PBTS: 50 Years of Curtain Call Is Just The Beginning

The Script Before The Curtain: Inspiring Playwrights

A collaborative program at Players by the Sea is giving voice to local playwrights. New Voices, developed by associate director Bradley Akers, will nurture the development of two new scripts from the page to the stage. “Players by the Sea has a long and rich history of producing original works, in particular by local playwrights,” says Executive Director Joe Schwarz. “It’s never been anything formal. People would come to us with an idea or concept or a play and we would look at it and say, ‘yeah, why not. We are a local theatre. We want to serve the community.”

Akers says the objective of New Voices is to create a structure for the development of plays, not just the production of a completed script. “How do we serve our core values even more by giving these writers a process? Space is huge for writers. It’s beyond the living room. They have room to experiment in a creative atmosphere with support. Can we help take a concept all the way to production by means of a year-long development process?”

Akers modeled the template for New Voices after a similar program at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. “A play is not just meant to be read. It’s meant to be seen and heard,’ he says. “In order to see if a play works, you have to have an audience and that’s going to tell the theatre and the playwright, ‘hey, does this have life outside off the stage?’ And I said that is Players by the Sea right there.”

Two playwrights will be selected and assigned a dramaturg to help steer them through a year-long development process. Dramaturgs will guide each playwright from concept to the writing process, offering advice and constructive criticism to help develop the strongest piece possible. The playwrights will also work with a director who will help bring the production to life. At the end of this process, both playwrights will receive a mounted production of their brand new work and a $2,000 stipend. “Growing up in Jacksonville and doing theatre, I always saw that Players was the one that had these new plays and honored the playwright and felt passionate about the playwright and didn’t always have to do national work. It could be local. When I first started working here, I noticed even more of a trend in local playwrights and actors,” Akers says. “Jacksonville is like this nice little incubator for talent and it’s time to shine some light on it.”

With the approval of Schwarz and the Board of Directors, New Voices was born. “It really was his brainchild. He looked at what we’ve been doing over the years and he said, ‘hey, can we try this?’ and I said, ‘sure, come up with something’ and he did,” Schwarz says. Recently, Schwarz says he delighted by the growing interest in writing plays, a trend he is thrilled to champion with New Voices. “I don’t know why it is, but it’s wonderful. It’s great and it’s so central to our core vision to enrich the community through excellence in theatre,” he says. “You don’t have a play until you get it in front of an audience. Until then, it’s just writing,” says Schwarz. “It becomes a play when you have live people reacting to it and that’s when you know if it’s successful or not. We want to nourish the New Voices of Jacksonville.”

As PBTS celebrates their 50th anniversary, Schwarz recalls the early days when the fledgling company was just starting out on First Street and the volumes of exceptional work that found life on their stage. “Every one of Ian Mairs’ plays premiered there. Al Letson premiered several of his plays there, and we workshopped two of his plays into development,” he says.  “He would have been successful with our without Players by the Sea but I’m very proud to be part of his story.”

Olivia Gowan recently opened her original play Cotton Alley to a packed house and Jim Alabasio will stage his To the Sea on the PBTS stage. “It’s really important that we support local artists and make opportunities for them to grow and develop,” Schwarz says. “Jacksonville is a very large city geographically but the theatre community is very small. We know each other and we talk to each other and if someone has a reading of their play, it’s going to be their friend’s listening to it. We wanted to have people outside the community that have no skin in the game judge it on the content alone.”

Individuals from Duval, St. Johns, Nassau and Clay Counties are encouraged to apply. The submissions will be ranked by an esteemed and diverse panel. The panelists include Tony Award-winning actress Jayne Atkinson Gill; Chicago playwright Lisa Dillman;  Literary Fellow Dylan Pickus at Playwright’s Horizons in New York City; Barry Gordin, Editor-in-Chief at www.theaterlife.com in New York City; Harolyn Sharpe, Professor at FSCJ and local actor/director; and local actor and teacher at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Simone Aden-Reid.

Applicants must submit a two-page proposal detailing the concept of the proposed play, the emotional arch of the proposed play/concept and character development. They are also asked to explain why they should be selected, how they would benefit from the development process and include ten pages of dialogue from a separate body of work or ten pages related to the concept they wish to develop. Completed plays will not be accepted.

The process will begin with Development Meetings, moving to Living-Room Style Readings and Public Readings. Auditions will be held for both plays in the early part of 2017. Both plays will be performed in rep during April 2017 on our Studio Stage. “You look at Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or The Crucible. These plays that are some of the most recognized works in modern American theatre and they all started somewhere,” Akers says. “Why can’t Olivia Gowan’s Cotton Alley be the next hot American play? Why can’t Joshua McTiernan’s The Red Line, which we did here last year, be the next Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Those are big statements but I believe in them wholeheartedly.”

Submissions will be accepted through March 1. The two selected playwrights will be announced on April 1. Must be 18 years or older to apply. Only one proposal is allowed per applicant at [email protected].

About Liza Mitchell