Now in its ninth year, Bay Street Theater’s Title Wave: New Works Festival is once again offering the community the opportunity to play a role in the production of great theater. From Friday, May 5 through Sunday, May 7, the festival will present readings of four plays in development by woman playwrights, each followed by a talkback where the audience can provide critical feedback.
Artistic Director Scott Schwartz shares that while Bay Street has long been committed to gender parity, this year’s all-women lineup developed organically with no pre-determined agenda as the team pored over more than 300 submissions.
“We narrowed it down and narrowed it down, and the plays that kept rising up as what we just felt for this year were the best plays we had received, and the most exciting plays we had received, were all written by women,” he says. “One of the things I’m most excited about is how different each show is. They’re very distinctive individual voices that these writers have, and the plays deal with different subjects. But I think there’s also a commonality in them in that they’re all ultimately serious subjects, but there is dark humor in all of them.”
One particularly intriguing play coming to Title Wave 2023 is the one-woman-show What I Know, Now written by and starring Julia Motyka on Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Beginning a year and a half ago as an essay exploring fear of the unknown, faith and the writer’s family of ”atheist Jews and lapsed Catholics,” Motyka was invited to present it via the Plays for Us works-in-progress theater platform in New York City.
Her collaborator John Leonard Thompson saw its potential and advised her to expand it into a full-fledged production. Motyka shares that the inspiration for the piece was a cancer scare that forced her to confront the possibility of leaving her family prematurely.
“What would it be like to find myself in that space of having to say goodbye? And how do you deal with that fear when it isn’t real, but it’s also not unreal?” Motyka questions of the moment before a person receives potentially life-changing test results.
While What I Know, Now is rooted in her history, Motyka notes that the narrative isn’t a strict autobiography.
“The moment we write anything, the moment we remember anything, the moment we shape anything in the service of a larger story, of course it becomes fiction,” she says. “It’s why I like the term ‘autobiographical fiction’ so much, because it gives you just enough license to hold the truth while still granting yourself permission to explore the meaning of the thing you’re writing. But it really is, in this case, my life and my family’s history.”
As an actor, Motyka has performed at prestigious venues across the country, including Off-Broadway and at Bay Street Theater, and as a writer she’s received accolades such as the Fish Anthology Prize for Short Memoir in 2020. However, What I Know, Now presented the unique challenge of writing a part she’d perform — acting a part she’d scripted.
“I think it’s been an interesting muscle to flex — to kind of come in and out of my dramaturgical or writer’s brain. You can’t act well if you’re worried about the writing, and you can’t write well if you’re worried about the acting,” she says. “I’ve gotten pretty good at trusting my collaborator (Thompson), at trusting my wonderful readers and the early invited audiences that I’ve had over the last few months to offer me profoundly useful feedback, so that when I’m in performance, I can really shut my writer’s brain down and seek to fully embody the story that I’ve written. And because the story is my story, in a weird way it’s not traditional acting in that I’m not looking for an entry point into a character.”
This latest version of Motyka’s play will introduce music to support the text, and she’s eager to receive the Bay Street audience’s notes on the addition. As evidenced by one of the theater’s 2023 MainStage shows, Double Helix, being presented this summer with adjustments suggested during the 2022 New Works Festival, this feedback is crucial to the development process. It’ll be fascinating to see how What I Know, Now and the other three 2023 Title Wave plays evolve after this constructive experience.
The New Works Festival will open with Another Lovely Day by Leslie Ayvazian on Friday, May 5 at 8 p.m. In it, a marriage is challenged by a change in politics, and the aftershock has an unfortunate impact on the couple’s teenage son. The opening night reading stars John Slattery and Talia Balsam of Mad Men.
On Saturday, May 6 at 2 p.m., Lisa Feriend will present her wild comedy Come Again, which tells the story of Miami hospice nurse Marina Johnson as she’s introduced to a man claiming to be Jesus Christ, who recruits her to spread his gospel about climate change.
Finally on Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. is You Have to Promise, written by Audrey Lang and starring Taylor Richardson of The Gilded Age, in which teenage best friends discover deeper feelings for each other and come out of the closet together, resulting in family expulsion.
In addition to the schedule of staged readings, the presentation of winners of the 2023 Writing the Wave Creative Writing Competition will be held Friday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Title Wave tickets are available for $10 in advance, $15 at the door or as part of a Festival Pass with tickets to each performance for $25. Proceeds will support New Works initiatives at Bay Street Theater. For tickets, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.