Peek behind the curtain at 6 new plays in progress

For the theater-loving public, PlayPenn’s annual conference, where new plays are workshopped, offers a peek behind the curtain.

PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian

PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian in a playwrights' session at the 2017 New Play Development conference. (Credit: John Flak)

The Fine Print

PlayPenn’s New Play Development Conference
July 10 – 29
The Drake Theater, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia
Readings are free and open to the public

How does a play come into being?

For playwrights and performers, that answer might be obvious. But for the theater-loving public, PlayPenn’s annual conference offers a peek behind the curtain.

Every summer, the organization — which supports the development of plays and playwrights year-round — chooses a handful of new works to hone and steward at their yearly conference. The selected playwrights participate in intensive workshops to improve their pieces, and the public is invited to free readings of the works-in-progress. They’re not fully fleshed out performances yet, but readings by actors as the script takes shape.

“We don’t really respond to plays that are topical [or that] lean into an idea,” said Michele Volansky, PlayPenn’s associate artistic director.

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Instead, the selections feature strong characters and “reflect how people are trying to get from point A to point B.”

This year, she said, “there’s certainly an urgency and need in all of the plays for folks to connect.”

Playwrights can apply from all over the world. Their submissions are read blind — jurors don’t know who wrote the play while they’re reading — which tends to lead to a diverse line-up of creators.

This year, PlayPenn received 802 plays for consideration, Volansky said, but only six made the cut. Public readings of these plays (and two by writers in PlayPenn’s year-round Foundry program) are being held through July 29 at The Drake.

The readings are free, but book seats in advance for this popular series. Get on the waitlist if they’re already full.

“We always are very creative in our house management,” Volansky said.
They try not to turn anyone away. Here are the six plays in progress this conference, and when you catch a reading:

Lindsay Joelle’s “The Garbologists” follows sanitation workers Danny and Marlow — one who is a white, conservative union member, and the other who is a black, liberal youngster fresh from an Ivy League school. They discover something unexpectedly valuable on the curb while working.
Thursday, July 24, 7:30 p.m.

Ray Yamanouchi’s “Tha Chink-Mart” is about five Asian-American teenagers navigating life in a Long Island suburb, where they are singled out at school for being “too Asian,” but feel “too American” at home. “They attempt to define for themselves what it means to be an Asian in America…for better or for worse.”
Friday, July 27, 8 p.m.

J. Julian Christopher’s “Bruise & Thorn” introduces two characters who work at a laundromat in Jamaica, Queens. Bruise wants to be a chef, and Thorn wants to revolutionize hip-hop with “his unabashed queerness,” but when money gets tight, an illegal cock-fighting ring opens a surprising path.
Wednesday, July 18, 5 p.m. and Saturday, July 28, 8 p.m.

Sevan K. Greene’s “You, the Fire, and Me” explores life for a trio of frustrated youngsters who find a new family by joining a terrorist organization.
Wednesday, July 18, 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 28, 4 p.m.

Dominic Anthony Taylor’s “Kids Drop (Off)” is about parents who encounter a grieving mother on their own vacation from their young kids, in a play that asks, “How can we take care of ourselves and each other at the same time?”
Thursday, July 19, 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 at 5 p.m.

Mattie J. Hawkinson’s “Dimenticar” is a challenging story about a loving father of three who goes missing on his way to work. Hawkinson said the play explores the question, “Would you ever leave your family? And if you did dare to leave home, what would bring you back again?”
Thursday, July 19, 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 at 2 p.m.

The conference also showcases an afternoon of 10-minute plays from PlayPenn’s interns on Saturday, July 28 at 2 p.m. Additionally, PlayPenn has classes all summer for budding playwrights, including “Playwriting for Playgoers,” geared toward people who love theater and want to better understand what happens behind the scenes.

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