Adding A Little Arkansas

Adding A Little Arkansas

New Play Festival enjoys fresh new eyes


TheatreSquared’s artistic director, Robert Ford, says that the planning for the theater’s 11th annual New Play Festival —which kicks off on March 29 — started the day after last year’s festival closed.

“Even during it, we were thinking about who we would like to invite out,” says Ford. “We have a network now. All of the playwrights who have been here before, playwrights that I know, that [executive director] Martin [Miller] knows, through other theaters —we have a wide network, and we have feelers out all of the time for exciting new playwrights and exciting new plays that more seasoned playwrights might be working on.”

This year’s line-up offers a mix of experienced and emerging playwrights that includes Bryna Turner, Adrienne Dawes, Na’Tosha De’Von, Rachel Lynett and LatinX Theatre Project, a Northwest Arkansas theater collective. T2 and LatinX announced an artistic affiliation, supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, that will start with the New Play Festival.

“We’re getting to bring in Rebecca Rivas to work with this company,” says Miller. Rivas, co-founder and artistic director for the Chican@/Latin@ Theatre Series in El Paso, is coming on board as the LatinX Theatre Project’s program director and an artistic associate for TheatreSquared. “They’re testing the limits of this devised work. The fact that they’ll be our workshop production this year, moving from being part of the festival to being, almost, the focus of our closing weekend, coinciding with bringing on an artist that we love — that is a really exciting story in and of itself. We’ll be working with LatinX very closely over the next few years, and it’s very clear we’ll learn as much from them as they learn from us.”

The festival allows the visiting playwrights to focus on a work-in-progress for two weeks, working with a director and actors as they shape their play. Playwrights have two opportunities to present a public reading of their play to a live audience, the two performances a week apart. This gives them time to take into consideration the audience’s reaction to the first reading and, if they desire, to make changes before the second reading.

Miller and Ford agree that the low-key atmosphere of the festival is a perfect backdrop for productivity.

“There’s a wonderful sense of [complementary interplay] between these intensely urban environments, where there’s so much hustle and bustle and a lot of theater in the air, and a place where there’s kind of a freshness to the audience — an audience that is sophisticated about their theater but is bringing a fresh perspective that is highly valued by playwrights and producers,” says Ford. “We’ve been trading on that for a while now. They come on out here and get away from that cacophony and get to be themselves a little bit among some very high-quality artists.”

“You don’t have to feel pressure that someone is there to judge your work,” adds Miller. “You have all the indications that people are coming with totally open minds to listen and give feedback, people who are excited to be a part of it. A new work is a very vulnerable thing, and Northwest Arkansas is a place that respects that and meets the playwright where they are in their process.”

The New Play Festival, agree Ford and Miller, is integral to what T2 hopes to do as a theatrical institution.

“Speaking regionally, I think there’s a lot of interest in asserting something that has always been true — and that is, art comes from Arkansas,” says Miller. “Art comes from Northwest Arkansas, and there’s something favorable about it originating here. When something is of this place, it has a particular value to the people who live here, and it says something to the people who don’t. So originating work in Northwest Arkansas and putting our imprint on work that is on its way elsewhere really is another litmus test for existence as a place.”



New Play Festival:

The Plays

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, 657-2335) and TheatreSquared (505 W. Spring St., Fayetteville, 445-6333)

COST — $10

“Blanket Statements” — By the LatinX Theatre Project, will be the festival’s workshop production, receiving both a staged reading at Crystal Bridges and, later, a fully staged production at TheatreSquared. It’s a devised work created by the members of the company, under the mentorship of Ashley Edwards.

WHEN — 2 p.m. March 30, Crystal Bridges Museum; 1 p.m. April 7, TheatreSquared

“Ain’t I a Woman” — By Na’Tosha De’Von, is a one-woman show that is “a funny, heartfelt story of the woes and wonders encountered by girls on the journey to womanhood, as seen through the eyes of the playwright and performer.” De’Von is currently an MFA acting student at the University of Arkansas.

WHEN —11 a.m. March 30, Crystal Bridges Museum; 2 p.m. April 6, TheatreSquared

“Carlo at the Wedding” — By Bryna Turner, is a “comic and heartfelt play about a woman attending an ex’s wedding.” Turner is a Brooklyn-based playwright whose play “Bull in a China Shop” premiered at Lincoln Center, where it was a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

WHEN —4:30 p.m. March 30, Crystal Bridges Museum; 7:30 p.m. April 5, TheatreSquared

“He Did It” — By Rachel Lynett, is a story about three friends who “are about to get the green light from a major production company. They’re about to get everything they ever wanted. Except that Jefferson has been recently accused of violent crimes. Ada and Lex both know he did it. Now, they both must decide what’s more important: their career success or ending a vicious cycle?” Lynett is an Arkansas-based playwright whose work has been featured at the Kennedy Center and Barrington Stage Company.

WHEN —6:30 p.m. March 29, Crystal Bridges Museum; 5 p.m. April 6, TheatreSquared

“Teen Dad” — By Adrienne Dawes, “subverts the popular regional theater ‘kitchen-sink beach house play,’ when Abby, a precocious emo-goth teenager, orchestrates a surprise reunion for her mother, Tanya, and birth father, Tom, with the help of her mom’s fiance/healer, John.” Dawes is an Afro-Latina playwright originally from Austin who studied comedy at The Second City in Chicago.

WHEN —3:30 p.m. April 7, TheatreSquared

The Young Playwrights’ Showcase will feature the top plays from teens from all over the state.

WHEN — 11 a.m. April 6, TheatreSquared


Categories: Theater