PlayPenn, a New Play Development Program in Philly, Tests Four Works at Inaugural Conference July 18-31

News   PlayPenn, a New Play Development Program in Philly, Tests Four Works at Inaugural Conference July 18-31
A handful of playwrights will see their new works explored by PlayPenn, Philadelphia's only professional new play development organization, in the inaugural New Play Development Conference July 18-31.

The playwrights are Sheila Callaghan (We Are Not These Hands), Jordan Harrison (Act a Lady), J.T. Rogers (The Overwhelming) and Lydia Stryk (On Clarion).

All the writers are new to Philadelphia audiences, with the exception of J.T. Rogers, whose play White People received its world premiere at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Following two weeks of development, works will be heard in readings at The Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, in Philadelphia.

"One of the few missing pieces in the thriving Philadelphia theatre scene is an organization that provides professional resources for writers," Paul Meshejian, artistic director of PlayPenn, said in a statement. "With so many theatres mining the canon of existing dramatic literature and vying for rights to new plays that have already proven themselves in production in New York and the regions, it has become more important than ever to foster the development of new work here in our own community."

The chosen playwrights will bring their work-in-progress to Philadelphia for two weeks of "intensive work with a professional director of their choice, dramaturgical assistance and professional actors from the Philadelphia theatre community."

Playwrights will rehearse up to 20 hours "with a team of artists devoted to the progress of their work" and culminating in staged readings open to the public on July 29-30. We Are Not These Hands by Sheila Callaghan "explores the effects of rampant capitalism on a country that is ill-prepared for it. Ever since their school blew up, Moth and Belly have taken to stalking an illegal internet café in the hopes of one day being allowed in. They take particular interest in Leather, a skittish older man doing research in the café. He is a self-proclaimed 'freelance scholar' from a foreign land with a sketchy past and a sticky secret."

Act a Lady by Jordan Harrison "is a rollicking fable about the woman in every man and the man in every woman. When the men of a tiny Prohibition-era town don petticoats to perform a period melodrama, the biggest surprise is that more eyebrows aren't raised. The task of 'acting a lady' awakens the passions between Miles and his skeptical wife Dorothy, and the less speakable desires of Casper, the local photographer. As opening night approaches, the play-within-the-play begins to spill off the stage as purloined emeralds, silk snoods, and hungry ghosts descend upon the Midwestern cattle farming town, causing one to wonder who is on which side of the red velvet curtain."

Harrison's play Kid-Simple premiered in the 2004 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The Overwhelming by J.T Rogers "is the gripping story of an American family, newly arrived in Kigali, Rwanda in early 1994, who come face-to-face with the realization that nothing and no one around them is what they understood it to be. Finding themselves embroiled in events beyond their understanding, three Americans struggle to discover who they can trust and what they will do when faced with matters of life and death."

J.T. Rogers was selected as one of 10 playwrights in the nation to receive a NEA/TCG Theatre Residency for 2004-2005, through which he is currently playwright in residence at the Salt Lake Acting Company. His latest play, Madagascar, received the American Theatre Critics Association's 2004 M. Elizabeth Osborne Award and was a finalist for the ATCA's Steinberg New Play Award. This summer, Madagascar will be in the Summer Play Festival (SPF) in New York City and at The Adirondack Theatre Festival.

"Set in 1954, the super-bomb era," On Clarion by Lydia Stryk, "follows a charismatic woman who gathers a group around her to take the ultimate journey — off the face of the planet. Loosely based on a true story, this dark comedy asks what we do when existential fears and real destruction lead to yearnings for a better place."

PlayPenn's 2005 directors are Linsay Firman, Anne Kauffman, Peter Rothstein and Lucy Tiberghien. Participating actors for the conference are Kevin Bergen, Emmanuelle Delpesh-Ramey, Madi DiStefano, Amy Fitts, Aisha Goss, Danai Gurira, Johnny Hobbs III, David Ingram, Evan Jonigkeit, Rainy Lacy, Forrest McClendon, Kathryn Peterson, Bruce Robinson, Corey Sorenson, Erin Weaver, Russ Whiddall, Frank X, Bill Zielinski and Julianna Zinkel.

Conference writers were chosen from a field of 110 playwrights who were nominated by a nationwide team of Literary Managers and Artistic Directors. The four finalists were culled from a group of 10 semi-finalists which also included Lisa Dillman (Homeland), Kirsten Greenidge (Rust and An Illustrative Limbo), Joel Drake Johnson (A Blameless Life), Melanie Marnich (Cradle of Man), Brett Neveu (American Dead) and Laura Schellhardt (Courting Vampires).

PlayPenn's mission "is to support the development of the written word and those who use it to create new plays for the American theatre." PlayPenn is made possible through the support of the Five-County Arts Fund, a Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and the Phoebe W. Haas Charitable Trust B.

"Our New Play Development Conference, the first ever in Philadelphia, is modeled after the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis, in which a laboratory environment enables the playwright to develop their play further," Meshejian stated. "These playwrights show tremendous artistry and skill. The selected plays offer great promise, although they are not yet ready for production."

For further information, call (610) 827-2251.

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