UMass New Play Lab
SECOND ANNUAL UMASS NEW PLAY LAB: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
“I discovered ideas about potential staging and design; how it could work visually and spatially. I got to make some useful cuts and tweaks and rearrange a couple of scenes which made it work much better. I discovered that the characters have life outside of my head.” – Liz Duffy Adams, 2014 Play Lab resident playwright
“Everything about the experience was about helping me to see my play in a new way, to understand what was at work in my play, and bring that to life.” – Tira Palmquist, 2014 Play Lab resident playwright
WHAT IS THE UMASS NEW PLAY LAB?
The Play Lab is a UMass Department of Theater mainstage production, running from March 23 – April 4, 2015. Two playwrights will be chosen for concurrent 10-day residencies during this period. These residencies are structured around a series of public staged readings directed and dramaturged by UMass graduate students and performed by undergraduate actors. The 10-day workshop term allows time for exploration in rehearsal and the generation of new material.
WHAT IS THE UMASS NEW PLAY LAB’S MISSION?
Our mission is to develop two exceptional new plays per year in cooperation with visionary playwrights. The Play Lab, is, in essence, a writer's playground: a stimulating and constructive artistic environment founded on three guiding principles of engagement, collaboration, and discovery. The UMass Amherst Department of Theater's commitment to new play development is internationally recognized, from our groundbreaking work with New WORLD Theater to our recent collaborations with artists like Will Power, Marcus Gardley, and Constance Congdon. We approach new play development with rigor, focus, and sensitivity—and we're seeking playwrights who are as passionate about this process as we are.
DOES THE UMASS NEW PLAY LAB PROVIDE FINANCIAL SUPPORT?
Yes. We offer a $750 honorarium per playwright. Accommodations will be provided. Playwrights are responsible for booking their own travel arrangements, and will be reimbursed for a portion of the cost.
WHAT KINDS OF PLAYS CAN I SUBMIT?
Plays must be full-length. Musicals are not accepted. Submissions may have had a previous reading, workshop, or production; as a rule, though, the Play Lab exists to develop relatively new work, so unproduced material will be given priority in our selection. The UMass New Play Lab seeks to develop plays that tell compelling stories about our world in bold and innovative ways. We encourage submissions from a broad spectrum of writers, from emerging to widely produced, and are particularly interested in works by underrepresented voices in American theater (e.g. women, LGBTQ, and playwrights of color).
HOW DO I SUBMIT MY PLAY(S)?
Submit manuscripts to firstname.lastname@example.org. All documents must be submitted in .pdf format; plays formatted otherwise will be disqualified. Please include a concise playwright’s bio and a short (max. 50 word) summary of how you think your play might benefit from a developmental reading.
Submissions will be capped at 500 plays.
WHAT IS THE SUBMISSION DEADLINE?
The deadline is Friday, August 1, 2014.
ON THIS PAGE:
- Season blurb
- Article: Selecting the plays and meeting the artists
- Play Lab: An Interview with the director
- UMass New Play Lab — debriefing the playwrights
- Play Lab writing workshop
by Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist
directed by Jared Culverhouse
Play #1 performances: March 27, April 4, and April 5 at 8 p.m., March 29 at 2 p.m.
Play #2 performances: March 28, March 29, and April 3 at 8 p.m., April 5 at 2 p.m.
The Curtain Theater
Imagine the exhilaration of being one of the first people to witness the words of a new great play being spoken. That's the position in which audience members of our Playlab will find themselves. Over the summer, we put out a call for subversive, fresh, new work, and come spring, we'll invite the playwrights of our two favorite plays to join us to polish those pieces and put them in front of an audience in a series of staged readings. Can you imagine being in the room when a future classic is performed for the first time? You could be…
Please note: All tickets purchased in advance will admit you to 2 performances, one performance for each play. When you order your ticket, please indicate which performance of each play you would like to attend. Tickets to a single performance will be available ONLY in walk-up sales at the time of the performance and will cost $9 general and $5 students/seniors, subject to availability.
This production is made possible in part by Hotel UMass, which has generously helped provide accommodations for our guest artists.
The first annual UMASS NEW PLAY LAB premieres in the Curtain Theater in March 2014. Play Lab, the brainchild of MFA ’15 graduate students Paul Adolphsen, Amy Brooks, and Jared Culverhouse, will be the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, imagining, and exhaustive script reading. It will also mark a return to one of UMass Amherst Department of Theater’s most cherished traditions: the ongoing development of new plays by the boldest, most inspiring writers in our field. Amy Brooks kindly agreed to write about the progress so far.
Problem: How do you fill a slot in the UMass theater season with a show that puts a minimal strain on budgetary and technical resources while delivering maximum entertainment and innovation?
Solution: Don’t fill it with a single show—fill it with a new play festival.
When the faculty asked us to program the slot, we knew right away that we wanted to do something unusual — maybe even a little dangerous. And we knew the model had to be reproducible, because Jared, Paul and I wanted to permanently shake up the way we structure our seasons. If it was going to work anywhere, it was UMass. The department has always had a commitment to new play development, from our groundbreaking thirty-year work with New WORLD Theater to our recent collaborations with artists like Will Power, Marcus Gardley, and Constance Congdon.
So we spent two weeks in feverish planning and debate. Then we shined our shoes and pitched the faculty a ten-minute PowerPoint presentation of our plan for a national new play festival. And they bought it. The enthusiasm in the room was immediate and overwhelming—so overwhelming, in fact, that we walked out a little shellshocked. The three of us stood in the hallway afterwards, looked at each other, and realized all at once that we were actually going to build this thing.
The New Play Lab is a UMass Department of Theater mainstage production, running from March 27 – April 5, 2014. Two playwrights, Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist, were chosen for concurrent week-long residencies during this period, with the authors’ workshops structured around a series of public staged readings directed by Jared, dramaturged by Paul and me, and performed by undergraduate actors. Play Lab’s mission is to develop two exceptional new plays per year in cooperation with visionary playwrights. It was conceived as a writer's playground: a stimulating and constructive artistic environment founded on three guiding principles of engagement, collaboration, and discovery.
Finding the Works
That discovery began on the morning of Play Lab’s submission deadline, when we learned that we’d be selecting two winning plays from over 670 entries.
“The three of us were blown away by the volume, quality, and diversity of the submissions we received for Play Lab 2014,” says Paul. “We read plays from both emerging and established writers. We read plays that had been through five or six developmental readings, and others where the electronic ink was still drying. We read plays that were experimental and subversive, and we read plays that were tightly focused, telling carefully wrought stories of human longing and belonging. We read plays set in fantastic worlds of imagination and whimsy, and we read plays that trained their laser-sharp focus on the inequalities and possibilities of the world in which we live today.”
Has our 3-D world lost interest in the power of simple storytelling in live performance? Paul is certain that it hasn’t. “If our submission inbox is any indication, American playwriting is alive and well. The process of reading through submissions this summer showed me just how expansive the field is. Playwrights of vision and imagination are working in communities across the United States to enlighten, entertain, and inspire.”
Liz Duffy Adams, the playwright selected for the first residency slot, personifies that spirit of inspiration. Adams is best known as the author of Or, which premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project. Her recent work A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in July, 2013. Adams is a New Dramatists alumna and has received a Women of Achievement Award, Lillian Hellman Award, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Will Glickman Award, and MacDowell Colony residencies.
Her credentials may sound cosmopolitan, but Adams is no stranger to the Western Massachusetts theater scene. The author is a Greenfield resident, and her piece selected for Play Lab (mischievously titled Variations of F***ed ) is set in a fictionalized version of Turners Falls. Adams anticipates that the close-to-home UMass residency will prove “particularly helpful and wonderful.”
“I'm calling [Variations] an ‘interstitial’ play,” Adams writes. “[A] work that folds together disparate genres. In this case a story of an estranged (from each other) family is told through time travel and fantasy novel tropes that also serve as an exploration of American labor history, the characters identified by the work they do. And I'm experimenting with a suitably dislocated structure.“
Filling Play Lab’s second slot (as well as rounding out its national scope) is West Coast playwright, dramaturg and director Tira Palmquist. Palmquist teaches writing at the University of California, Irvine and at the Orange County School of the Arts. She is a member of the Playwright’s Unit at EST-LA, and a Co-Executive Producer of Fell Swoop Playwrights. In September 2012, an excerpt of her play Fortune and Pain (At the Edge of the World) was presented by Inkwell Theatre at the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival. Her plays have been developed by 9Thirty Theater, Theatre of Note, EST-LA, Seven Devils, and Inkwell Theatre. Palmquist’s short plays have recently been produced in Conneticut, Chicago, Colorado, Australia, LA, Virginia and Florida.
And Then They Fell, Palmquist’s Play Lab entry, recently had a reading at The Road Theatre in Burbank, CA. It is a gritty and ominous snapshot of broken family relationships, transgressive (and sometimes destructive) sexual taboo, and the tiny redemptive moments that abandoned humans can discover through love.
Those themes—working-class people seeking redemption in various forms of love—are the common thread connecting the stories chosen for the inaugural year of the New Play Lab. Love and labor produced these two remarkable plays; love—of discovering and developing new drama for UMass audiences--and a great deal of labor will bring them to the Curtain stage this spring.
“I'm excited that UMass is making a commitment to the continued life of the new American play,” Paul says, “and am so looking forward to introducing the Pioneer Valley to the exciting work of two remarkable playwrights.”
Last week, as rehearsals for the first annual UMass New Play Lab began, Paul Adolphsen (dramaturg forAnd Then They Fell, one of Play Lab’s two offerings) sat down with Play Lab director Jared Culverhouse to talk about his past experience with play development, and why he’s excited to work on new scripts by our two playwrights-in-residence: Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist.
The first annual UMass New Play Labpremiered in March, an event that marked the Department of Theater’s return to new play development as a highlight of its mainstage season. MFA Graduate director Jared Culverhouse, along with MFA dramaturgs Paul Adolphsen and Amy Brooks, checked in for post-workshop interviews with New Play Lab’s inaugural playwrights, Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist.
What three words would you use to describe your experience with the UMass New Play Lab?
Liz Duffy Adams: Illumination, encouragement, beer.
Tira Palmquist: 1. Supportive. Everything about the experience was about helping me to see my play in a new way, to understand what was at work in my play, and bring that to life. At no time did I feel that anyone in the process either wanted the play to be something other than I wanted, or wanted me to make changes I was uncomfortable with. 2. Open. I found everyone (dramaturg, director and actors) easy to communicate with, and the rehearsal room felt relaxed and inviting. 3. Rigorous. The process -- while still fun, mind you -- was about the work, and the director and dramaturg both set an appropriately high bar for the work. What I mean by that is that they wanted the process to be useful for everyone, and to make sure that we were all being suitably challenged. (We were.)
What did you discover about your play as a result of UMass New Play Lab?
LDA: That it has an audience, that it connects strongly with some people, that it works on its own weird terms. I discovered a new title [Liz switched the title from Variations of Fucked to Off the Clock on the last day of her residency – ed.]. I discovered ideas about potential staging and design; how it could work visually and spatially. I got to make some useful cuts and tweaks and rearrange a couple of scenes which made it work much better. I discovered that the characters have life outside of my head.
TP: Happily, I learned that much of the play is, in fact, working well. I was also happy to be encouraged to lean into the poetry of the play -- subtly, but appropriately. This was a surprise to me, because I wasn't sure that the naturalistic genre of the play would support that direction. I was surprised when Paul and Jared encouraged me to go in that direction, and that happily surprised that it worked.
What's up next for you?
LDA: I’m about to go to Paris, where my play The Reckless Ruthless Brutal Charge of It or The Train Play will be read in translation in a French/American playwright exchange festival. After that, this summer I’m rewriting and sending out a first novel; researching Hildegard of Bingen for a play I plan to write next fall while writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba; and having a reading of Off The Clock at the Women’s Project Theater in NYC.
TP: I'm working on my new play Two Degrees, which will have two readings in May (One on May 19th at The Road Theatre in Los Angeles, and one at the Great Plains Theater Conference in Omaha, NE. Then, in June, my play Ten Mile Lake will have its World Premiere at Serenbe Playhouse just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist, whose work is being developed at the UMass New Play Lab, are hosting a playwriting workshop for writers at any level on Wednesday, March 26, from 2:30-4:30 . This is an amazing opportunity to learn about the craft from two exciting playwrights of vision and imagination. There’s no need to bring existing work – all you need are your brain and writing materials!
Sign up on the department call-board. Limit 12 participants.