PBTS Debuts Two Original Works
In keeping with the spirit of producing bold new works, Players by the Sea Theatre will stage the world premiere of two original scripts written by young local playwrights as part of its New Voices Young Voices program. “Winter & I” written by Lauren Hancock and Worth Culver’s “Barry Bianchi: Baltimore’s Best Bail Bondsman, An American Tragedy” open June 7 on Players’ Studio Stage. Both one-act plays will run through June 17 (www.playersbythesea.org).
Hancock and Culver were selected to participate in the annual Young Voices program designed to discover emerging playwrights under 18. They embarked on a yearlong process with a panel of industry experts to develop their concepts from the page to the stage, culminating in a fully mounted production of their original one-act plays.
“Prior to this, I’d never delved into the world of playwriting,” remarks Hancock. “When I entered the competition, my only real expectation was to be exposed to the unexpected. I really went into the whole experience blind.”
“Winter & I” explores the relationship between the anxious, brilliant teen Elinor and her companion Winter, whose powerful intellect, will and whims both challenge and comfort Eli as she navigates the expectations of school and family life. When Winter mysteriously disappears, Eli must confront herself and clarify to what extent Winter is a part of her.
“This play has been in my head for years now. When I heard about this program, I decided to try my hand at playwriting and found the format to be ideal for the concept of my story,” says Hancock, who is thrilled to bring this deeply personal work to life. “Working with Players has been an eye-opening experience, as I’ve learned to appreciate the complexity and sheer dedication it takes to bring a script from my mind and onto paper. I’m beyond grateful to have had this program’s help in molding my fictional world.”
The characters in “Winter & I” exist in the mind of Elinor. The lead actors were 13 and 14 when they were cast, turning 14 and 15 on the same day during production. “We found that to be an interesting coincidence since their characters are intrinsically linked in the show,” says Director Stephanie Natale Frus. “They have done such a great job handling what is complicated and personal and deep material as Lauren, the author, really speaks from some of her own experiences. It’s a very personal piece for her, and they are treating it with a ton of respect.”
Hancock says she remained hands-off during the directing process, trusting Frus’ interpretation of her vision. She is “immensely happy” with the results and praises Catherine Tetzlaff and Abigail Douglas for their ability to really capture the spirit of the characters.
“Part of the beauty in plays is that a vast part of their magic derives from the director’s personal interpretation. Though the original author may have some vision in mind when writing the characters in their head, in the end, it is the director’s personal touch and interpretation which give the play life,” says Hancock. “There is no better way to spread hope than through sharing our stories. Giving a little glimpse of light to others in the midst of their suffering is what this show is all about. If I can help even one person persevere through a tough time, then I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever hoped to do.”
Frus says Culver’s script “Barry Bianchi” stands on its own merits. The comedy reads like a film script with the dialogue in place to help move the action on stage, the entirety of which takes place in the office of the title character. Bianchi addresses a variety of characters in a rapid-dialogue style that largely takes place in a narrative of one-sided phone conversations. Culver submitted his concept “Barry Bianchi: Baltimore’s Best Bail Bondsman, An American Tragedy” for what would become his project for a playwriting class while attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. His teacher suspected one of the students from the class would be chosen to participate in the New Voices program, and Culver happened to write the winning script.
The audience is introduced to Bianchi as he exists at the beginning of the play: a stereotype of a man who knows who is and is proud of his ability to care for his mother and his family. Throughout the single-act play, his resolve is tested and his demeanor shifts to reveal a broken man. Culver creates a dynamic social commentary on the decline of everyman set in a decade of which he has no tangible experience.
“Worth’s piece has been a lot of fun for me, and a lot of fun for the actors as well. I’ve put in some theatrical elements, with his blessing, with some of the actions that we’re choosing on stage. We are really pushing the comedic timing, dialogue and presentation.”
“Barry Bianchi: Baltimore’s Best Bail Bondsman An American Tragedy” introduces the audience to the interactions of the hilarious title character who espouses his theories on life and the nation in this dialogue-rich comedy. Cutting through the belly laughs and absurdity, Bianchi delivers a meditation on the state of manhood in a post-Regan America.
The entirety of the play is staged in Bianchi’s office and the action is propelled by the dialogue which is mostly telephone conversations. “You are seeing the character acting physically as they would if no one is watching. Just reinforcing the dialogue and that individual physical humor on the part of everyone on stage at any given time is what I was going for in terms of mechanics,” notes Culver of his “everyman” lead character who undergoes a transformation as the story progresses.
“Barry Bianchi is the American man of yesterday. This play is set in the early 90’s in Baltimore, and what I’m trying to present is the decline of this sort of patriarchal man and his role in his life and society. This play is a microcosm of that man being confronted by a world that isn’t propping him up anymore.”
Like Hancock, Culver entered his piece without expectation and remained open throughout the development process. He’s looking forward to opening night when he finally sees his work come to life on stage in front of an audience.
“Of course, this is on a much grander scale than what applies to me, but when Harper Lee was talking about the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, she said that she really wasn’t shocked or excited so as much as just numb because she couldn’t process how quickly everything became what it became,” he says,
“That’s sort of where I’ve been. I came in with absolutely no expectation. Zero expectation that it would be anything. When they first called to tell me they were considering this I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I made it to the top 20. That’s great.’ But then when they said they narrowed it down to the top five, I thought I can’t wait to see who actually gets it, and I get to enjoy this cool event. And then when they choose me, I can’t even process it. I’m just starting to have that set in, and I’m really enjoying the process and getting feedback and talking about my work and my process. That’s something I’ve never really had before.”
New Voices was developed in 2016 to give a voice to emerging, local playwrights. The collaborative effort was expanded to spotlight the works of young playwrights. Applicants between the ages of 13-18 were asked to submit a proposal and dialogue for consideration. The selected playwrights worked with a mentor on scene and story structure, character development and dramatic action throughout the year.
Submissions were open to young artists residing in Duval, St. Johns, Clay or Nassau counties. Both one acts are presented in the same evening, and the winning playwrights are each awarded a $2,000 Savings Bond.
“They both had really strong voices from the beginning. I feel like the voices they came in with, sometimes it was just about helping them get out of their own way and speak to that. They really both have their own distinct voices, and that came through really strongly. I can’t take any credit for that, and that’s really hard to teach,” says dramaturg Kelby Siddons, who helped nurture the playwrights by supporting their writing and editing process with feedback, readings, research, and guidance.
“I think the moment I was probably proudest of them is sometimes when I would coach them a certain way and I would say things like, ‘I really think you really need something here to raise the stakes’ or ‘the emotional payoff of this might be stronger if you switch this sequence,’ they pushed back, and I was like, ‘Okay, cool. This is also part of my job’. It’s just helping them realize what their voice and intention is. It’s really up to them how they address it. They are the ones who have to make these choices.”