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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Sep. 26, 2019 1 year ago

Urbanite Theatre shines spotlight on female playwrights

In its second year, the Modern Works Festival features five new works over five days.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Five plays in five days. All of them new, and all of them written by female playwrights. 

That is the vision accomplished by the Modern Works Festival, now in its second year at the Urbanite Theatre.

The goal, as its name suggests, is to highlight new works of art while ensuring female playwrights, who are underrepresented in the field, are the sole focus.

“Part of the goal behind the festival is not only to be a celebration of female playwrights and to provide opportunities for female playwrights but also to showcase and bring as many women together as possible,” co-Artistic Producer Summer Dawn Wallace said.

Actress Amber McNew in promotional photo for the Modern Works Festival. Photo by Jess Pope.

The new play festival’s schedule includes three original plays: “The Last Broadcast” by Carey Crim, “Daisy Violet the Bitch Beast King” by Sam Collier and “Regular” by Marjorie Muller. All three, while not linked with a theme, were chosen from a pool of more than 300 submissions compared to last year’s count of about 100. 

Focal points

The plays focus on different themes, but, in addition to being written by women, all revolve around female characters.  “The Last Broadcast” follows a woman at the head of a family in turmoil as her radio-show-personality father grows unable to care for himself. “Daisy Violet the Bitch Beast King” is a story of two sisters and their creation of a new, “monstrous and violent” sister who’s everything they dream of. “Regular” puts a woman at the center of a small town’s traumas, dreams and addictions, where she is the first new resident in a decade.

Modern Works takes plays from page to stage without creating full productions. The plays are performed with actors as readings, without costumes, props or sets. 

One unique aspect of Modern Works is the evolution of the work as the festival progresses. The playwrights get audience feedback daily, which they can use to adapt their productions. The finalists, vying for a $3,000 prize at the festival’s conclusion, could change throughout the festival based on votes from the audience and judges. 

The only full production being staged this year is local actress Roxanne Fay’s “Thrice to Mine,” which focuses on the inner turmoil of Lady Macbeth.

But even her play is still barely out of infancy; this is the second theater where it will be performed, Wallace said.

Urbanite wants to bring new plays to life, but Ragan and Wallace admit a “new play festival” doesn’t come with a lot of income potential.

“It takes a tremendous amount of capital to invest in playwrights and artists and actors and directors to put them on,” co-Artistic Director Brendan Ragan said. “But it serves our mission and our goals.”

Modern Works comes with a few tweaks to grow it into what Wallace and Ragan envision as its future. The name Modern Works emphasizes the newness of the offerings while keeping the idea of the festival loose enough to allow for a bit of breathing room as it grows.

“We may issue a theme one year, or once we have so many submissions, we could guide things that way,” Ragan said. “It’s the Modern Works always, and it can be adjusted as we grow.”

Playwright Sam Collier

Festival evolution

For its second year, the festival has already made some tweaks and additions to expand the spotlight on underrepresented playwrights.

New this year is a student playwright winner, chosen from the Cross College Alliance.

The winner is Lily Tanner from New College of Florida. Her play, “Testing Gold,” will be read for one night only at 6 p.m. Oct. 9. The play is a kind of coming-of-age-continued story, which centers around that murky ground of the college-age before adulthood.

Wallace said Tanner will get the same experience as the other playwrights, including a dramaturge, professional cast and a professional director.”

This year the festival runs over one week instead of two, which gives it a denser, more packed festival style. This was largely because of feedback from last year’s artists, who wanted to meet the others involved in the festival, Ragan said. Last year, a play would run then end, then another would start, and so on, which separated the playwrights by time. Now the playwrights and the patrons get a buffet-style theater experience, with plenty to keep coming back for over the week.

“Patrons really have the opportunity to see multiple theatrical events kind of in one day when we couldn’t quite manage to do [that] last year,” Wallace said.

The busiest days of the festival will be Oct. 10 and 12, when three plays are shown in one day. There’s also a meet and greet 6 p.m. Oct. 8, where playwrights, directors, actors — pretty much anyone involved with the festival — will be available for questions and camaraderie.

Additional events

The year’s festival also includes two free events. One is a Q&A with playwright Lauren Yee, whose play “In a Word” ran during last year’s Urbanite season. Tickets are free but must be reserved on Urbanite’s website. The other is an audience roundtable on the last day of the festival, which will allow audience members who saw all three plays to discuss their favorites and cast their vote for the winner. The audience vote will be one of four (the other three being Urbanite judges) to decide who takes home a $3,000 honorarium.

Playwright Carey Crim.

Modern Works will support female artists at every level, down to the art in the lobby, which will be done by the girls of Girls Inc., an organization that seeks to empower girls and women. The young artists stuck to a theme of what it means for them to be female and what they love about being female, Wallace said.

Playwright Marjorie Muller.

The community aspect is emphasized as the festival grows, with sponsors helping out with putting on the festival, hosting the meet and greet and housing those working with the festival.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to have so many artists, and so many people working all at the same time in one week,” Wallace said.



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