Alabama Shakespeare Festival resurrects its longtime new play development program Oct. 19-21, 2018, replacing the past name, Southern Writers Project, with Southern Writers Festival of New Plays while retaining its tradition of staged readings of new works that explore Southern identity or work by Southern writers. Playwrights, directors, actors and dramaturgs have been in residence on ASF’s campus in Montgomery this past week to investigate four new emerging scripts. Talkbacks, community interaction and Southern food are all part of the mix.
The new play initiative was on hiatus in the 2017-18 season, but now returns as what’s expected to be an annual event under the leadership of ASF’s new artistic director Rick Dildine.
The fall 2018 playwrights in residence are Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, whose work has been developed and produced by ASF (The Flag Maker of Market Street, White Lightning and Gee’s Bend and more), and whose work I’ve chronicled before, David Lee Nelson, Abby Rosebrock and Jiréh Breon Holder. ASF’s former artistic director Kent Thompson returns to guest-direct Wilder’s piece. Adam Knight, the new artistic director of Iowa’s Riverside Theatre, guest directs Nelson’s play. Learn more about the ASF artists working in the 2018 SWF. All readings take place on the Octagon Stage, the smaller thrust space in ASF’s two-theater home.
ASF’s Southern Writers Project gave my play Alabama Story its first reading in 2013. It has since been presented more than 20 cities around the country, and will be produced by Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in January 2019.
Longtime ASF dramaturg Susan Willis, guest dramaturg Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe and stage managers Hannah-Jean Farris, Jen Nelson Lane, Emilee Buchheit and Ruth E. Kramer are among SWF participants, among many others.
Here’s the 2018 ASF Southern Writers Festival of New Plays, in a nutshell:
The Light of the World
By Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder
Directed by Kent Thompson
7 PM Oct. 19
With Greta Lambert, Greg Thornton, Jordan Baker, Olivia Dawson
In the window of a church is a small Confederate flag. When a violent incident in the community occurs, the presence of the flag is called into question, forcing the congregation to choose between the past they elect to honor and the future they dare to envision.
A Sudden Spontaneous Event
By David Lee Nelson
Directed by Adam Knight
10 AM Oct. 20
With Sarah Thornton, Neil David Seibel, Joy Vandervort-Cobb, Scott Smith-Pattison, Terrell Sledge
Carole’s life is just the way she likes it. Until, that is, she wakes confused and in a strange place. A Sudden Spontaneous Event is a hilarious and heartbreaking look at what happens when the life you thought you had is over in an instant.
Singles in Agriculture
By Abby Rosebrock
Directed by Mikhaela Mahony
2:15 PM Oct. 20
With Alex Grubbs, Madalena Provo, Ginger Eckert
At an annual dating convention for farmers, a South Carolina army widow (who loves “Modern Family” and talks to her pygmy goats) angles for romance with an Oklahoma fundamentalist who has some weird ideas about sex.
In the Southern Breeze
By Jiréh Breon Holder
Directed by LA Williams
11 AM Oct. 21
With Stephen Ruffin, Rama C. Marshall, Keith Randolph Smith, Rob Karma Robinson, Michael Rishawn
When a runaway slave gets lost in a mysterious forest, an Absurdist drama ensues. In the Southern Breeze offers a challenging look at how our society has treated and continues to treat African American men.
For more details on the SWF events, contact ASF at (334) 271-5353 or (800) 841-4273. For more about ASF’s busy 2018-19 season in no fewer than three venues, visit asf.net.
ASF artistic director Rick Dildine said in a statement, “This summer, I went on a road trip with four playwrights to discover what it means to be Southern today. It was my goal to interview 100 people — we ended up speaking with more than 350 folks from communities all over the South. We’re assessing what we learned and are developing a new vision statement for the Southern Writers Festival. On Saturday, October 20, we will present some of our discoveries and debut a short film that documents our time on the road.”
Alabama Shakespeare Festival is a not-for-profit organization under the direction of artistic director Rick Dildine and executive director Todd Schmidt. Designated as The State Theatre of Alabama, ASF is a leader in education and outreach, serving more than 40,000 students annually with artistic programming. ASF is supported by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.