Nobody, Giving Voice to Black Showman Bert Williams, Among Plays in Alabama Fest May 15-17

News   Nobody, Giving Voice to Black Showman Bert Williams, Among Plays in Alabama Fest May 15-17 A community of directors, designers, actors, dramaturgs, industry folk and fans of new American plays will convene in Montgomery, AL, May 15-17 for the 2009 Southern Writers' Project Festival of New Plays, presented by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

The creative teams have been announced for the readings of four plays: Pearle Cleage's new work about an African-American debutante party in the '60s; Richard Aellen's play with music about black vaudeville and Broadway entertainer Bert Williams; and two 19th-century-set plays — by Jeffry L. Chastang and Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, respectively — that make up an ASF mainstage-bound "Civil War Project."

The SWP Festival features first readings of new plays — "Southern in theme or authorship" — and "opportunities to mix with the playwrights, directors and actors who bring the work to life." Each reading receives a week-long workshop before the festival, with some works eventually moving on to full productions at ASF.

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The first day of the 2009 festival (May 15) will feature a reading of Cleage's The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years.

The play "explores generational conflict and familial love in the world of 1960s black debutante societies," according to ASF. "As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize and Selma prepares to launch a voter registration drive, two wealthy, black Montgomery families obsess over the upcoming celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Nacirema Society. Elder stateswomen Grace Dunbar and Catherine Green are determined that the party go off without a hitch. But old family secrets, a blackmailer, willful grandchildren and a nosy New York Times reporter threaten their plans." The reading's creative team include director Patricia R. Floyd, lighting designer Rebecca Dail, dramaturg Georgette Norman, stage manager Nicole Leonard, production assistant Mary Locker. The cast includes Linda Boston, Aurelia Clunie, Maura Gale, Andrea Frye, Bryan Terrell Clark, Margo Moorer, Ginneh Thomas, Casaundra Freeman and reader Amanda Catania.

Cleage is the author of the widely-produced plays Flyin' West and Blues for an Alabama Sky.

On May 16 attendees will be plunged into 1860s Montgomery, AL, the heart of the Confederate movement. The Civil War Project "uses two plays to show the complex perspectives of real historical figures caught in the midst of a Civil War."

ASF and the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel plan to produce these two plays in the 2010–11 season "as a way to creatively mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War."

The first play to be read will be A Panoramic View by Jeffry L. Chastang. According to ASF, "On the eve of secession, family and friends clash in the observatory of a Montgomery home. As passionate secessionist William Lowndes Yancey tries to persuade the more moderate Dr. William Baldwin to his point of view, Baldwin's teenage son grapples with the changing nature of his relationships with his father and his friend, the freeman carpenter James Hale. Simmering conflicts explode, and one man makes a decision that will change everything."

The reading's creative team includes director Andrea Dymond, lighting designer Rebecca Dail, dramaturg Robert Ford, stage manager Jen Nelson Lane. The cast includes Nathan M. Hosner, Joseph Reed, Jeffrey de Picciotto, Esau Pritchett and reader Peter Gray.

Chastang's Preparations was read at the 2008 SWP Festival of New Plays.

The second play on May 16 is The Flagmaker of Market Street, by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. According to ASF, "By day, George Cowles runs a Montgomery store that supplies Confederate troops. By night, he holds secret Unionist meetings in the back room. But when he is asked to create the first Confederate flag and assigns the task to his slave, Mae, he risks exposing his double life."

The reading's creative team includes director Nancy Rominger, lighting designer Rebecca Dail, dramaturg Marlon Bailey, stage manager Tanya J. Searle. The cast includes Dennis McLernon, Libya Pugh, Matt D'Amico, Kaytie Morris, vocalist Nikisha Williams and reader Johnson Chong.

On May 17, the life of African-American stage entertainer Bert Williams (1875-1922), of the act "Williams & Walker," gets a spotlight in Richard Aellen's Nobody, the title of which is inspired by Williams doleful, famous song.

The reading's creative team includes director Tim Rhoze, musical director Brett Rominger, lighting designer Rebecca Dail, stage manager Scott Pegg and musicians Carolyn Violi and Adam Souza on guitar/banjo. The cast includes Glenn Turner as Bert Williams, Sean Blake as George Walker, Laiona Michelle, Lili-Anne Brown, Rodney Clark, Michael Daniel Anderson, Amanda McCallum and reader.

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SWP Festival's past premieres include The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove by Regina Taylor, Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown, Gee's Bend by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and Bear Country by Michael Vigilant, a major blockbuster for ASF in the winter of 2009.

The weekend also includes a local tour, opportunities to see ASF rep productions of Othello and The Three Musketeers and a first-ever Playwright's Breakfast.

ASF associate director Nancy Rominger said in a statement, "There is something innately exciting about stories that are from a community, the very soil the community was built on. Over the past few years we have been proud to give a voice to important Alabama stories like that of Gee's Bend and Bayou La Batre as well as Huntsville's rocket program and Paul 'Bear' Bryant. These stories are as rich and varied as the faces that make up our state. This year is particularly exciting because we are turning our attention squarely on Montgomery and the rich landscape that makes up its history."

For more information, visit www.southernwritersproject.net or call (800) 841-4273.

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The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is among the largest Shakespeare theatres in the world. Designated as The State Theatre of Alabama, ASF has been located in Montgomery since 1985 when it moved from Anniston as a result of Mr. and Mrs. Wynton M. Blount's gift of a performing arts complex set in the 250-acre Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park.

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