The best of the best among Northwest playwrights will be featured in the upcoming Festival of Northwest Plays Feb. 21-March 2. Co-sponsored by the Northwest Playwrights Alliance (NPA), the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts and University of Puget Sound (UPS), the fest includes three new full-length plays and three evenings of 10-minute plays written by outstanding writers from Olympia to Bellingham. All plays will be staged at Theater on the Square.
More than 150 volunteers amass to put on the festival that highlights works of local playwrights. Having a venue to get their work "out there" is a real boon to these often-struggling artists. "If you're a playwright it's pretty tough to get your plays produced," said the festival's Executive Producer Bryan Willis, an NPA playwright in residence. "Tacoma is so vibrant with its museums and revival of architecture, but theater is lagging. It's a hard time for theater. I think the audience is there, so we're hoping to help build on that."
He said that some plays will be staged for the first time at the festival and hopefully they will be staged again at some point as full-fledged theater productions. "The (Northwest) Playwright's Alliance is all about helping playwrights develop their plays and find homes for them," Willis said, either through publication or a fully produced tour. He said that in the last four years three-fourths of the plays staged during the Festival of Northwest Plays have gone on to be published or staged or both, which is a very high ratio according to Willis. "We're really proud of that."
Something new this year will be an informal evening of prose and poetry at Tully's coffee shop at 9th and Broadway, just across the street from Theater on the Square. Seven featured artists will read their own work starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 23. Admission is free.
Following this, one of the festival's three full-length plays, "The New Orleans Monologues," will be staged at Theater on the Square. Written by Tacoma resident C. Rosalind Bell and directed by Geoff Preohl, a professor of theater at University of Puget Sound (UPS), "Monologues" was staged this past November for six performances at UPS, five of which sold out. It received rave reviews.
"The New Orleans Monologues" is told through the voices of 14 fictional people who survive Hurricane Katrina yet deal with the issues of race, poverty and class that came out of the tragedy. The play features the notable acting talents of Grace Livingston, UPS associate professor of African-American studies, who plays Elaine Madonna Bergeron with zest and gusto.
Two more compelling full-length plays are on the bill for the festival. Brent Hartinger's "The Geography Club" has garnered much acclaim from readers of all ages, and now comes to life as the first local production of the nationally known writer's full-length plays. The author of several very successful novels for teens and young adults, Hartinger's "The Geography Club" has been optioned for a New York production. Also a screenwriter, Hartinger has three feature films in the works including a big-screen version of "The Geography Club."
The play tells the story of 16-year-old Russel Middlebrook, who thinks he is the only gay kid at his high school but comes to learn that he has many allies there including the school's baseball star. Russel and his friends learn plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.
The third full-length play featured at the fest will be "In The Sawtooths" by award-winning playwright Dano Madden. A coming-of-age buddy play set among the Idaho mountain range and wilderness area called the Sawtooths, the play was recently voted "Best Full-Length Play in the U.S." by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Rounding out the festival will be more than 30 10-minute plays, all of which have either received readings or have been published during the past four years with NPA. Some interesting examples:
- "Poor Shem" by Gregory Hischak. Office routine stops cold when co-worker Shem is killed in the Xerox machine. Do we call a rabbi or use the bypass tray?
- "Mammals" by Ryan Dowler (voted best 10-minute play in America by the Kennedy Center in 2006). Two college students make a video unlike anything you have ever seen.
- "Chat Room" by Jon Haller. When a meeting of an AOL suicide club goes awry, Gilda and Probhu learn important lessons about feet, turtles and new beginnings.
- "A Shoe Story" by Arlitia Jones. The deep meaning of life is unveiled in a fight over shoes.
Tickets to Festival of Northwest Plays are $12 general and $9 students/seniors/military, available at any Ticket Window outlet or call (206) 325-6500 or visit www.ticketwindowonline.com. Buy an NPA pass for $50 and see every show by emailing email@example.com.
Festival of Northwest Plays is made possible by grants from Greater Tacoma Community Fund, Pierce County Arts Commission and Pacific Slope Properties.