The Playwrights Center of San Francisco has been a part of the SF Bay area theatre scene for thirty years. The original idea was to provide a space where playwrights could get together and hear their work read by professional actors. A simple idea, that, over time, has grown into an impressive series of programs, and resulted in some fantastic statistics, to wit: Bridgette Portman, the Center’s current President, notes that the Center has been responsible for bringing well over 1500(!) plays to the stage as readings or productions. This past year alone, there have been at least 50 readings of full length and short plays.
Many plays that saw first light at the Playwrights Center have gone on to win awards and productions far and wide. Playwrights Center members include many writers who truly will be the future of Bay Area theatre, and beyond.
One of the most important projects of the Playwrights Center is an annual festival of short plays. For fifteen years, this much admired festival has gone under the moniker of “Sheherezade” and it has, indeed, been a cornucopia of story telling to rival the Arabian Nights.
But even Sheherezade stopped at 1001 nights, and last year the Playwrights Center laid the “Sheherezade” festival to rest.
But you can’t keep a good idea down. So we now have — PLAYOFFS!
So how is the new different from the old? The clue is in the title. The previous festival was run along typical festival lines—a panel of expert readers culled through the submitted plays and voted among themselves to choose those to be produced.
But now we live in an age of reality TV where the audience gets to vote. Many younger artists got their first taste of performance in the world of the Poetry Slam, where performers compete for audience approval, rather than critical accolades. It’s punk, right? Audiences take a DIY approach to decide what’s good, and the “official” critics and academic muckety mucks be damned. (As a professional critic, of course, I admit to some ambivalence about this, but overall I’d say it is a Definitely Good Thing.) With this “reality” in mind, the plays presented in the PLAYOFFS festival have been selected (mostly) by actual audiences casting a vote, rather than a panel of professionals.
As the official announcement has it: “PLAYOFFS is the result of a new method of play selection: six of the short plays in PLAYOFFS were chosen via audience vote during three rounds of staged readings earlier this year – hence the name ‘playoffs.’ We’re letting the audience, not the producers, choose what plays they want to see. It’s a bit of an experiment, and one we’re excited about.”
What this means is that, as part of the selection process, many more playwrights saw their submitted work performed before live audiences than has been possible in the past. And Festival attendees will have the assurance that six of the eight works they see have been “audience tested.” Two additional plays are added as “critical choice” plays—they weren’t voted up by the audience, but the producers and directors saved two slots for work they considered exceptional that didn’t otherwise make the cut.
Such an approach allows for a lot of serendipity to enter into the final selection. Without a planned theme or other requirements, it is left to fate which plays will be presented together: surprising themes can emerge, and the works can “speak” to each other in unexpected ways—ways that a team of producers might not have noticed using the old approach.
And so, goodbye “Sheherezade” and hello “PLAYOFFS.” A rose by any other name will smell as sweet, and we can all look forward to some amazing theatre at the upcoming Festival of Short Plays.
Here are the participating plays and playwrights, to whet your anticipation:
A Relationship with History by Annette Roman explores the “long shadow” of World War II. Annette Roman is the author of multiple plays including two solo shows (Hitlers Li’l Abomination and “Animal Love” which have been performed at over fourteen festival in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is also the author of 1 World Manga: Passages, a graphic novel series about the developing world which has been translated into several languages and two volumes of which were selected by the Egyptian Ministry of Education for distribution in schools.
Association by Carol Lashof is set in a high school and raises issues about plagiarism and racism. Carol Lashof is herself a distinguished educator who taught literature and writing at Saint Mary’s College for many years and helped to establish St. Mary’s distinguished Creative Writing MFA Program. She is a co-founder of Those Women Productions, whose mission is described as “giving the stage to hidden truths of gender and power.” Her plays (including Just Deserits, Disclosure, After the Prologue, Medusa’s Tale, and By Any Other Name) have been staged on five continents.
Benched by Lorraine Midanik tells the tale of two older women meeting on a park bench for an enlightening encounter. A member of the Dramatists Guild, Lorraine Midanik has had work produced locally by PianoFight and SF Theater Pub. Her full length play, Ordinary Day, has had a developmental reading at the highly-regarded Central Works in Berkeley.
Father’s Day by Rod McFadden explores the impact of a shocking discovery upon a new father and his wife. Rod McFadden is on the Board of Directors for the Playwrights Center and teachers in the masters program at Academy of Art University. His award-winning plays include Counting on Love (a Heideman award finalist), and One Monkey More or Less (published in the Smith and Kraus anthology, Best 10 Minute Plays of 2015.) He has also been given a “People’s Choice” award in 2012 at Toronto’s inspiraTO Festival.
Murder by Bridgette Dutta Portman refers to a murder of crows who torment poor Vince. Or do they? Bridgette Dutta Portman is president of the Playwrights Center, a founding member of Ex Nihilo Theater, and a member of the Pear Writers’ Guild, Theatre Bay Area, and the Dramatists’ Guild. Her work has been produced by the Acadiana Repertory Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana (La Fee Vertei), and her full-length verse drama Caenus and Poseidon will be produced in 2017 as part of the Second Stages Series at Dragon Theatre in Redwood City, California.
The Sound of Moonlight by Diane Simpson. Is it cricket to make fun of Julie Andrews? This chirpy play is unafraid to explore that possibility. Diane Sampson’s full length plays include Charlotte Takes The Plunge, Naked, and The Greater Good. Not just a playwright, Diane has also written lyrics and melodies for musicals. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild as well as the Playwrights Center.
Conundrum by Kristin Anundsen. Artificial art? What’s a gallery owner to do upon discovering that an expensive painting has been replaced by a counterfeit? That’s a conundrum. Christine Armundsen is an actress as well as a playwright, and has performed in 30 plays and staged readings.
Keep Moving, Nothing to See by Vonn Scott Blair. Good news or bad news? It’s not always easy to tell. What is really going on when accidental heroes save a homeless man’s life? Vonn Scott Blair is an actor and screenwriter as well as playwright. He also makes chocolate chip cookies.
All of the above plays will be brought to life under the capable direction of Laylah Muran de Assereto and Carol Eggers at The Exit Stage Left in the heart of downtown San Francisco’s ever exciting theatre district, December 1st through December 10th. For further information, click here.