What’s New, T2? Festival gives new plays a safe place to grow

What’s New, T2? Festival gives new plays a safe place to grow
April Wallace

Each year, four plays are given the chance to workshop in front of an audience at TheatreSquared’s Arkansas New Play Festival, book-in-hand staged-reading style.

The arrangement is beneficial for all: The playwrights get to see what works about what they’ve written so far, and audiences get their theatrical appetite satiated while also getting a chance to give feedback about what they saw.

If you attend, you get a sneak peek into the developing process of a play as actors work through it with a dramaturg, perhaps best described as the nanny who helps raise the play in its best form. The playwright and director consider everything from the structure of the play, the plot and storylines, how characters connect and just generally whether it’s good and holds up for an audience, says Dexter Singleton, director of New Play Development for T2.

This year’s Arkansas New Play Festival will take place over two weekends, July 16-17 at the Momentary in Bentonville and July 23-24 at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.

“Our goal for the festival is for playwrights to be able to achieve what they see out of that play,” Singleton says. “To develop the character, get ready for production, take a first draft and further develop it from there; to build connections, work with a team to find a director, find that chemistry, find the right actors and bounce ideas off (them) before it goes to stage.”

Singleton promises that this year’s lineup is a great one, featuring Tammy Ryan, Joseph Scott Ford, Tony Meneses and LatinX Theatre Project. The readings will be done in pairs, two performances on the Saturday dates and two performances on the Sunday dates.

“The New Play Festival is very much at the core of what we do,” says Bob Ford, artistic director and co-founder of TheatreSquared. “Our identity has been as a place that supports and produces brand-new work for the stage.”

Ford says the festival began in 2009 when T2 applied for a grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage. They pitched the event as a way to work on plays in progress, plays that had a little something to do with the Natural State. This year two of the works are from Arkansas entities. The LatinX Theatre Project is based in Springdale and has formed a strong association with T2. Joseph Scott Ford is an Arkansas playwright, and while his play “Responders” is set in Oklahoma, Ford calls it a play of our region.

After 13 years of the festival, Ford admits that TheatreSquared doesn’t have to do this sort of event any longer, but they still want to.

“Regional theaters don’t have to do new play work, but if you want to be part of the conversation and be connected … we need to support and create new work,” Ford says.

Singleton says the New Play Festival has become a safe place to debut new work, giving productions the right setting to grow confident before moving around the country and sometimes rising to greatness, like one previous work’s run at Lincoln Center and becoming a New York Times Critics’ Pick.

“FLEX” by Candrice Jones is one such production that appeared in last year’s festival. After premiering the work this summer at TheatreSquared, it will go next to the Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta, where it will be produced in the fall.

What makes the two-week event a special space for incubation is that mix of older, more experienced writers, some mid-career who are emerging on the next level, and an audience that has seen plays at various stages for so long that they know what to expect and have a good eye for it, he says.

After every reading there are open sessions where anyone can ask questions freely about the play. If you’d like to possibly influence the selection process for next season, this could be the place for you, Ford says. Hearing lots of positive feedback about a certain play has a lot of weight in that decision-making process.

“Our area is special in lots of ways, but this is one of them,” Ford says. He listens closely to audiences because storytelling “is in their DNA, they love stories in all forms. The plays in this setting, we get to take more risk … it’s all about trying stuff out, breaking barriers, heading into nontraditional territory and gaining a stronger connection to an entry-level audience member.”



Arkansas New Play Festival

WHEN & WHERE — July 16-17 at The Momentary in Bentonville & July 23-24 at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville

COST — See all eight readings and attend receptions with the artists for $50

INFO — arkansasnewplayfest.com

Categories: Theater