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T2’s New Play Fest neither gone nor forgotten


In its 12 years of existence, the Arkansas New Play Festival at TheatreSquared has become a much-anticipated event — locally as well as nationally. That’s why the folks at T2 are hoping that, despite the global pandemic, the event can be safely and successfully delayed until later in the summer — but not canceled.

“The Arkansas New Play Festival was originally slated for early April 2020 and will move to a modified summer schedule,” confirms Joanna Sheehan Bell, T2’s director of marketing and communication. “Performance dates are being confirmed with festival partner The Momentary and several artists.”

Though the delay may have been disappointing at first, Bell points out that the company has discovered a silver lining.

“The rescheduling will allow for the exciting addition of a staged workshop production in partnership with an off-Broadway company,” she says. “This work will be a new musical that is slated to make its New York debut in 2021.”

The festival is a chance for both fledgling and established playwrights to workshop new work and see it performed in front of a live audience.

“The New Play Fest offers this really unique opportunity to rehearse with actors for several days, put it up in front of an audience and see what’s working (and what’s not),” notes Russell Leigh Sharman, whose play “The Interrogator” will be featured this year. “Then you get another several days of rehearsal and another performance, to try things out, experiment, refine, explore. For two weeks you’re writing and re-writing furiously, giving the actors new pages on a daily basis, even when you thought there was nothing left to say. It’s really two weeks of intensive development, constant feedback and audience engagement. And it’s absolutely thrilling.”

Sharman — who is currently an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Communication at the University of Arkansas — is one of several local artists whose work will be produced at this year’s fest.

“The first will be a brand new piece, devised by our local artistic affiliates at the LatinX Theatre Project,” says Bell. “The new play, ‘Heroes and Monsters,’ will be a continuation of LXTP’s unique style of work, featuring original dialogue, movement, poetry and rap. ‘The Interrogator is a World War II thriller based on transcripts of actual interrogations carried out at Fort Hunt, a top-secret prisoner of war camp code-named P.O. BOX 1142.”

T2 Artistic Director Robert Ford says the influence of the New Play Fest has been far-reaching.

“From the beginning, one of our core missions at T2 has been fostering new work, launching it here in Northwest Arkansas and sending it out into the world,” notes Ford. “Plays like Amy Evans’ ‘The Champion,’ Arkansas native Kevin Cohea’s ‘Sundown Town’ and several of my own plays, like ‘My Father’s War.’

“Bryna Turner’s ‘At the Wedding’ was developed at the 2019 Arkansas New Play Festival and is slated for a Lincoln Center debut prior to its regional premiere here at T2 next season,” he goes on. “We’re in close touch with the half a dozen or so playwrights who we’ll be featuring over the course of the next year. They can’t wait to get back into the rehearsal room with our actors and ultimately share their works-in-progress with our astute, and definitely hungry-for-new-work, audiences. The festival has become an important incubator for new work, here at TheatreSquared and for the national theater community.”

As far as the full lineup of the festival, as well as its new dates: Stay tuned. Bell says T2 hopes to announce that information in the coming weeks.


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Categories: Theater