EAST COUNTY — Rarely during family dinners do children ask their parents from where plays come.
Dylan Jones, a 29-year-old East County actor, writer and composer, doesn’t kid himself that curiosity about theater will keep up with wonderment about babies.
But, he does bet people will become interested in the playwriting process — how words inside a head are transformed into a performance — if they attend his first Manatee Playreading Festival, which starts Sept. 6.
“It’s a process people don’t see a lot of,” Jones said. “Now you won’t have to ask, ‘Daddy, where do plays come from?”
Jones, a board member of the Theatre Odyssey in Sarasota, which promotes local playwrights and actors, experiences the crackling art and performance scene of Bradenton’s southern neighbor and wants to bring the same bustle to Manatee County.
“People in Lakewood Ranch drive all the way to Sarasota when there’s talent even closer,” Jones said. “I want to give back to this market and make people aware of it.”
To accomplish that broad goal, the three-weekend event at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto caters to both local actors and writers and to the general public.
The event is free and open to public, though Jones suggests a $5 donation.
Each weekend during the first three weekends of September, a different playwright will perform a semi-stage reading of his play to an audience.
The writers includes David Smith, a former Lakewood Ranch resident who has had plays published; Delia Revarda, a senior at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School and aspiring playwright; and Bernie Yanelli, a Saint Stephen’s teacher who has performed in New York City.
The writer will sit in a chair on a stage and read his script aloud to others sitting on the stage with them. There is no makeup; there are no lights; and there is no movement.
“It gives the writer a chance to hear the words out loud,” Jones said. “When you come up with a script in your head, you are just crossing your fingers it works. It’s a blank stage.”
Jones says the normal progression from a reading to rehearsals to performance can feel rushed and unrehearsed.
“It’s a rocky, messy transition,” Jones said. “Doing a reading is a long way from putting on a full production.”
The Manatee Playreading Festival will function as a semi-stage reading — a step between a reading and a performance.
For example, if the script says a person is sitting at a table and eating, the reader will actually show the act happen.
“I wanted to challenge myself and others and do something different,” Jones said. “I want to show people things not seen before.”
A semi-stage reading is not quite as “dolled up” as a performance. Readers do not wear costumes and use limited props.
Each writer will a perform a one- to two-hour reading over two days on a weekend.
After each reading, the audience can “talk back” to the readers and give their opinion on the performance.
“Your comments influence how the actual play will function,” Jones said. “The writer learns what works, what doesn’t work and what can be better.”
Jones, a graduate of Manatee High School, was born into a theatrical family. Spending most of his adult life studying and performing film and theater here, Jones has become frustrated with Manatee County’s lack of cultural relevance.
He hopes that changes.
“There are tremendous people here, but not much of a connection,” Jones said. “I want to help make Manatee County the cultural mecca I always thought it would be.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Manatee County Playreading Festival
WHERE: Manatee School for the Arts, 700 Haben Blvd., Palmetto
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept 6 and Sept. 7; Sept. 13 and Sept. 14; and Sept. 20 and Sept. 21
WHAT: The festival will feature Manatee County playwriters who will read their plays to the public.