Every year in February the Alabama Shakespeare Festival holds Southern Writers' Project Festival of New Plays. This year was the third visit for Sis and me to Montgomery to listen to new playwrights. This theatre has a repertory group and MFA students from UA. They read the parts of a new play with gusto, bringing life to the written word. The purpose of public readings of the new plays is to give the audience a chance to critique what they've heard. What is the theme of the play, was it clear? Did the characters grow during the play? Some six questions give us direction of criticism. Two plays were in their second phase of reading. These were composed of African-American actors in familiar situations. One was based on the story of four little girls killed in a school bombing(Four Saints) and the other was a story of a black church in conflict(Santified). All readers were excellent actors and singers. The former was a drama and the latter a showcase of the actors' virtuosity of acting and singing. Both written by new black playwrights.
New plays read included Gee's Bend by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and Love and Other Strange Phenomena by Peter Hicks. The young writers contributed The Last Dance by Caitlin Bach, The Party Pie of the Year by Laura Bradick and Conscience: A Story of the Inner Psyche by Samantha Pace.
This year we saw two fully-produced on stage plays, The Bird Sanctuary by Frank McGuinness and Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown. The highlight of Sanctuary was the appearance of Hayley Mills, well-known actress of movies and British plays. The other actors were from New York stage: Elizabeth Franz,Diane Ciesla, Martin Rayner, and Westley Whitehead. This play was originally produced by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. This was a confusing play of a disfunctional family of three adult children arguing over selling the family home, which would leave the single sister homeless. It should have remained in Dublin, in my opinion.
Confidence was a typical Southern story of a black jockey and a white man whose horse the jockey rode. Written by a black playwright, this is a tender story of one white family who truly loved the jockey but were restrained from helping him achieve freedom due to the slavery laws of that day.
Besides hearing new plays and their themes, our attendance give us opportunity to discuss the plays with the playwrights, record our impression of the play that will help the author hone his writing skills. We become better audience members by this means and by listening to media critics and theatre directors explore issues and ideas of the theatre of today and where its heading.
The Shakespeare Festival is committed to the Classics and Repertory Theatre and feature a variety of plays throughout the year. Sis and I go for a weekend of plays a few times a year. This is our fix, our substitute for being unable to attend plays in NYC. However, in Montgomery, actors and directors from that great theatre city come to us. Few people we know take advantage of this opportunity. Maybe it's the 5 hour drive...maybe it's the lack of interest in theatre...maybe the unfamiliarity of this jewel in Alabama...
NPR's All Things Considered calls the Alabama Shakespeare Festival "a theatre junkie's nirvana." Want to join us? See www.ASF.net