Please join us at the Provincetown this weekend!
Please join us at the Provincetown this weekend!
Please join us at the Provincetown this weekend!
Paul Carrol Binkley, Nashville-based composer and music director, is pleased to rejoin Laurie Brooks and Jeff Church on the team. Paul wrote the score for Laurie’s play Selkie: Between Land and Sea which premiered at The Coterie produced by Jeff, directed by Scot Copeland. Scot and Paul collaborated on their original musical Jack’s Tale, dramaturged by Laurie, which recently premiered at The Kennedy Center. The opportunity to develop this new project at The Provincetown will give the team valuable time to work on Dust at a critical stage of development. Paul has worn varied hats as a musician over the years including touring with country group Alabama, serving as Artist in Residence at Vanderbilt University, music directing at Nashville Children’s Theatre for over twenty years, and orchestrating for The Nashville Symphony, among many others. To Paul, what sets composing for the Theatre apart from all other commercial endeavors in the music industry is the process of creating music that enhances and supports the storytelling.
Jeff Church, Producing Artistic Director of The Coterie in Kansas City, Missouri, “is pleased to be back with New Plays for Young Audiences in the Steinhardt’s terrific Program in Educational Theatre at NYU.” Jeff directed for NYPA in its very first year (1998) and continued for the next seven years though 2005. “Lowell Swortzell was leading the summer developmental festival at the time, and he was one of the greats. One of The Coterie’s most important commissions, The Wrestling Season, by Laurie Brooks, was developed here in 1999,” said Jeff. Jeff used the NPYA program to work on some experimental scripts as well, such as a transgender-themed play, The 12:07, also by Laurie Brooks.
Laurie Brooks will be in New York for this year’s NPYA at The Provincetown, developing her new musical, Dust, with her team, Composer/Musician Paul Carrol Binkley and Director Jeff Church. Dust tells the story of Ellie, a girl who the town believes is an angel that can call rain from the skies and make crops grow again. The ravages of the Dusters that caused the death of her mother are bad enough, but even worse, Ellie knows she’s just an ordinary girl who cannot perform miracles. The phenomenon of one brave family who stayed through the Dustbowl and the prescient topic of climate change are embedded in this story.
NYU’s Educational Theatre Program is thrilled to host a special roundtable event for the New Plays for Young Audiences 20th Anniversary to explore emergent directions in writing and producing works. Panelists include Laurie Brooks, award winning TYA playwright; José Cruz Gonzales, a leading Hispanic voice in TYA; Cecily O’Neill, foremost drama in education authority; David Montgomery, Director of NYU’s program and author of Theater for Change; Kathy Krysz, archivist for ASU’s Child Drama Collection; Courtney Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement at the New Victory Theater, and our panel will be moderated by Philip Taylor, NYU Educational Theatre professor.
The event will take place on Saturday, June 17, 2017 at New York University.
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By Teresa Fisher
New Plays for Young Audiences is an annual play development series focused on developing work for young audiences, ages three to twenty-one. For three weeks each June, we develop three new scripts—one each week, Sunday through Sunday—in the historic Provincetown Playhouse. The plays must be unpublished and unproduced. We receive the scripts between July and October. We read them in November and then meet in early December to select our season. Between January and the start of the series in June, we are busy arranging housing, transportation, marketing, auditions, and selecting the rest of the creative teams. As we are housed in an education institution—NYU Steinhardt—our series has an educational component not found in other play development programs, including having a graduate class taught by Joe Salvatore that accompanies the series.
The challenge in choosing the scripts is creating a balanced season in which we:
Although you might think the script is the most important piece of the submission, the goals for development that we ask each playwright to submit are equally if not more important. Unless we have worked with the playwright before, we don’t know how the playwright will fare in our specific development process. Most of the time we don’t know who these playwrights are beyond what we can find online and/or they provide with their submission. We don’t know where the script is in its development, what the playwright wants to see happen with the script, or how well-suited for a development process the playwright will be. The goals clarify this for us. If a playwright, for example, is interested in how the technical elements will enhance the script, we know that we won’t be a good fit, as we are very low-tech. On the other hand, a playwright who identifies clear areas that need developing in their script—especially if we’ve also noticed those same areas—is more credible to us than one who provides essentially clichéd ones (i.e. “I want to work on the characters, seeing if they are well-developed” or “I am looking to see if the story flows”) or, worse yet, no goals at all.
One of the challenges for a play development series focused on TYA is determining what is TYA and what isn’t. Some of this is a matter of taste. According to the New Victory Theater staff (as noted online in the TDF Theatre Dictionary), TYA “includes any performance taking place in the presence of young audiences.” That is a pretty wide definition, so the question becomes, “what do youth want to see?” As our team has discussed at length, opinions differ on what makes a play TYA. If a play has no youth characters, does that mean it can’t be TYA? Not necessarily, but that is certainly a question to explore—“What makes this story appealing to young audiences?” On the flipside, just because a play has youth characters doesn’t mean it is TYA. Many plays with young characters appeal to a wide audience.
When we—the production team consisting of me (Producer/Administrator), Dr. David Montgomery (Artistic Director), Gina Grandi (Artistic Associate for School Collaboration), and Jim DeVivo (Artistic Associate) —choose the scripts for our season, we read each submission. We then respond to a series of questions from the practical (genre, age group) to the more subjective (writing, story, concerns, strengths). Those responses are compiled so we can see side-by-side how each script spoke to us. Then we meet to discuss our options. Any script that received a strong “yes” is automatically considered, even if only one member of the team said “yes.” Scripts that received multiple “maybe” replies are also included. Plays with across the board “no” responses are reviewed at the end of the discussion to make sure we didn’t miss something.
After that discussion, we have whittled our options down. This year we had seventy in the “no” column and twenty-seven in the combined “maybe” and “yes” column. From those twenty-seven, we narrowed down to thirteen. In choosing from those thirteen, we moved from discussing the script and playwright goals to talking about the potential audiences, the graduate class, and the larger TYA field. As producer, I am also looking at the budget.
One consideration late in the process this year was realizing we had the potential to choose all female playwrights. As we’ve had years with all male playwrights, being able to reverse that trend—especially with scripts which featured more than one strong female protagonist—was appealing. We were finally down to six scripts. We weighed the goals, storylines, intended audiences, and other such factors as we made our final decisions. In the end, we had three pairs of scripts essentially competing against each other due to similar elements of story, audience, character, and/or approach. With each pair, we reviewed the playwrights’ goals as well as our goals for the upcoming season. In the end, we were able to choose three female playwrights each with an intriguing script, each intended for a different audience demographic (one high school, one middle school, and one elementary).
Interestingly, one of the topics of conversation amongst the team this year was the question of whether to pick a script that is already strong, but may not need as much development, or to take a chance on a script that may be a hot mess, but with the possibility of greatness, or with a known playwright. That conversation prompted me to wonder if one could designate an entire play development series or, in our case, individual weeks within a particular season, for scripts that are early in their development and others for scripts that are close to being stage-ready.
There is no question that from beginning to end, play development is a challenging process. Each year, we wonder where the three weeks will take us, but by carefully crafting a season that advances the TYA field while also providing a powerful experience for our graduate students and student actors, we strive to create a place where playwrights can devote a week to their craft working in an historic theatre built on a foundation of nurturing and evaluating new plays. That goal is what guided our co-founders, the late Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, to create New Plays for Young Audiences and it continues to inspire us almost two decades later.
By Jason Boxer
Perhaps appropriately, I am in many ways an academic lover of theatre. The nuanced design of each Spolin game is an incredible feat to me – the meticulousness with which Aristotle explains story structure is as entertaining to me as any of the plays he influenced – and at the risk of brownnosing, I’ll admit that the history and overarching philosophy delineated in Theater for Change is a great read. (Incoming freshmen, bug David Montgomery to let you read more of that in Intro to Ed Theatre; it’s awesome and it’s a hell of a lot more exciting than Everyman).
Despite all this, I am happy to report that I was pushed out of this theoretical, theatre-nerd comfort zone when I was cast in John P. McEneny’s play Pollywog this past summer. Pollywog was the first of three plays produced for Ed Theatre’s annual New Plays for Young Audience series, and in it I was tasked with bringing to life a 14-ish year old kid named Francis. Punky, misunderstood, and confused, Francis is a supporting character whose biggest contribution to the play is his in-flux sexuality. There are rumors all over school that he is gay.
He eventually comes face to face with the primary spreader of this gossip – Tammy, McEneny’s main character – and the confrontation is a harsh, inelegant one. To put it as the character probably would, the scene hinges upon Francis being really pissed off.
He’s so mad he can’t get his words out. He can’t think. His dialogue – which could ideally be a delicate explanation of profound frustration – comes out bluntly and sloppily. McEneny placed him in the throes of a rabid, involuntary, and quintessentially teenage outburst.
The scene called for a wholly unacademic performer giving a wholly unacademic performance. The words of Spolin, Aristotle, and even our fearless leader David Montgomery weren’t going to help me this time.
I didn’t get it right until our second and final performance. I clenched my fists and felt them moisten with sweat. I spit my lines out antagonistically, genuinely hoping they would hurt Tammy. I began to feel dizzy and nearly out of control. For the first time in my life, I think I was really getting a taste of the living, visceral spirit of theatre, and I loved it. The audience did too.
My identity as a theatre practitioner was challenged by this experience. What kind of phony actor only gets excited about theory – I thought – and worse, what kind of phony teacher only gets excited about the on-paper potential of his field of study? I hope to be neither of those phonies, and New Plays for Young Audiences helped me realize that.
I’ll conclude by confessing that I’m uncertain of one thing and certain of another. The uncertain thing is if the words of Marceau and Lecoq will prove my next big theoretical inspiration. The certain thing is that Everyman is the most boring play ever, and I wish the incoming freshmen good luck in trudging through it.
By Blanca Vivancos
When last summer I got the email announcing I was going to be part of the cast of one of the shows at NYU Steinhardt’s New Plays for Young Audiences, I was thrilled. Of course it’s always exciting to get a positive answer after an audition, but in this case there were a few extra reasons why I wanted to be part of that project. For those of you who don’t know how New Plays for Young Audiences works, it is basically a theatre work in progress based on a new play that is still a working draft. During one week, actors, director, and playwright work together to give the play shape, showing the final result to an audience in a staged reading. This process is extremely helpful for the playwright who gets direct feedback from the actors and can adapt the play based on what is actually working or not working on stage. But as I was saying, this process was also extremely appealing for me for several reasons:
First, being an actress, the opportunity to be part of a work in progress is a challenge. Having to build a character based on a text that changes from one day to the next until the very last minute requires flexibility and technique, and there’s never enough of that for an actor, right?
That process becomes even more fulfilling by having the playwright on stage, working with the actors, explaining, listening, and re-writing. That is an amazing experience! How many times, reading a script, I would have paid to have the chance to ask the author, “Why?” Well, New Plays for Young Audiences gave me that for free!
Third, I would add that being a writer myself, observing the creative process of another playwright always gives food for thought. And having the opportunity to be part of that process, feeding back to the author from the actor’s perspective, is also an experience every playwright should have at least once.
This project also gave me the chance to work under the direction of Deirdre Lavrakas, from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I guess anyone with some experience in theatre would agree with me about how much we actors learn by watching a director at work. And in this particular case, the lesson was even bigger because the director had to be flexible enough to adapt the show to the new version of the script in every rehearsal!
Probably one of the things that motivated me the most was the outstanding cast I shared the stage with. Most of the actors were related to the Program in Educational Theatre at NYU Steinhardt, so our rehearsals were a reflection of what that program is: a perfectly balanced combination of artistic talent and human touch. It is always a pleasure to work on stage with talented people who know how to listen, share, and create to build the best show possible.
Finally… lets be very honest with this: New Plays for Young Audiences happens at the Provincetown Playhouse in NYC, where Anne Bancroft, Julie Harris, Eugene O’Neill, and Bette Davis launched their careers. And yes, it’s not a bad reward to add my name to that list!