TheaterWorks New Works Festival Offers Free Readings of Four New Plays – Hartford Courant

TheaterWorks Hartford is known for Connecticut premieres of recent off-Broadway hits or shows by up-and-coming regional theater talent. The theater is also known for developing new works on its own and has a history of sharing this development process through public readings.

This process changed during the pandemic when TheaterWorks presented readings in a virtual format.

This year, for the return of its free six-day New Works Festival, TheaterWorks is offering both live and virtual. Three play readings will be pre-recorded and streamed throughout the duration of the festival, May 16-22, with special live chat events for each. A play will be performed live on the TheaterWorks stage on May 21, followed by a discussion, a panel discussion and a cocktail.

“Some people don’t feel completely comfortable going to the theater,” says Tracy Brigden, who helped organize the festival.

The three streaming events are:

  • “The Drop Off” by James Anthony Tyler, directed by Shariffa Ali, with live chat on May 20 at 7 p.m. The theater describes the play as “a heartfelt and moving story of a mother/daughter relationship overcoming the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, aging and the past.
  • “Egress” by Melissa Crespo and Sarah Saltwick, directed by Caitlin Sullivan, described as “a provocative psychological thriller that takes us inside the mind of an architecture professor struggling to share her expertise while facing her own fears” . The online talkback is May 21 at 7 p.m.
  • “Andy Warhol Presents: The Cocaine Play” by Terry Guest, directed by Mikael Burke, which TheaterWorks calls “a surreal and emotional examination of fame, art, beauty, love and betrayal through the lens of Andy Warhol and his friends, reimagined as black characters. The online talkback is May 22 at 1 p.m.

The full day of live events on May 21 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, are:

  • A live onstage reading of “Dearly Beloved” by Brooke Berman, directed by Michael Barakiva at 2 p.m., followed by a discussion at 3:45 p.m. The script is described as “a witty Gen-X coming-of-age comedy about the East Village when it was still the East Village.
  • A “New Work” roundtable at 4:30 p.m. with Brigden, Ruggiero, Michael Barakiva of the Hangar Theater in Ithaca, New York (and “Dearly Beloved” Reading Director) and Long Wharf Theater Artistic Director Jacob Padrón. The panel intends to discuss “what makes a great play,” the play’s development process, and the current state of regional theater in America.
  • A cocktail in the TheaterWorks lobby at 5:30 p.m.

Brigden was the Associate Artistic Director of Hartford Stage in the late 1990s, where she helped launch the “Brand New” play reading series. She left Hartford in 2001 to become artistic director of the City Theater of Pittsburgh, where she remained for 16 years.

Back in Connecticut, Brigden directed “The Lifespan of a Fact” at TheaterWorks in 2020. She is an artistic consultant for TheaterWorks Hartford while that company continues its search for a new Associate Artistic Director. She chose not to direct any of the readings at this year’s festival, preferring instead to act as a producer.

Developing new works is “different for every theater,” says Brigden. “I’m generally aware of who’s writing what. TheaterWorks already had a bunch of scripts sent to them for review in the regular season. We were able to come up with an interesting, diverse, and exciting roster of four plays in various stages of development.

Of the four plays, two are by black playwrights and three have female directors.

“TheaterWorks, in a sincere and real way, is committed to diversity,” says Brigden. Organizing the festival, she says, was like planning a theatrical season: “It’s four very different plays, with four very different writers who have four very different points of view.

TheaterWorks artistic director and producer Rob Ruggiero says Tyler’s script, “The Drop Off,” is “something I already had in the works,” but the other three selections for the festival “are all by Tracy. “, although he helped establish the bond with Terry invited to Chicago.

Ruggiero says he’s committed to more festivals of new work and also insists on paying all artists involved, which doesn’t always happen for readings.

TheaterWorks’ New Works Festival lives up to its name by ensuring that works are as new as possible.

“We wanted these to be plays that weren’t finished,” Brigden says, so the writers could take full advantage of the five-day development period that TheaterWorks offered in addition to reading. Many play reading events are limited to a single rehearsal just before the reading.

Brigden likes the idea of ​​bringing an audience into the development process early on: “My metaphor is that when you visit a vineyard and see how the wine is made, you have a better appreciation for it.”

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The actors in the plays range from well-known performers such as Lisa Gay Hamilton to those familiar to TheaterWorks audiences (including cast members of the theater’s current show “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding”) to new faces.

Brigden says at least one of the readings couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t virtual. The writer and director of “Andy Warhol Presents: The Cocaine Play” are based in Chicago, and the cost of bringing them to Hartford for the desired week of development would be prohibitive.

All New Works Festival events at TheaterWorks Hartford, May 16-22, are free but require tickets from twhartford.org.

Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].

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