The First Annual Lanford Wilson New American Play Festival welcomes playwrights, other theater practitioners, students and theatergoers from around country to shine a spotlight on new works suitable for college-age actors June 14-19 in the late playwright’s home state of Missouri. Five new plays — by Emily Bohannon, Lilly Camp, Rachel Graf Evans, Kevin Renn and Jeff Talbott — will be heard in readings at Southeast Missouri State University, which sponsors the unique and ambitious festival in Cape Girardeau, MO.
One full-length play will be picked for a 2021-22 world premiere production at the university’s Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance. The festival will also explore issues and practices related to the creation of new plays in seminars, workshops, talkbacks and more. The festival also includes the presentation of five short plays by Show Me State dramatists.
The 2021 Official Selections are:
Randi & Roanne by Rachel Graf Evans
“Randi Beaudelaire, junior year transfer and secret poet, has a major inconvenience: she’s totally in love with her best friend Roxanne and can’t seem to stop writing sappy poetry about it. So when Kristy, the new star of the softball team, asks Randi for help on how to woo Roxanne, what’s she supposed to do? Tell the truth? A queer romantic comedy about secrets, sonnets, and softball.”
“On the eve of their college graduation, six friends gather together to celebrate with one final rager — but after the night takes a surprising turn, the group is forced to confront both their uncertain futures, and a troubling secret that looms between them.”
All Eight by Lilly Camp
“Nine freshmen women sit in one boat on their collegiate rowing team, competing with each other up for best times, lowest body weights, and most influential seats, until race day when they row as one. And rumor has it their coach is sleeping with at least one of them.”
“Two new student groups are forming on two different campuses. Both have to write a statement saying who they are, and both are falling apart. Two stories become one story in this thorny comic drama about getting things started.”
The Romantic Movement by Emily Bohannon
“Summer of 1967. High school students gather in rural Florida to study classical music in the heart of the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love. Will the college-aged Resident Assistants survive a summer of babysitting high schoolers? Does studying music even matter during a time of war?”
“The development of new scripts is the life blood and future of theatre, but limited resources exist to support that endeavor and there are no programs that specifically develop plays with characters for college-aged actors,” Dr. Kenneth Lee Stilson, the Festival’s executive director and chair of The Conservatory, said in a statement. “There are hundreds of actor training programs in universities around the world and there’s a great need for plays written with characters their own ages to assist in their training. This new festival will provide a valuable resource for playwrights and universities in search of new material.”
The Festival “emphasizes plays with dynamic college-aged characters that also have robust roles for female actors and provide performance opportunities for actors from underrepresented communities.” More than 750 full-length plays were submitted for consideration for the Festival’s debut.
The selected short plays by five Missouri-based playwrights are Don’t Toy With Me by Andrew Black, of Columbia, MO, currently earning his doctorate at the University of Missouri-Columbia; Remembering Morgan by Annie Brown, of Oklahoma City, OK, incoming musical theatre freshman at Southeast Missouri State University; Rising by Gabrielle Freitas, of Cape Girardeau, MO, graduate of Southeast Missouri State University; The Bee That Declared a War by Cary J. Simowitz, of Coral Springs, FL, graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Theater, Film and Television, and currently serving as the Dramatists Guild’s Regional Ambassador for St. Louis; and Lawncare by Paul Vintner, of Springfield, MO, graduate Royal Holloway (Egham, England) and the University of Central Missouri.
Free workshops and talks will be presented by Stilson; Kitt Lavoie, the Festival’s artistic director and assistant professor of theatre at Southeast; and the full-length playwrights. Hana Sharif, the artistic director of Repertory Theatre of St. Louis will give an address titled “The Role of the Playwright in the Rebirth of the American Theatre.”
“Audiences in Cape Girardeau will be able to see the readings of the plays and participate in a post-show discussion with the playwrights,” Festival artistic director Lavoie said. “Then, they can return to the River Campus this fall to see the winning play fully produced. The Festival also provides an essential laboratory to train student actors in the skills and ethics of developing new plays and working in production with a living playwright. It is a huge part of the business, and there are so few universities in the country that teach it.”
The late Lanford Wilson, of course, was the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright and Missouri-native who penned Talley’s Folly, Fifth of July, Burn This, The Hot l Baltimore, Balm in Gilead and many more.
“Lanford Wilson is a giant in the world of theatre, and we’re incredibly grateful to have received permission from Mr. Wilson’s estate to name the festival in his honor,” Stilson said. “This is a wonderful thing for our students, the University and community. We expect this to be the first of many years in developing original works that will potentially be produced around the world.”