Kenneth Jones’ rueful six-actor comedy Hollywood, Nebraska will launch the first Lab Series of new play readings at Actors Theatre of Indiana in Carmel, IN, in November 2019. Playwrights Lindsay Adams of Kansas City, MO, and Ethan Mathias of Fishers, IN, will also see their new plays — Rattler and Provenance, respectively — get developmental staged readings in the 2019-20 ATI season. Professional actors and directors will work with playwrights to present script-in-hand readings for audiences, who are invited to share their impressions in moderated talkbacks.
This is the first formal new works development program in ATI’s 15-year history. The playwrights and titles were revealed in the playbill for the Equity company’s 2019-20 season opener Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which began previews Sept. 6. Casting and directors for the Lab readings will be announced. Tickets for the series are on sale now, at $20 per reading (or less for subscribers).
Jones’ Hollywood, Nebraska, about two actresses returning to their rural hometown for family emergencies in the same fraught week, will be presented 7:30 PM Nov. 5, 2019. Adams’ Rattler, about a mother’s quest to protect her son who is accused of sexual assault, plays 7:30 PM Feb. 4, 2020. Mathias’ Provenance, about newly discovered history related to an Indiana philanthropist, plays 7:30 PM May 5, 2020.
The Nov. 5 reading of Hollywood, Nebraska coincides with the Indiana premiere of Jones’ Alabama Story at ATI’s 200-seat Studio Theatre Oct. 25-Nov. 17. Jones will be on the ATI campus for audience engagement events related to Alabama Story and leading into rehearsals for the reading.
Hollywood, Nebraska is billed this way: “In the panhandle of Nebraska, two actresses of a certain age are making a homecoming in their dying small town. Jane’s in from L.A. to check up on her ailing mother. Andrea’s back from New York to bury her father. Will a disappearing dot on the map of the Great Plains provide a second act for each of them? A new rueful comedy about the urge to be creative, the itch to move away and the ache of reconnecting with the family and feelings that you thought you left behind.”
The two-act Hollywood, Nebraska is set in a remote small town called Hatcher, in the panhandle of western Nebraska, near the Wyoming border, “during a recent autumn in a kinder moment in the early 21st century.”
The goal of the Lab Series is not necessarily to channel plays to the ATI mainstage, but to engage audiences in this early phase of the theater-making process and to be part of the community of regional theaters developing new plays and musicals toward world premieres that will enrich the future of the American theater. The ATI tagline says it all: “Will you be able to say, ‘I was there when it all began’?”
Hollywood, Nebraska had earlier development by TACT/The Actors Company Theatre (2016) and Wyoming Theater Festival (2017), as well as a reading by Alma Theatre Company (2019). The upcoming Indiana reading will include recent revisions made to the script, as well as changes resulting from discoveries in rehearsal.
“I’m grateful for another step to sharpen the people and world of Hollywood, Nebraska in the hope of a future world premiere,” playwright Kenneth Jones said. “It will be great to see it in the heartland — this a play about Midwest people, after all. I’m excited to be in the first-ever ATI Lab Series of new play readings, and to become part of what will be a rich heritage of the company developing new works.”
Jones further explained Hollywood, Nebraska in this playwright’s note: “There’s a small town in far western Nebraska where I have spent time, as an outsider, with people I love. Its heyday is over. Its population has dwindled to about 2,400. There is drought. Some storefronts are boarded up. There are farms both fallow and fertile. Missile silos that once held weapons aimed at Russia during the Cold War have been decommissioned. An oil boom ended. A railroad cuts through town, but it no longer offers passenger service. Interstate I-80 diverted traffic away from Main Street — the old Lincoln Highway — a long time ago. When I visited there, I walked around town. I browsed at a thrift shop. I took pictures of broken windows at the Wheat Growers’ Hotel. I attended a church service. I shared dinners and played cards in a parlor with widows who loved to laugh and talk about their history. I was curious and inspired. I wondered about residents past and present — who left? who stayed? and why? — and it all made me think more deeply about what it means to lead a so-called creative life. That was the jumping off point for my writing Hollywood, Nebraska.”
Here’s how Lindsay Adams’ Rattler is billed: “After Jen’s son Wyatt is accused of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend at a party, she is introduced to a support group for women whose relations have been accused of rape. With their encouragement, she decides she will stop at nothing to get to the truth of the matter and to get Wyatt’s charges dropped.”
Here’s how Ethan Mathias’ Provenance is billed: “Philanthropist Stephen Aldridge was a legend is Bayleigh, IN. Just days before a local museum is scheduled to open an exhibit honoring his legacy, his granddaughter Allison returns home for her father’s funeral. Sorting through her family’s history with the devoted staff of the Heartland Museum, Allison discovers new friends and new stories about her beloved grandfather that challenge her memories and force everyone to think carefully about how much we value truth, and which truths are more important.”
The ATI Lab Series is presented by United Fidelity Bank.
Actors Theatre of Indiana is led by artistic director Don Farrell, associate artistic director Judy Fitzgerald, associate artistic director Cynthia Collins.
ATI performs at the three-quarter-thrust, 200-seat Studio Theatre in The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, IN. The campus is also home to the American Songbook Foundation, the Civic Theatre, Carmel Symphony Orchestra, Central Indiana Dance Ensemble and other groups. The Studio, The Tarkington and the Palladium are the three major performance venues.
By spring 2020, Jones’ six-actor social justice drama Alabama Story will have been produced in more than 27 cities around the country since its 2015 premiere.
Jones’ recent plays — Two Henrys, Circa 1976 and Hollywood, Nebraska — have all focused on Midwest characters and roots; the playwright was raised in Michigan and now lives in New York City. Two Henrys, about an Indianapolis native reconnecting with his late partner’s family in Florida, had a recent workshop presentation by Red Mountain Theatre Company in Birmingham, AL, and is seeking further development toward a world premiere.