It is no easy feat to stage a play. Consider the various components that need to mesh — direction, acting, sets, lighting, costumes — and then consider that Acorn Productions is producing six plays in just four days.
Earlier this month, Acorn Productions (www.acorn-productions.org) released its slate of performances. As part of the 14th annual Maine Playwrights Festival, which will take place from May 4-7, six Maine writers will see their work brought to life, right on Munjoy Hill.
The plays, which were penned by Greater Portland residents Carolyn Gage, Bess Welden, Jennifer Jensen, Richard Sewell, Delvyn Case and Saco resident David Susman, were selected from nearly 50 submissions from around the state.
Obviously, all 50 of the scripts submitted could not be produced. However, four submissions not chosen for production will be featured in a dramatic reading on April 30 in the ballroom at Mechanics Hall, 519 Congress St. The plays, written by Jennifer Reck, Nicole d’Entremont, Elaine Ford and Erica Thompson, cover everything from finding one’s biological parent to marital reconciliation. Reck’s play, “How Things Sometimes Work Out,” is described as, “Two people meet, fall in love, get married, start a family, and divorce — in 10 minutes.” Talk about an ambitious performance.
The six winning plays, too, truly run the gamut in terms of content, and cover everything from sexual identity in 1879 coastal New Hampshire to college campus monsters. The selections vary in length from just 10 minutes to half an hour.
A five-person reading committee, which included MPF founder Michael Levine, considered many criteria when choosing the winners, including “quality of the dialogue, strength of the dramatic tension, believability of the backstory, theatricality, originality, and overall storytelling.”
“We specifically chose scripts with a variety of tones and subject matters, meaning that there is something for everyone,” Levine said.
This year’s group of plays is also unique because there are far more female roles than male parts, something that co-Artistic Director Daniel Burson said is still uncommon in the theater world.
“I think it's great to have so many women's roles and women's stories featured prominently in this year's group of new plays, and we're going to have some fantastic actresses performing in the festival bringing those characters to life,” Burson said.
Open auditions were held earlier this month to cast the plays, which will be directed by guest professionals from the Maine theater community. Karen Ball, Odelle Bowman, Al D'Andrea and Liz Rollins will assist Levine and Burson in directing the shows, an arrangement that will also showcase the directors’ talents. Playwright-in-residence William Donnelly will assist as well. The opportunity to work with seasoned directors — and to have actors, costumes, and sets bring the words to life — is something that not many playwrights are able to experience, especially if they are just starting out, Burson said.
The fact, too, that there are six plays to produce means that some of the resources are shared, making for an interesting dynamic.
“All of the plays are fully staged with sets, lights and costumes,” Levine said. “Since there are six plays on the same bill, there will be some sharing of set pieces, which I find to be one of the more intriguing aspects of each year’s festival.”
The festival was born in 1999, beginning as a series of dramatic readings performed out of the old Acorn Academy for the Performing Arts on Congress St. Levine, formerly of the Portland Stage Company and founder of the now-closed Oak Street Theater, collaborated with the St. Lawrence Arts Center in 2000 and the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association in 2013 to renovate performance spaces in their respective buildings. The festival moved to its current home in the St. Lawrence in 2005. Acorn Productions, which was the in-house production company at Oak Street Theater, is still flourishing today, as evidenced by the MPF’s continuation. Burson, who formerly served as education and literary director at Portland Stage Company, joined forces with Levine and the MPF two years ago.
Burson and Levine are hopeful, as are the writers, that the public will flock to the theater, eager to see six world premieres and to support art here in Maine.
“The Maine Playwrights Festival is fantastic because it's all about people living and writing and creating theater here in our state,” Burson said. “Attending the festival means supporting our local writers' creativity and providing them with the final, vital piece in bringing their plays to life: the audience.”
The plays will be performed at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. A detailed production calendar is currently in the works and will be released in early April. Tickets will range from $10-$15. For more information, visit acornproductionsportland.wordpress.com or call 207.650.3051. Full descriptions of the six winning pieces are listed below.
MEET THE AUTHOR, by David Susman
Romance blooms between a novelist and a reader—until a difference of literary opinion threatens everything.
NERDLORDS VS. THE THING UNDER THE BASEMENT, by Jennifer Jensen
A group of college students discover that they all have supernatural abilities and that there is a monster lurking underneath the campus, and they decide to work together to stop it.
OLIVE SHRINESHADE, by Richard Sewell
It seems Olive asked her daughter to come 420 miles just to open an urn, but was there another reason as well?
PLANCHETTE, by Carolyn Gage
During a nor-easter on the New Hampshire coast in 1879, two fourteen-year olds share their secrets about trauma they have survived and the deeper secrets about their sexual orientation and gender identities.
SOMETHING BLUE, by Delvyn Case
How can a Palestinian woman living in Gaza, separated by her fiancé living in the West Bank since their engagement three years ago and unable to get permission to travel to the West Bank for the wedding by three governmental authorities, be united with the love of her life?
WHATEVER YOU DECIDE, by Bess Welden
Fiercely independent American photojournalist Jamie Winter meets refugee kids all the time, but when Waleed, a shoeless, motherless teenager steps off the boat and in front of her lens, she is suddenly forced to confront her own cultural identity, family history, a complicated past relationship, and the undeniable compulsion to become the boys rescuer.
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