Fort Worth — There are far more playwrights than theaters; not every play written can be produced. If you are a playwright, you know that there is a danger of getting lost in play development purgatory—where the play is constantly read or discussed but not given a full production. Kathleen Culebro of Amphibian Stage Productions realizes this frustration with staged readings. So, she takes extra steps to truly workshop a play and invites artistic directors and publishers to Amphibian’s staged reading series. Her reasoning for this has to do primarily with the playwright: “If you reach out to playwrights and say ‘We’re going to give you a reading,’ you know in the back of their mind they think ‘Really? You can’t give me a production?’ So I thought I need to offer something more. I want them to get the most out of this as possible. I can’t promise a full production but I can give you everything possible to make it happen elsewhere.”
This week Culebro has invited prolific playwright Caridad Svich to develop her new play De Troya—an exploration of a Latino neighborhood in a mythical Detroit. Matrix Theatre Company in Detroit commissioned Svich to write a play on the lives of Latinos in southwest areas of their cities. She conducted many interviews with multiple generations of residents. For Matrix, she wrote Agua de Luna, but her exploration of this neighborhood felt unfinished. She had more to uncover and created this companion piece, De Troya.
The exploration of the dilapidated city lives within the realm of magic realism with supernatural elements. The play follows a river spirit, in the body of a young woman washed ashore. The issues within the play include contemporary struggles as Svich notes, “It’s about stories of people who come from elsewhere. So immigrant stories. And it’s about how we survive a legacy of violence, living in a city of low economic status where it’s hard to make do, questioning whether you can recreate your world.” The city of Detroit has become an American warning about the frailty of capitalism. “De Troya” in Spanish translates into “of Troy,” which is also very fitting for the play and the city. However, Svich was more inspired by the Caribbean expression “De Troya,” which describes something that is going downhill.
As the play is getting one week of rehearsals, Svich aims to maximize her time working with the cast and the director of the reading, David Lozano. Svich says, “I think it’s always really hard to figure out your strategy when it’s a short process. We’re going to crack it open and maybe look at a couple of sections on their feet.”
Both Culebro and Svich enjoy creating theater that is socially relevant and a theater that is inviting to all people. Svich notes that some theaters lose a sense of being a welcoming space for the community. From her point of view, “You have to engage the community with new work and make it affordable and make it with love… If there is a theater that has a building attached to it, every way possible, that should be a welcoming space no matter what. I was at a really big theater recently, but during the day it’s empty. If you had no relationship to the building whatsoever, you wouldn’t know what was in there.”
Empty buildings during the day or on “dark days” are a problem with the current theater business. Culebro’s programming at Amphibian has evolved over time to include mainstage productions, staged readings, National Theatre Live screenings, and most unique for a theater company: development performances for stand-up comedians. Like the staged reading development series, comedians take up residence at Amphibian for a week to creatively develop a new comedy show in front of a live audience. Programs like these open doors for real creativity and real professional outcomes, as opposed to the “one shot” readings where the script goes back to the pile afterwards. Amphibian has done staged readings for years, but in 2015, started focusing on development.
One of the readings from last year, Allison Gregory’s Not Medea, will soon have a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere at three theaters: B Street Theatre (Sacramento, Calif., May 11-June 11), Contemporary American Theater Festival (Shepherdstown, WV, July 8-31, 2016), and Perseverance Theatre (Juneau, Oct. 14-Nov. 6 and in Anchorage, Alaska, Nov. 11-20, 2016).
For Svich’s play, Culebro has high hopes for future productions and development. Maybe not with Amphibian, but certainly elsewhere. Culebro says, “We have people coming in from around the country and so I hope that it will get picked up possibly by the National New Play Network [of which Amphibian is an Associate Member] or that it gets a publication. Those are the two things I am hoping for.” We know that not every theater company can produce all of the plays that they read in front of an audience, there are many factors to consider when saying “yes” to a full production. So, Culebro thinks outside the box. If Amphibian can’t produce it now, let’s bring in those who can. Culebro has been working tirelessly to bring in a specific group of theater leaders noting, “I spend a lot of time reaching out to artistic directors around the country and my own network to get people here.” So if you attend the first public readings of De Troya, you just may sit next to someone very important in the national theater scene.
» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. In her Work in Progress column, she'll have conversations with playwrights, theatermakers, directors, designers, dramaturgs and others involved in the process of realizing new work from page to stage as she explores new plays and musicals being developed/created by theaters of all budget sizes in North Texas.
PREVIOUS WORK IN PROGRESS COLUMNS
- Len Jenkin's Jonah at Undermain Theatre (April 15, 2016)
- David Lozano and Lee Trull's Deferred Action in a co-production between Dallas Theater Center and Cara Mía Theatre Company (April 28, 2016)
- Janielle Kastner's Ophelia Underwater, presented by The Tribe at Margo Jones Theatre (May 11, 2016)
NEW WORK CURRENTLY ON LOCAL STAGES
- 365 Women a Year Festival, readings of new works by women playwrights across the nation, at Rover Dramawerks in Plano, through May 14 OUR LISTING
- Deferred Action, by David Lozano and Lee Trull, at Dallas Theater Center, through May 15 OUR REVIEW
- Ophelia Underwater by Janielle Kastner, presented by The Tribe at Margo Jones Theatre, May 13-23 OUR LISTING
SELECT UPCOMING NEW WORK
- Echo Theatre closes its spring Echo Reads series with a reading of Dallas writer Nancy Munger's The Curse of the Flamingos at the Bath House Cultural Center, 7:30 p.m. May 17 OUR LISTING
- Kitchen Dog Theater's New Works Festival, featuring the National New Play Network Rolling World Premieres of Steve Yockey's The Thrush and the Woodpecker and Blackberry Winter, which will run in repertory, plus readings of new plays and PUP Fest with Junior Players, at Undermain Theatre, May 20-June 25 OUR LISTING
- Rover Dramawerks in Plano presents the world premiere of Larry Herold's Crisis, May 26-June 18 OUR LISTING
- The third annual Dallas Solo Fest, which features several premieres, presented by Audacity Theatre Lab at the Margo Jones Theatre, June 2-12 OUR ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE LINEUP
- Finding Myself in Bed, a new play by Stefany Cambra, presented by Proper Hijinx Productions in the basement of Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, June 3-12 OUR LISTING
- DVA Productions in Fort Worth premieres Jordan Cooper's Masked at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center's Sanders Theatre, June 10-19 OUR LISTING
- House of Bard's, a Shakespeare political mashup from Fun House Theatre & Film at Plano Children's Theatre, June 16-20 OUR LISTING
- The Festival of Independent Theatres, featuring several premieres, July 8-30 at the Bath House Cultural Center, Dallas OUR ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE LINEUP
- The Distant Echo of Ancient Youth, a new work from Johnny Simons at Hip Pocket Theatre, Fort Worth, July 8-31 OUR ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIP POCKET'S 40TH SEASON
- The Incident, a new work from The Drama Club, opens July 16; info TBA
- Don Quixote, a new physical theater adaptation by Lake Simons and John Dyer at Hip Pocket Theatre, Fort Worth, Aug. 12-Sept. 4 OUR LISTING