By Tessa Raebeck
From farmers contending with fracking interests in rural Pennsylvania to unrequited love for a high school flame built up to unrealistic—and potentially devastating—expectations, Bay Street Theatre is exploring the various manifestations of struggle this spring.
The Sag Harbor theater will open the 2014 season with its first annual New Works Festival April 25 to 27, highlighting the work of three of New York’s emerging playwrights.
The festival will include readings of the newest work by P. Seth Bauer, Jess Brickman and Molly Smith Metzler, as well as talkbacks following each reading, in which the audience can interact directly with the artists. An “Artist Interact” on Saturday will offer further dialogue with the authors through a panel discussion led by award-winning writer John Weidman.
The festival is the first event led by Bay Street’s new artistic director Scott Schwartz, who has voiced his dedication to giving a stage to promising playwrights. Bauer, Brickman and Metzler, are “very exciting writers,” Mr. Schwartz, who is currently out of the country, said in February.
In discussing his vision for his inaugural season at Bay Street, Mr. Schwartz and the team at Bay Street have a “deep commitment to new work and developing new plays and musicals at the theater.”
Bay Street Executive Director Tracy Mitchell reiterated that sentiment on Monday.
“When Scott came to us as our new artistic director, one of the first things we talked about was really wanting to go back to trying to include — well, first of all, — extending our season into the shoulder seasons by helping artists with their new work. It’s something that we wanted to do for a long time and with his help, we’ve been able to implement it,” Ms. Mitchell said.
The festival is being produced in association with SPACE on Ryder Farm, a non-profit artist residency program on the grounds of Ryder Farm in Brewster, New York, “another organization that helps people develop new work,” according to Ms. Mitchell. Led by founding executive director Emily Ryder Simoness, SPACE provides writers and theater companies with residencies.
Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Simoness together decided on the plays to be featured in the festival and cast them using Bay Street’s equity actors.
“Fight Call” by Jess Brickman, a graduate of the Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, will be read on Friday, April 25 at 8 p.m. The backstage comedy about the theater world explores the boundaries of trust between an up-and-coming young actor and a seasoned veteran after one threatens to commit an act of violence on stage during their performance.
In addition to plays, Ms. Brickman has written essays, articles, screenplays and for television and web series. After premiering at Lincoln Center, her films, “The Five Stages of Grief” and “I Am Not a Moose” were selected at the Hamptons Film Festival and several other festivals for the 2013 circuit.
On April 26, the second day of the festival will begin with the panel discussion at 4 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception. Led by John Weidman, the panel will allow audience members to ask questions of the playwrights, Mr. Weidman and Mr. Schwartz.
Mr. Weidman won a Tony Award for Best Musical Revival for “Assassins,” and has written the books for a variety of musicals, many with scores by Stephen Sondheim.
“This is someone who obviously reached the pinnacle in our world as a playwright,” Ms. Mitchell said.
Following the discussion will be a reading at 8 p.m. of “The Orchard Play” by P. Seth Bauer of Philadelphia.
“It’s a contemporary re-imagining of Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’,” Mr. Bauer said Tuesday. Old family farms near Mr. Bauer’s home in Pennsylvania, “facing incredible hardships financially,” were offered “enormous sums of money” by oil companies interested in drilling for natural gas through “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.
“The paradox was that these farmers, they sold their mineral rights, they ended up decimating their land and drinking water — getting money but perpetuating their own demise,” he said.
“There seemed to be an interesting if painful parallel to be drawn here, so I chose the Chekhov play as my inspiration…is it inevitable, I’m not sure, and it’s not for me to say. I just wanted to humanize the problem and write about people who had a deep and complex love for their home, their legacy and their land,” he added.
The festival ends Sunday at 2 p.m. with a reading of “The May Queen” by Molly Smith Metzler, which will premiere at the Chautauqua Theatre Company in July. The comedy centers on the obsessive love of Mike Petracca for his high school flame, former May Queen Jennifer Nash, and the realities of their reunion versus his high expectations, revealing the strange roles people play — often unknowingly — in each other’s lives.
As the audience learns the backdrop of the creative process through the interactive dialogues, how a play develops from reading to workshop to — ideally — Broadway, the playwrights will be able to bounce their work off the audience.
“The audience is the finishing part of the play,” said Mr. Bauer. “It doesn’t exist without the audience. I can have an idea in my head, but the real test is — does an audience connect with that idea or no.”
The New Works Festival is April 25 to 27 at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.