The Birth of a Play: New Work and the New Strands Festival

By Ariana Johnson 

75 artists. 6 projects. 11 performances. 1 week.

The New Strands Festival is a thrilling time. All our studios are packed with innovative new plays, brilliant artists are mingling, and there is plenty of good music, food, and discussion throughout. It’s a chance for audiences to see the wizard behind the curtain and be a part of the growth of new pieces of theater.

This is my first New Strands Festival, but as one of A.C.T.’s 2018–19 Artistic Fellows, I’ve been a part of three new play workshops at A.C.T. For one, I was tasked with constructing a giant timeline across the wall of the studio so the team could test permutations of scenes. For another, I stashed copies of the script (and reading glasses) all around the rehearsal room so a performer could improvise a dance and then pick their dialogue back up no matter where they ended up in the room.

That’s the key part of new play development: you support the artists, adapting the process to whatever best serves the art. Plays may go through various writers groups, workshops, readings, and full productions before the script is published. Honing a piece can be a long process of continual feedback and revisions, and it also relies on checking in with audiences throughout to ensure that the play is achieving its intended effect. That’s why the plays in the Festival have multiple performances and are free and open to the public.

“We look for plays in many different stages of development,” says A.C.T. Literary Manager Allie Moss, who has been involved with all three previous New Strands Festivals. “If we choose one play that’s pretty close to being done, we’re looking for another play that’s in the beginning stages, so we can introduce our audiences to different types of work in progress. We want everyone to experience the full range of the new works process during the course of attending the festival, and experience plays that speak to the community of A.C.T.”

One unique role in new play development is the dramaturg. My favorite description of a dramaturg is that they are the midwife at the birth of a new play; they are the stand-in for the audience in the rehearsal room, pointing out anything that draws the audience out of the world of the play and assisting the play in being the best version of itself possible. Joy Meads, A.C.T.’s director of dramaturgy and new works, not only helped select the plays for the festival and form the artistic teams for each projects, but she will be serving as the dramaturg for a couple of individual projects (and her dog Eleanor was the model for the festival artwork).

Joy Meads, A.C.T.'s director of dramaturgy and new works, and her dog Eleanor.

“I love that the building will be buzzing with activity and excitement, conversation and creativity, and a spirit of experimentation,” says Meads. “It’s a healthy thing for an arts organization to marinate in that sense of possibility for a weekend.”

Come be immersed in possibility at the New Strands Festival May 16–19. It’s FREE, so check out the schedule and put us on your calendar!

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