer at the festival's home at The Wild Project.
Tin Cat Shoes, Performances run May 19–29
Trish Harnetiaux [Playwright]
My play is about… How quickly we can acclimate to outrageous circumstances.
It’s funny, strange, and/or provocative because… It mirrors how real life works, which is absurd and messy and unpredictable.
I’m obsessed with theatre that is… Unexpected, honest, and funny at the same time.
I’m a playwright because… I was tricked. But I'm glad I was tricked because I'm not sure there is another creative process where, if you hit the jackpot with your collaborators, you are able to create both an unforgettable experience and a nice piece of literature at the same time.
Other plays of mine you might know: How to Get into Buildings, Welcome to the White Room, Weren't You in My Science Class?, and Bender and Brian (a tale of Breakfast Club fanfiction).
Knud Adams [Director]
Some work of mine you might know: Torrey Townsend's The Workshop [softFocus]; Justin Kuritzkes' Asshole [JACK], and Eliza Bent's Aloha, Aloha, or When I Was Queen [Abrons Arts Center]; Julia Jarcho's Every Angel is Brutal [Clubbed Thumb].
Come see this show if you love… Clubbed Thumb. This might be the epitomic Clubbed Thumb play: It's deeply funny, strange, and provocative. Also, come see this show if you love shoes, outings, animals, teamwork, Guys and Dolls, David Lynch, game theory, chaos theory, or nachos.
When I read a new play I look for… A physiological response where I'm simultaneously stunned by its intelligence, itching to begin working on it, and sweating because it seems impossible. I'm particularly inspired by plays that capture authentic human experiences within appropriately radical forms.
I’m driven to make theatre that is… Lately, I've been most interested in speaking truth to power—which means, as a director, excavating truth from every moment (even when those truths are uncomfortable), and as a producer, getting the work seen by the powerful.
I’m a director because... I've always been a jack-of-all-trades. I had planned to be a writer or sculptor, but then I got lonely. I tried my hand at set design, but then I got greedy. Theatre demands all of my instincts and talents—it's the Gesamtkunstwerk.
Wilder Gone, Performances run June 4–14
Angela Hanks [Playwright]
My play is about… Three women with three very different ambitions. It's about desire, love, ambition, class, survival, the politics of skin tone, and real estate. Also, this play is loosely based off of my paternal great-grandmother's life.
I’m obsessed with theatre that is… I saw a production of Charles Mee's Big Love at the Signature Theatre back in 2015. My goodness, it was glorious. I cried during the scene when the brides kill their grooms, but one, Lydia, decides not to. She had quietly fallen in love with him. The overall scene was incredibly kinetic and crazed and athletic—there was a lot going on—but my focus shifted to this particular moment because it showed a woman confronting her politics, and her desire, and her humanity, all at the same time. But the thing about it, about that particular moment, is that she was, furtively and inwardly, wrestling with these conflicts, this emotional dissonance. It was not this oversized, histrionic thing; it was hidden. Barely detectable, but somehow gigantic and raw and honest.
I’m a playwright because… During the summer of 2003, I was back home in Dallas from college for summer break. I was at the intersection of North Central Expressway and Forest Lane, most likely headed to Blockbuster Video. This dude pulled up next to my mother's Ford Escort, he indicated to me to roll down the passenger window. I did, and he said, “I got these baby clothes and a camcorder I need to sell.” I was left wondering about the combination of items he needed to sell, and why. The why was serious. His is an existence that is not usually focused on, not only in the American theatre, but in [American] society. I was drawn to that existence. And I wanted to somehow make it matter. I wrote my third full-length play, policies & procedures, based off of that interaction, the following summer.
Other plays of mine you might know: Devil Music, Big Tex, and Myrna in Transit.
Margot Bordelon [Director]
Some work of mine you might know: Jiréh Breon Holder's Too Heavy for Your Pocket [Roundabout Underground]; Mara Nelson-Greenberg's Do You Feel Anger? [42nd Annual Humana Festival at Actors Theater Louisville].
Come see this show if you love… Plays about Texas! A wildly-talented all-black cast! Stories about strong women and desire.
When I read a new play I look for… A unique voice, distinctive characters, a strong sense of theatricality, and an intersectional feminist agenda.
I’m driven to make theatre that is… Not auditioning to be film or television—that embraces the magic of live-ness! Work that's earnest, and full of heart and humor, and that is an act of resistance against the values of our current administration.
I’m a director because... I love being able to work on all aspects of a production. Theatre is where literature, and performance, and visual art meet. I take a kind of masochistic pleasure in working in an art form that is ephemeral.
Plano, Performances run June 20–30
Will Arbery [Playwright]
My play is about… Three sisters on a porch in Dallas, dealing with a series of hauntings which are linked to the male presences in their lives. It's about time moving so fast you don't have time to think. And dying while you're still alive. And not being able to help the people you love. It's a delight!
It’s funny, strange, and/or provocative because… Funny because the characters love each other and love makes us funny. Strange because the rules are different. Provocative because it's got, you know, rage, depression, violence, slugs, and breathlessness.
I’m obsessed with theatre that is… Impossible to categorize. Funny and sad in the same breath. Idiosyncratically and inevitably structured—so when you talk about how the play is put together, you're also talking about what the play's about.
I’m a playwright because… I have seven sisters and a lot of voices in my head. I also have a lot of Catholic shame and I think shame is one of the great theatrical antagonists. Mostly, though, I write plays because I love and fear being in the same room as something that is happening now.
Other plays of mine you might know are: Evanston Salt Costs Climbing [Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons]. Otherwise, do you go see short plays at EST? Do you remember one about a man in a diaper who pops out of a trunk? Fact is, having a play in SummerWorks is a big exciting new chapter for me.
Taylor Reynolds [Director]
Some work of mine you might know: Think Before You Holla
Come see this show if you love… Family dramas that make you question your entire existence and the construct of time.
When I read new plays I look for… The moment when a play breaks its own rules. (It's the best!)
I’m driven to make theatre that is… Engaging, challenging, and representative of intersectional identities.
I’m a director because... I feel like a secret puppet master, except my puppets are sentient, super smart, and have total agency over their choices.