Bay Street Theater is giving East Enders the chance to contribute to the creative process of playwriting. The tiniest script details can determine whether a play will be a huge success or fade into obscurity, and rewrites are frequent to ensure that the finished work will appeal to the greatest number of people, remaining relevant for years to come.
Title Wave at Bay Street: The 5th Annual New Works Festival places artists and audience members on a level playing field, where the development of the next big show becomes a free community event. The three-day event features readings of new plays curated by Bay Street’s Artistic Director Scott Schwartz, Associate Artistic Director Will Pomerantz and their Patron’s Council. Over the past year, the curators have carefully sorted through hundreds of scripts from around the world and put together a festival that has a broad range of work, subject matter and style to create an experience that’s rich and lively.
Professional actors read each of the four plays in their entirety, accompanied by as little stage direction as possible. This year features Academy Award-winning actress Estelle Parsons, known for six decades of roles in Broadway productions, films and television shows, most recently as Beverly Harris in the Roseanne reboot. At the festival she will read for the lead character of The Prompter.
All readings are followed by a talkback session when audience members have the chance to share their reactions, ask the playwright questions and offer suggestions to improve the work. Schwartz confirms that audience feedback really does matter; he’s seen a few plays rewritten after New Works readings. He says, “It’s a very different experience for a playwright to see their work live, rather than on a page. The audience teaches so much more.”
The New Works Festival begins on May 4 with a folk-rock adaption of the Greek tragedy Medea at 8 p.m. This rendition is written by The Kilbanes, a theatrical rock band led by married songwriters Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses, who seek to take the sensational story of a vengeful wife who kills her sons and find the hidden truth behind the fake news. Reggie D. White directs the musical reading using two actors, a four-piece band and a full score.
Immediately after the Medea talkback, there will be an exciting opening night party open to the public. No ticket is needed to attend the party, so those who can’t make it to the reading should arrive at the theater at 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 5 features two readings: A Seagull in the Harbor at 2 p.m. and The Prompter at 8 p.m. The former is a localized retelling of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, now taking place in Sag Harbor’s historically diverse Eastville community. Playwright Emily Mann challenges the audience to think about the blending of ethnicities and cultures in Sag Harbor. This version caught the eye of Stephen Hamilton, co-founder and former Executive Director of Bay Street, who has chosen to direct it for the New Works Festival.
The Prompter follows veteran actress Irene Young, who is returning to the Broadway stage after a 40-year absence. Unfortunately, she can’t remember her lines, so the production hires a young actor to be her prompter. Wade Dooley’s work offers a behind-the-scenes look at the journey from the first rehearsal to Broadway. While Schwartz doesn’t have a favorite play in the New Works lineup, he’s excited about directing a work with such “delicious characters.”
The final work, Eight Nights, will be read on May 6 at 3 p.m. Native Long Islander Jennifer Maisel’s script tells the story of a young, female Holocaust survivor who finds refuge with an African American family. Each of the play’s eight scenes, directed by Pomerantz, takes place on a different night of Hanukkah, spread out between 1949 and 2016.
Title Wave at Bay Street: The 5th Annual New Works Festival takes place May 4–6 at Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor). Bay Street has made a point of offering each reading to the public free of charge, but tickets must be reserved in advance, as these events sell out. For tickets or more information, visit baystreet.org.