Bay Street’s New Works Festival Brings Next Generation of Plays to Life

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Scooter Pietsch, playwright of The Cocktail Party Effect.
Andrew Lippa from last year’s New Works during a reading of “Man in the Ceiling” (which is now part of Bay Street’s 2017 Mainstage season)

By Annette Hinkle

Fans of theater love this time of year in Sag Harbor.

That’s because if its spring, it must be time for Bay Street Theater’s New Works Festival.

The fourth incarnation of the annual fest runs April 28 to 30 at the theater where audiences will have an opportunity to see pared down presentations of four new plays — including a musical — over the course of three days.

And best of all, they’ll get to do it for free.

“One thing that’s very nice at Bay Street, people know how committed we are to development and production of new works,” explains Bay Street’s artistic director Scott Schwartz. “So we get submissions all the time, from local writers to those from around the country. We evaluate them as they come in, and things we might be interested in, we flag.”

Trying out new plays like those that will be featured in this festival is an important part of the process. Mr. Schwartz notes that the purpose of the festival is not only to entertain audiences with never-before-seen material, it’s also about giving something back to the playwrights, directors and actors — valuable feedback.

If all goes well, one or more of these plays may soon be coming to a theater near you in full production mode — perhaps even on the Bay Street stage.

“Part of the point of the festival is to try out plays that are potential fits for ultimate production,” explains Mr. Schwartz. “New works for the theater need time to breathe and time in front of the audience to show what’s working and what’s not. Here where each play gets an audience and feedback, it’s useful in terms of evaluating plays.”

“I’m also totally thinking about local audiences and picking shows that we think will be of interest here,” he adds. “We also want shows that are diverse in all sense of the word in terms of artist and subject matter.

“It’s important that the festival give audiences an opportunity to see very different kinds of work and voices in terms of writers.”

Y York, playwright of The Impossibility of Now.

This year’s New Works Festival line-up includes: “The Impossibility of Now” a comedy about remembering and forgetting by playwright Y York who explores what happens when a formerly a brilliant science writer suffers profound memory loss after a freak accident. The reading will star Jenny Bacon and Patch Darragh, while Bay Street’s associate artistic director Will Pomerantz will direct; Scooter Pietsch’s “The Cocktail Party Effect,” which looks at the lives of three married couples who celebrate their 10th New Year’s Eve together just as their kids have gone off to college, leaving them all empty nesters. The cast includes Stephanie J. Block, Sebastian Arcelus, Marc Kidisch, Kate Rigg and Howard W. Overshown. Jen Wineman will direct; “Thomas Murphy” a play that examines the life of an Irish poet in the beginning stages of dementia and his quest for new love (written by Quogue resident and Stony Brook Southampton writing professor Roger Rosenblatt, this play is being offered in conjunction with the Flea Theater in New York). Obie Award-winner Larry Pine stars in the reading as Thomas Murphy. Scott Schwartz will direct; and finally, “Molly Sweeney: A New Musical” based on the play by Brian Friel, with book by Eric Ulloa, and music and lyrics by Caleb Damschroder. The leading role will be read by Mamie Parris, who is currently Grizabella in “Cats” on Broadway, and also appearing will be Daniel Bolero, Jim Stanek, Rachel Coloff and Lily Brooks O’Briant. Other cast members include Yasmin Alers, Kyle Barisich, Michael Farina and Lindsie VanWinkle.

“I always thought it would be a good fit for Bay Street. It’s about a blind woman who gets a chance to have her sight restored,” explains Mr. Schwartz. “The play is an exploration of what that means and the limits of the human experience, but also the benefits of science.”

Scooter Pietsch, playwright of The Cocktail Party Effect.

This, in fact, is a musical that Mr. Schwartz has already directed and he will do so again for the New Works Festival.

“This is one I selected early, this will be the first public reading of this musical,” notes Mr. Schwartz who explains that while the plays slated for the festival are rehearsed for one day, because they’re more complicated, musicals have a full week of rehearsal.

“Usually we just do one musical during the festival because it’s a bigger time commitment, but musical development is important to Bay Street and me,” he says.

One of the most interesting aspects of this year’s festival is that it marks the beginnings of a collaborative effort with the Flea Theater in lower Manhattan. Mr. Rosenblatt’s play “Thomas Murphy” was introduced to Bay Street courtesy of Carol Ostrow, a part time Sag Harbor resident who is the producing director at The Flea.

“Carol and I have been chatting for almost four years about working together on something,” says Mr. Schwartz. “Carol sent me ‘Thomas Murphy,’ it’s so beautiful and funny — and Roger Rosenblatt is a smart and literate writer.”

“It’s a one-act show that gives an actor incredible opportunity,” he adds. “Because it’s a new work, Carol and I felt it was valuable to hear it out loud in front of an audience,” he says. “We’re co-producing the reading, sharing the costs and organizational planning for this one, but we’re also looking toward the future.”

In the meantime, the New Works Festival is all about bringing emerging plays to light by getting them off the page and onto the stage. That way everyone involved can get a chance to see how these plays measure up in real time when presented to real audiences.

“It’s always different when you hear it out loud,” says Mr. Schwartz. “There are pieces you read on the page that you’re not sure about, and when it’s read out loud, it’s like ‘Oh my God, it really works,’ and vice versa.”

“That’s part of the reason we do this New Works Festival. The experience of seeing something live in front of an audience where actors are collaborating with a playwright is always different,” he says. “It’s very exciting. Each one feels like a wonderful gift we get to open up and be surprised.”

Here’s the schedule for the 4th annual New Works Festival:

Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. — “Molly Sweeney: A New Musical”

Saturday, April 29 at 3 p.m. — “The Impossibility of Now”

Saturday, April 29 at 8 p.m. — “Thomas Murphy”

Sunday, April 30 at 3 p.m. — “The Cocktail Party Effect”

All readings are free, but tickets are required, as these events sell out. Reserve seats online at baystreet.org or call the box office at (631) 725-9500. Bay Street Theater is located on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

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