Over the course of three consecutive nights starting April 25, Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre is hosting staged readings of new works in development by up-and-coming New York playwrights for an inaugural event appropriately named the New Works Festival.
In addition to providing East End theatergoers with the opportunity to be the first to view these plays-in-progress, Bay Street Theatre also aims to foster art with great potential. Following each free staged reading the audience may stay for a talkback with the writer. The weekend also includes an Artist Interact—a panel discussion with all three writers led by multi-Emmy-winner John Weidman.
Bay Street Artistic Director Scott Schwartz explains that the staged readings are more than a table read, but there is no set, no blocking and no costumes. The actors don’t memorize their lines and they will have the scripts in their hands.
“It asks the audience to be an imaginative partner in the event,” he says of staged readings. “So each audience member can picture their own production as they’re experiencing it.”
The festival is produced in conjunction with Space on Ryder Farm, an upstate writers’ retreat and residency program, which Schwartz himself attended before joining the theater last fall. Through the relationship with Space, the New Works Festival will have a second leg in New York City. On April 30 at 7 p.m., one of the three plays, Fight Call by Jess Brickman, will be presented for free again, this time at the Ars Nova loft on West 54th Street.
Schwartz says he reached out to Space on Ryder Farm Executive Director Emily Simoness to partner on the festival because he knew she was plugged into emerging playwrights.
“We went out to writers we admired, directors we admired,” Schwartz says. “I talked to a number of agents and looked at a lot of scripts and settled on the three we have.”
In addition to Fight Call, they chose The Orchard Play by P. Seth Bauer and The May Queen by Molly Smith Metzler.
“We wanted a diverse set of plays,” Simoness says, adding that each play is different tonally.
Schwartz says, “All three writers are people with strong points of view who present really dynamic and individual work.”
He calls Fight Call a “delightful, delicious and, frankly, mean theatrical comedy. The play concerns mentorship and friendship, and how work seeps into the rest of life.
“It’s about an older actor and a young understudy who gets promoted to a lead role in Arthur Miller’s My Three Sons,” Schwartz explains. They test the boundaries of trust when one threatens to commit an act of real violence on stage.
Brickman will have to opportunity to do re-writes of Fight Call before the second reading in New York, based on the feedback she gets at Bay Street.
Bauer’s The Orchard Play is a modern interpretation of Russian author Anton Chekhov’s 1904 The Cherry Orchard.
Schwartz says that while this beautiful play is inspired by a great classic, it deals with the contemporary issue of fracking,
Ending the weekend festival will be The May Queen. It is about how relationships can become new, and how they can also curdle and become difficult, Schwartz says. “I would call that play a dramedy—it’s quite funny,” he adds. “It gets to the core of relating to people we knew when we were younger.”
Schwartz says it is Bay Street’s goal to stage both dynamic new works and the great classics of the theater.
“There’s great value in seeing plays that are just written,” Simoness says. New plays with fresh voices—the voice of this generation—provide perspective that older plays don’t and say things about what is happening now societally and politically.
Simoness says one or two of the playwrights will have the opportunity to come to Space on Ryder Farm this summer for a week-long residency to do re-writes and work with a dramaturge, i.e., a professor of drama structure.
All of the playwrights will benefit at Bay Street from the knowledge and experience of Weidman, a visit that Schwartz is personally excited about.
Weidman wrote the book for Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, among others, and he co-created Contact, a Tony-winning musical. For his work as a writer for Sesame Street, he has earned more than a dozen Emmys.
“He’s really a leader in the world of writing and new plays and musicals,” Schwartz says.
Throughout the festival weekend, two works on loan from Sag Harbor sculptor Dorothy Frankel will be on display in the theater’s lobby. The sculptures, part of her Writers Series, were created when Frankel sat in on meetings of The Potluck Players, a now-defunct Hamptons writers group.
Fight Call will be presented Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m., The Orchard Play is Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m. and The May Queen is set for Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m. The Artist Interact is Saturday, April 26, at 4 p.m.
To reserve a spot at any or all of the three complimentary staged readings, call the box office at 631-725-9500. Admission to the Artist Interact and cocktail reception is $20. For advance tickets, call the box office between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit baystreet.org.