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Release: April 26, 2002

Iowa New Play Festival provides opportunity to be part of new theater in the making

Photo: Michael Johnson-Chase, one of the guest respondents for the New Play Festival.

The Iowa New Play Festival, a week-long whirlwind of adventurous theater with a premiere each day, has been an annual University of Iowa theater highlight for more than two decades. The department of theatre arts’ tradition of producing, reading and analyzing new Iowa Playwrights Workshop scripts in a concentrated festival continues this spring -- including the first rock musical in the festival’s history -- May 6-11 in the UI Theatre Building, featuring productions of five new plays, and reading of several more.

The Iowa New Play Festival is an ambitious enterprise that requires the collaboration of all areas of the department -- playwrights, directors, designers, actors and technical resources -- in the production and showcasing of new work. And the educational value of the enterprise is shared by students in all of those disciplines.

For theater audiences, the festival provides the excitement of participating in new theater in the making.

The entire schedule of events takes place in the UI Theatre Building.

MAY 6, MONDAY

Reading: “Flying Lessons” by Lisa Day, 2 p.m. , David Thayer Theatre.

Production: “800 Words” by Tory Stewart. 5:30 & 9 p.m., E.C. Mabie Theatre.

About the play: “800 words” is a reinvention of the last few days of Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author, who had religious visions when an extraterrestrial God appeared to him.

About the playwright: Stewart will graduate from the UI Playwrights Workshop in May. Her plays “Nightwatches” and “The Last Scene” were previously produced in the Iowa New Play Festival. Before concentrating on her writing, she worked as a stage manager for artists including David Wheeler, Anna Deveare Smith, Peter Sellars and Anne Bogart.

MAY 7, TUESDAY

Reading: “Cherryville” by Dan Sullivan, 2 p.m. , David Thayer Theatre.

Production: “Beakers” by Jeannine Coulombe. 5:30 & 9 p.m., Theatre B.

About the play, based on real events: The paper mill that built International Falls suddenly has the power to destroy it. A planned expansion of the mill and its continued existence hinge on whether the workers will accept an unfair contract. The characters must decide what they are willing to do to ensure their way of life and the value of a day’s work.

About the playwright: Coulombe’s “The Vacant Lot” won the National AIDS Fund/CFDA-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting in the 2001 national competition of the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), sponsored by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Her works have been produced at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Theatre Unbound in Minneapolis.

MAY 8, WEDNESDAY

Reading: “Back and Forth on a Bullet Train” by Peter Gil-Sheridan, 2 p.m. , David Thayer Theatre.

Undergraduate Readings: 5:30 p.m., Theatre B.

MAY 9, THURSDAY

Reading: “The Knife Trick” by Randy Noojin, 2 p.m. , David Thayer Theatre.

Production: “Yellow Fever” by Joe Hiatt. 5:30 & 9 p.m. , E.C. Mabie Theatre.

About the play: In 1793 a yellow fever epidemic devastated the young American capital of Philadelphia wiping out 20 percent of its population in a few months. In “A Yellow Fever,” several middle and lower class citizens are forced to confront a devastating plague and their own ideas of freedom. In a city abandoned by its government and wealthy citizens, they fight for their lives, face their fears, and bury their dead.

About the playwright: Hiatt was writing and producing theater in Philadelphia before coming to the UI. His past productions include an opera, “The Women Who Mourn”; a musical, “Nevada Sonata”; and the plays “Atlanta Burns,” “Safe Play,” “Crosspital,” “The Devil and Ben James,” “Missed America” and “Translated.” His work has been published in Penn’s Xconnect magazine and the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies.

MAY 10, FRIDAY

Reading: “The Lyre” by Laura McPherson, 1:30 p.m., David Thayer Theatre.

Production: “Bullet for Unaccompanied Heart” by Robert Wray. 5:30 & 9 p.m., Theatre B.

About the play: “A blues guitarist, a mysterious woman and a wraith-like figure with an attitude engage in a psychological death match in order to reclaim a future that’s been long buried in a dark, dark past.”

About the playwright: “Bullet for an Unaccompanied Heart” is Wray’s final production in the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. Other plays written and/or produced at the UI include “The Secret Rain,” “Pelicans” and “Old Memphis Song.” He says, “What a great and wonderful trip it’s been.”

MAY 11, SATURDAY

Reading: “Ladies Night, the rough cut” by Cyndi Coyne, 2 p.m. , David Thayer Theatre.

Production: “In Sarajevo” by Andrew Barrett. 5:30 & 9 p.m. , E.C. Mabie Theatre..

About the play: “In Sarajevo” is a rock musical based on events that occurred from

1992-1993 in Sarajevo, the beautiful Bosnian city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. In 1992, just as the young students of Sarajevo were on the brink of beginning their adult lives, the city was taken under siege by Serbian National Forces. The musical chronicles the lives of seven friends

throughout their extraordinarily heroic journey to keep their city the way their ancestors built it for them. “In Sarajevo” is the first musical ever to be produced in the Iowa New Play Festival.

About the playwright: First-year MFA student Andrew Barrett was born and raised in New York City, when he began his playwriting career in his parent’s living room at the age of five with a work entitled, “Pocahontas and John Smith.”

Distinguished guest respondents for the festival will be: Dominic Dromgoole, Kelly Stuart, Morgan Jenness, Michael Johnson-Chase, Mead Hunter and Megan Monaghan.

Dromgoole is artistic director of the Oxford Stage Company, one of the leading national touring companies funded by the Arts Council of England. From 1990-96, Dromgoole was the artistic director of the Bush Theatre, where he produced 65 world or British premieres. In 1997 he became new plays director at the Old Vic.

Stuart, a faculty member at Columbia University, has written more than a dozen plays including “Demonology,” which was produced at Playwrights Horizons in New York, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and other theatres across the U.S. and won the “New American Play Award.” In the fall of 2000 she received a Whiting Foundation Award. Her play “Mayhem” was a finalist for the 2001/02 Susan Smith Blackburn prize.

An Iowa New Play Festival regular, Jenness spent over a decade at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, with both Joseph Papp and George C. Wolfe, in various capacities ranging from literary manager to director of play development to associate producer. She was also associate artistic director at the New York Theater Workshop, and an associate director at the Los Angeles Theater Center in charge of new projects. She has worked as a dramaturg, workshop director, and/or artistic consultant at theatres and new play programs across the country. She is now creative director at Helen Merrill Ltd., an agency representing writers, directors, composers and designers.

Johnson-Chase is the international program director at The Lark Theatre Company in New York City, where he also directs, dramaturges, and produces new play projects.

Hunter was playwright-in-residence at the legendary Storefront Actors Theatre in Portland, Ore., before moving to San Francisco to co-found Humble Cottage Productions. In addition to writing his own scripts, he has translated works by Carlo Gozzi and Carlo Goldoni. He serves on the advisory board of the Edge of the World Theater Festival in Los Angeles, and as director of literary programs for A.S.K. Theater Projects he is involved in the interdisciplinary Common Ground Festival.

Monaghan is the literary director of the Alliance Theatre Company in Atlanta, and the former playwrights services director at the Playwrights Center in the Twin Cities. She was also the producer of FronteraFest, the largest new-play festival in the Southwest.

Admission to the readings is free. Tickets for festival productions are $6 ($4 for UI students and youth). Tickets will be available noon to 1:30 p.m. May 6-10 at the UI Theatre Building Box Office, or one hour before each performance. Any time that tickets are on sale, tickets to any remaining performance may be purchased.

Some festival productions include material of an adult nature. Potential patrons who are concerned about whether the productions are suitable for them should contact the department of theatre arts -- (319) 335-2700 -- for additional information.

Many of the plays developed through the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and presented in the festival have gone on to successful professional productions, have been honored with theatrical awards or have been invited to theater festivals.

For example, Peter Ullian’s “In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower” was selected by Harold Prince for development as a musical, and as “Eliot Ness in Cleveland” it premiered in Denver. Naomi Wallace’s Iowa Playwrights Festival scripts “The War Boys” and “In the Heart of America” have been given major productions in London. Kate Aspengren presented “Dear Mrs. Martin” in the festival, where it was seen by a representative of the Samuel French publishing house, leading to the script’s publication and availability to theaters throughout the country.

More recently, Levy “Lee” Simon won the American College Theatre Festival Lorraine Hansberry Award for “The Bow Wow Club,” which premiered in the 1998 Iowa Playwrights Festival and is in development for a film production. Both Simon and recent graduate Kirsten Greenidge were invited to the prestigious National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

Last season, Greenidge and fellow grad-student Jeannine Coulombe were honored in the 2001 national playwriting competition of the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), sponsored by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Coulombe’s “The Vacant Lot” won the National AIDS Fund/CFDA-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting, while “Feeding Beatrice” by Greenidge was named the alternate in the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award and was also the second place winner in the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award.

Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater -- including Rebecca Gilman, who has become one of the most talked-about playwrights; Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award finalist Lee Blessing; Emmy Award and Jefferson Award winner Rick Cleveland; Darrah Cloud, whose “O Pioneers” was broadcast by PBS and was toured last year by the Acting Company; Todd Ristau, the editor of yawp.com whose work has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and the London West End; Judy GeBauer, whose plays have been widely produced; Charles Smith, playwright-in-residence at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and a faculty member at Ohio University; “Halloween 5” screenwriter Shem Bitterman; and Obie Award winner David Hancock.

The department of theatre arts is a unit of the UI Division of Performing Arts, in the College of Liberal Arts.

For UI arts information, visit www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.