New Work PDX … & EUG?
JAW: A Playwrights Festival up the I-5 corridor
by Suzi Steffen
|Rehearsal at JAW 2010. Photo by Portland Center Stage.
As I sat in Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theater watching Ebbe Roe Smith’s Night Terrors last Saturday, I found myself wondering if Eugene could sustain something like JAW: A Playwrights Festival.
Smith’s amusing piece about a man’s nightmares surrounding everything from work to sex to his life force, whose inspiration arose from the garish, famous The Nightmare by 19th century artist Henry Fuseli, got a full reading as part of JAW’s Made in Oregon weekend. Judging from audience reaction, the reading was a success. The actors — Smith, Casey McFeron and Darius Pierce — certainly responded well to the laughter that greeted Smith’s often amusing, sometimes terrifying lines.
This weekend, JAW (its name came from a sister event at NY Theater Workshop called “Just Add Water”) continues with “the big weekend,” which, after a week or two of frantic rehearsals and rewrites for six plays in progress, culminates in public workshop readings at the Gerding. Play topics, which you can see on the festival’s website at pcs.org/jaw, range from what happens to an officer during a war to a teenage girl trying to find herself after years of captivity in a basement. In addition, the lobby and the smaller theater in the Armory host a multitude of performance companies presenting pieces made or adapted specifically for JAW.
Did I mention that this is all free? Yep, free. If you don’t count the time that PCS folk no doubt spent pursuing grants and corporate donations, that is — but the no-cost part only makes the annual festival that much more exciting for audience members.
As the festival continues, shows run at 4 pm and 8 pm Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25. I was sad to miss playwright Sara Jean Accuardi’s Portrait of the Widow Kinski last Sunday. Luckily, former EW intern Kate Loftesness is now an intern at the Oregonian, and she wrote a preview JAW piece focusing about Accuardi, available at http://wkly.ws/on
I started thinking about what Eugene might need in order to get itself on the map of playwright development, and I talked or emailed with several theater folk about the idea. Of course, we already have a couple of festivals that either center around or actively promote playwrights — the Earth Matters on Stage festival, every few years at the UO Department of Theatre and Dance (about which I wrote a cover story in May of 2009, at http://wkly.ws/oo), and the Northwest 10, the two-year-old festival of 10-minute plays by local playwrights.
Paul Calandrino, one of the (perhaps the) main instigators of the NW10, says in an email that a full-length playwright festival would need a source of funding, a host and some kind of staff. “I think it’s a great idea and eminently doable,” he says.
The Lord Leebrick hosts the Northwest 10, and managing director David Mort says that the Leebrick hosted another playwrights festival for a while but that when “all of the work fell on [Artistic Director] Craig [Willis]’s shoulders, it sort of became this overwhelming thing.” Mort, who’s from Ohio, says that his community of Dayton has the FutureFest, a new works festival that’s now 20 years old. FutureFest, Mort says, “is huge. It’s a great thing, and people from all over come and see it.”
Who would host such an event in Eugene? Nancy West, The Very Little Theatre’s publicist, notes that the VLT often hosts new work by local playwrights in its Stage Left season. In addition, every members meeting of the 80+-year-old community theater starts with a new 10-minute play, some of which have gone on to be part of the NW10. She says it’s tough to get all of the theaters to coordinate, but “maybe … we can all pick a month and every theater in town can commit to producing 2 or 3 one-night staged readings of local playwrights’ work during that month, and do a joint promotion.”
Local playwright and R-G theater reviewer Dorothy Velasco, whose Ballad of Orphan Tom had a reading at Actors Cabaret of Eugene last fall and who has had a 10-minute play in both NW10 productions, says she’s interested not only in local development but in some kind of roundtable with artistic directors. They might be able to help the playwrights think about other places to send their work. “We really need some connections,” she says.
Calandrino, who’s busy with a job and a playwriting MFA program and the NW10, says he couldn’t quite take on a JAW-like event. “Someone just has to take up the mantle,” he says. “I’d submit a play.”