PlayPenn midwifes six new plays at annual conference

Playwriting is a solitary occupation, and getting feedback on one’s work before it hits the stage can be a challenge.

Helping with that labor, the organization PlayPenn acts as a sort of midwife for new plays and works-in-progress. The centerpiece of its work is a three week event, the New Play Development Conference.

Now in its thirteenth year, the conference gathers playwrights, directors, actors, and fans to learn about and discuss the craft of theater, and to hear rehearsed readings of six new works.

Artistic Director Paul Meshejian says that without the final costumes, scenery, sound and lighting, it’s a different way for the audience to experience theater. “There’s a kind of intimacy required for audiences to fully appreciate a rehearsed reading of a play, because there’s nothing else to distract. It’s simply actors delivering text to audience.”

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The readings are staged with the playwright, a director, professional actors, and a dramaturg who oversees the production.  For the writer, it’s an opportunity to explore options before launching a play into the world in final form. “We really encourage the writers to take the kind of risks and push the play in different directions that they perhaps they hadn’t originally thought,” said PlayPenn’s Artistic Associate Michele Volansky, who will be serving as dramaturg for two of this year’s offerings.

“It’s called a play, and it’s a function of a playful mind, regardless of how serious the subject matter may be,” adds Meshejian. “We try to encourage people to come for three weeks and it’s surprising what you learn when you freely play.”

The six plays to be presented were selected from an open call that received more than 800 submissions. PlayPenn’s New Play Development Conference runs through the end of the month at the Drake Theatre, with rehearsed readings free and open to the public.

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