Playwrights Emerge From Shadows in 2009 Summer Play Festival

Special Features   Playwrights Emerge From Shadows in 2009 Summer Play Festival
SPF doesn't just mean sun protection factor. The Summer Play Festival, now through to Aug. 2, gives new plays a place in the sun — with minimal chance to burn.
Arielle Tepper
Arielle Tepper


The 2009 Summer Play Festival (SPF) opened in New York City July 7, offering eight emerging writers the chance to team up with up-and-coming and established directors, actors, producers, and designers. The SPF, presented at the Public Theater's Martinson and Anspacher Theaters, gives writers full productions, not mere readings. Here's a look at the festival, which continues to Aug. 2.


The SPF provides full financial, administrative, technical, and production support, at no cost to the playwrights, making sure that the writer's focus is not pulled by the challenges of producing the play.

Since its inception in 2004, SPF has produced over 80 original works, staged over 500 public performances and provided more than 1,000 artists the chance to work in a protected environment; the shows are not open to critics. Tony Award winning producer Arielle Tepper Madover, SPF's founding executive producer, initiated the SPF because she "saw the need for an outlet for emerging writers, directors, actors and designers to be able to work on their craft." Madover points out that before the SPF, the festivals that existed "did not offer any kind of guidance to the artists, nor did they have the money or ability to produce their own work, so I knew we needed to find a way to achieve that." THE SUMMER LINE UP

"So here we are celebrating our sixth year, so proud to be the Summer Play Festival hosted by The Public Theater," Madover says. "We receive writers' submissions from all over the world, and accept applications from directors, designers, stage managers and producers as well." Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public and a member of SPF advisory board, says, "The young playwrights who make up this year's festival have a wildly diverse set of esthetics, but all of them are artists with unique and individual voices."

This year's festival includes seven plays and one musical:

The Chimes by Kevin Christopher Snipes is about a man who returns to his New England boarding school still haunted by choices he made 40 years ago. The past overwhelms the present as this drama flashes back to four young pranksters drawn together by their knack for Shakespeare and ripped apart on the onset of World War II.

Departure Lounge by Dougal Irvine is a testosterone-driven musical that takes place at the end of a vacation as four guys wait for their flight home. With time to kill the guys recount the antics of the week and secrets tumble out into the open.

The Happy Sad by Kevin Urban is a contemporary comedy of sex, love and dating in a New York City where there are too many options and not enough time.

Reborning by Zayd Dohrn is about art and life becoming disturbingly interchangeable when a sculptor of baby dolls meets a woman desperate to recreate the past.

The Sacrifices by Alena Smith is a comedic drama about a family that seems to have everything until the leave on a Caribbean cruise and realize privilege is a prison and their cruise is anything but a smooth sail.

Tender by Nicki Bloom is about a family shattered by a random act of violence and looking for a way to be whole again.

We Declare You a Terrorist by Tim J. Lord is about 800 civilians taken hostage during the performance of a hit Moscow musical. In the aftermath, the playwright is plagued by the story of his captor — a young woman willing to die for her cause.

Whore by Rick Viede is a thriller about Sarah who just wants to be interesting. When an unexpected one-night stand propels her into a high-stakes relationship with the worldly Tim, the pair is drawn into the fringes of a world filled with greed, lies and fear.


By the end of the first season, in 2004, SPF had produced 18 shows in 28 days. Tepper states, "We are so proud to note that many of our past writers have gone on to have their work presented on and Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally. In addition they have received many honors, including nominations for Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Drama Desks and numerous other awards and accolades."

In 2005, Madover found another way to protect emerging artists from the sun: The Living Room for Artists, Inc. was formed as a not-for-profit organization to ensure the Festival perpetuates its mission and central goal to fuel the growth of emerging theatre artists and encourage people to create, attend and work in the theatre. The Living Room for Artists has given the SPF the ability to add programs including a six-week internship intensive, The SPF Producers Program, "Careers in Theatre" panels hosted in conjunction with the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, The SPF Salon Series, and the Donmar Residence Program where one writer is chosen to work with the prestigious Donmar Warehouse in London as part of a writer's residency program. Playwrights that have participated in the Donmar Residence Program in the past have included Sylvia Reed, Stephen Brown, Beau Willimon, Rob Handel and Victoria Stewart.

Sam Levy, the director of programming for SPF says, "Arielle's vision of a 'living room,' where artists and audiences would come together to forge relationships, learn about each other's disciplines, and create ongoing collaborations has really been the driving concept behind all of our programs."


Where else can a theatregoer get an artistic tan for a crinkly bill with Alexander Hamilton on the front?

Levy says, "SPF is…committed to providing a low-ticket price of only $10 to bring in new audience members. As a result, the Festival has sold out its four-week performance schedule for the past five years and attracted over 45,000 theatre patrons, mostly under the age of 35. …If your eyes and ears are open, you'll get to see and hear the future in front of you. And that's priceless."


Alena Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama and the writer of [this year's] The Sacrifices, which will play July 14-19, says she produced her last play, The Lacy Project in 2007 and had to raise over $25,000 herself. "After the enormous, year-long effort it took to produce that show, I promised myself I would not have to do any fundraising for my next show in New York!"

Smith's new play is "about a specific type of family: baby-boomer parents and their now-grown-yet-still-dependent children."

Her play explores the ambivalence both parents and children feel now that the time has come for the children to leave home and enter the uncertain world as adults. It's directed by Sam Gold and features Gabe Ebert, Mimi Lieber, Mackenzie Meehan and John Gould Rubin.

Playwright Zayd Dohrn, who penned Reborning, which ran July 7-12, says that working with the SPF is important because it's a chance to "work on a new play — not as a staged reading but up on its feet, so participants can get a sense of how the play works, and so the audience can see how a play gets put together." Dorn says SPF is "the kind of theatre you might like even if you don't like theatre." He started working on Reborning when his "wife Rachel was looking for baby stuff online and came across these ads on eBay for 'reborning artists,' people who make incredibly lifelike dolls — with hand-painted capillaries, stork-bites, 'preemies' with authentic-looking oxygen masks and hospital bracelets." Rachel started working on an article about it and Zayd ended up writing a play.

Reborning is about when art and life become disturbingly interchangeable. Dohrn says it's about "dolls and sex toys and drug addition and art."


Levy points out that "young people are the future of this industry, and there are not many places where emerging artists and producers and designers can get practical, hands-on experience actually working on a show in New York. We feel very honored and privileged to provide one, and the payoff is a vibrant, diverse, and eclectic pool of talent to keep us working 20 years from now."

For the 2009 season, over 1,400 writers submitted plays for the SPF, and 110 readers on three continents evaluated the submissions, which went on to a formal review by a script advisory committee made of staff, producers, writers, directors and other entertainment people who narrowed the group down and come up with the Festival. Levy stresses that the "process is democratic, with every one of our readers and committee members getting an opportunity to bat for their favorites." Ultimately they find plays and musicals that cross a variety of genres and styles.


For more information, visit or call (212) 967-7555, or visit The Public Theater box office at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

Greg Keller, Ally Sheedy and Katherine Waterston in <i>Reborning</i>
Greg Keller, Ally Sheedy and Katherine Waterston in Reborning Photo by Carol Rosegg
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