Something magical happened in the UNLV Paul Harris theatre yesterday. Whether you’re a budding playwright, or producer, you missed a golden opportunity, and a real treat. Created in association with Nevada Conservatory Theatre (NCT), The Organic + Homegrown Playwrights Festival is a single day event celebrating playwrights, new plays, and locally produced art.
This inaugural performance all took place on one day. The morning and early afternoon found scheduled workshops by Sean Clark, presenting a workshop for playwrights, and Richard Oberacker conducting a panel on producing new works. Both presentations were especially invaluable for any emerging writer attacking the keyboard, hoping to get a vision onto the boards, as a means of exploring the process of creating that vision.
Oberacker certainly knows it takes time, perseverance, and, above all, leaving ego at the door when dissecting what works - or doesn’t. His musical “Ace,” presented at UNLV last year, had been incubating for ten years.
Clark, Associate Professor, Department of Film, worked as a screenwriter and producer for more than a decade in Los Angeles. Yet, for purposes of new works for the stage, a pedigree of winning the Lorraine Hansberry Award for “Eleven-Zulu” is only one of the awards he’s received for his plays.
Then, we got to see the process in action as three plays, in various stages of the process, were put on their feet. Cockroach Theatre and NCT have joined forces and did a reading of “Bright Side The Musical,” which will get its premier production in May. Off-Strip Productions put “Titus Andronicus, Jr.” on the boards for testing and tightening before it receives a full production at the Onyx Theatre later in the year. And, finally, the day was capped with the first-ever staged reading of Brandon Burk and Ed Simpson’s “Invention,” a one-man show which they’ve been working on for more than two years. Just to give you a bit more insight into how the process can go—how dramatically things can change—“Invention” began as a musical and morphed into a play with only one song. That single musical interlude was kept because it not only moves the story forward but deepens audience insight into the character.
Of course, any time an event such as this is planned, the closer to the actual day of the happening, serious nerves kick in. Not only for the playwrights putting themselves and their work out there for criticism, but for the people creating the event itself. Will the house be empty; or will maybe only a handful of butts be in the seats? What if too many show up? Well, SRO is a happy thing, but still…be prepared.
Yes, maybe it helped that it was Free to the Public, but I doubt that had much to do with the solid attendance over the course of the day. It appears Las Vegas hasn’t only grown (there were five theatre companies when I arrived in the late stages of the “mob” era), it’s growing up. Between the Becket Festival of some eight or ten years ago, which gave way to the Fringe Festival each June, to the New Works Competition at Las Vegas Little Theater and the plethora of new companies, the expanding arts community is getting more notice.
I spoke very briefly with Christopher Edwards, NCT Artistic Director, and thanked him, as I hope everyone in attendance did. As Brandon Burk put it, “There’s really no such thing as a one-man show.” One of the most important things a writer can do for themselves: Improve their work, which improves their craft. That happens not only by doing, but by learning from others; observing the process in action. The Organic + Homegrown Playwrights Festival is a perfect venue for that. Edwards’ hope, based on this year’s success, is to make it an annual event.
As a playwright, as well as an author of fiction, I’d like that. It would serve a much broader portion of the community than one could imagine. Creative writing of any genre can learn and grow from it. Dialogue so often suffers in fiction; it can be stilted, resonate as false to a described character within the pages of a tome.
Not to get carried away, let’s just call it putting a bug in Edwards’ ear. The world is aware of the famed Sundance Film Festival. Few are aware that Sundance also hosts a Theatre Lab for new plays. Each year, submissions top the 1,000 mark, and a very limited, lucky few are accepted.
The NCT Organic + Homegrown Theatre Lab. Has a bit of a ring to it, don’t you think?
What: The Organic + Homegrown Playwrights Festival
When: Saturday, March 19, 2016
Where: UNLV-Paul Harris Theatre
Tickets: $ Free