Sneak peek: New stuff, locally grown

Next season’s production lineups are floating in like spring breezes. The area’s 50-plus professional stage companies – the ones that have already announced – are arranging a thoughtful mix of the old and the new.

But what strikes me so far, looking over the announcements, is the selection of new work by local theater artists.

In that, I’m like many Philadelphia theatergoers who have a taste for new work, hoping that we’ll be discovering something fresh, strange and wonderful all at once. Credit FringeArts, the creators and operators of the annual fall Fringe Festival here — and particularly its leader, Nick Stuccio – for helping to instill a local attitude that welcomes new experiences in the theater.

At the box office, Philadelphians are unafraid of new work and the risk it involves to write, produce – and, yes, to see. A few years ago, one out of every four plays produced on professional stages in metropolitan Philadelphia was a world premiere, and although fewer were produced this season and last, we still have plenty of new plays to see. Nowadays, these plays are frequently by Philadelphians who live and work in a theater community that’s become so large and vibrant, it’s a part of the city’s basic ecology.

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And credit the region’s theater companies for having the bravery to offer new work, and to value it as a part of their contribution to the art. It’s true: Lots of new work needs more work, and only sometimes does it come to us fully developed. But overall, when we see it we become a part of its growth – a play isn’t a play until it has an audience, and often the responses of first audiences tell a playwright how to get new work fully onto its feet. Plus, when we see new work, we take part directly in something that matters – by producing it, the city’s companies are contributing to an ever-evolving and healthy American theater.

So here’s a sneak peek, from the newly minted schedules for the 2014-15 season, of some of the work that’s being created or refined right now by local playwrights and theater artists.

UNCANNY VALLEY is about Julian, the newest advancement in artificial intelligence, built to receive the consciousness of a dying billionaire. Thomas Gibbons – whose “Permanent Collection” refers to the Barnes Foundation’s history and continues to be performed around the country – wrote “Uncanny Valley,” which is part of the National New Play Network. The network fosters new work and sends it on a world premiere in several theaters, one after another. InterAct Theatre Company, which premiered “Permanent Collection,” will produce “Uncanny Valley as a part of what’s called its “rolling world premiere,” next April.

THE THREE CHRISTS OF MANHATTAN premieres at InterAct Theatte Company in May 2015, right after “Uncanny Valley.” It’s by InterAct’s leader, Seth Rozin, who wrote the highly likable “Two Jews Walk Into a War” and now offers the tale of an atheist Jewish psychiatrist who is visited by three patients – each believing himself to be the Savior.

MARK TWAIN UNPLUGGED is by veteran and versatile actor Tom Teti, who’s made much of his career at People’s Light & Theatre Company. He’s performing his new one-man Mark Twain show at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, under the direction of the playhouse’s leader, Tony Braithwaite. Twain has been a popular figure in one-man shows, but there’s plenty of him to go around. The production is scheduled for January.

A yet-unnamed play by Michael Hollinger, who essentially has been the undeclared playwright-in-residence at Arden Theatre Company for many years, will examine what we owe to our parents and our children. Hollinger, produced all over the country, is the first playwright to be named to the Arden’s new project for new-play creation – and he’s the second most-produced playwright at the Arden. (The first: Stephen Sondheim.) The play will be staged in January.

ARTHUR AND THE TALE OF THE RED DRAGON is the new panto this holiday season at People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern. Pete Pryor and Samantha Bellomo are working on their twisted adventures of young Arthur and his buds, and the regular crew of People’s Light actors will be taking the zany roles. The stage company has excelled in this musical British form of raucous Christmastime theater, with original productions that have made People’s Light one of the nation’s premiere – possibly the premiere – presenters of panto. The show opens in November.

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