When: August 9-17, 2014
"Norman Rockwell's America," book by Lynne Kaufman, music & lyrics by Alex Mandel. "From belittled illustrator to ballyhooed artist, from whimsical covers to unforgettable images of the Civil Rights Movement, Norman Rockwell captured America's heart by discovering its soul." 8 p.m. August 9 and 13, 4 p.m. August 16, 2014.
"Describe the Night" (formerly "Liars"), by Rajiv Joseph. "This stimulating drama probes the mysterious 2010 crash of a Polish airplane, uncovering 90 years of lies, infidelity, war, secrets, and love." 2 p.m. August 10, 8 p.m. AUgust 16, 2014.
"The Disappearing Man," music, lyrics & Book by Jahn Sood. "A ramshackle circus wows the hinterlands in 1936, but backstage its bright-light attractions prove dark and depleted." 8 p.m. August 10 and 14, noon August 17, 2014.
"An Entomologist's Love Story," by Melissa Ross. "The love lives of bugs fascinate two 30-something researchers at New York's Museum of Natural History, but their own conflicted love affairs are under the microscope in this hilarious, edgy, and explicit look at love in our times." 8 p.m. August 12, noon August 16, 2014.
"Tokyo Fish Story," by Kimber Lee. "Generations, gender, and tradition collide as a Sushi Master struggles to preserve ancient artistry in a society obsessed with change." 8 p.m. August 15 and 17, 2014.
"One Woman Show," by Shakina Nayfack. "For our most adventurous theatregoers, this darkly funny and powerful musical chronicles the misadventures of a transgender artist now on the brink of reassignment surgery." 10:30 p.m. August 15, 2014.
Meet the festival artists. 4 p.m. August 17, 2014.
Where: TheatreWorks at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $19 per show, $49 for season-subscriber festival pass, $65 for festival pass. Call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.
Read Paul Freeman's interview of Lynne Kaufman and Alex Mandel in the Palo Alto Daily News.
the creative process out front
TheatreWorks' New Works Festival has developed into a fairly amazing success story, one that's been watched and admired for years by theater people around the nation.
The great hothouse of theatrical creativity that is TheatreWorks finds playwrights and composers, gives them a directors, a cast of professional actors and a stage and an audience. The actors read through the scripts (often great fun, this), and afterward audience members make comments on cards for the playwrights to review. (This year, we are told, audience members will be given a link to Survey Monkey, so they may register their thoughts online,)
It's been a good program, that helped develop such plays as "Memphis," which went on to be a hit at TheatreWorks and then on Broadway, where it won the Tony for best new musical. At the moment, it's on its way to a run in London, England. And "The Great Pretender," which was an audience favorite at the 2013 New Works Festival, and which just opened TheatreWorks' 2014-2015 season with a good run.
Those New Works audience cards are useful, because it is a very good theater audience, people who really know and love theater.
Rajiv Joseph, for instance, a Pulitzer finalist whose "The North Pool" received the New Works treatment in 2009, appreciates them. "He said, 'I love TheatreWorks,'" said Giovanna Sardelli, in an interview last week. "He said comments from the audience helped shape his play, really served him as a playwright.
"I am thrilled he would be part of my first festival."
That "first festival" thing is because Sardelli, a nationally respected director and actor who has a reputation for brilliantly guiding new plays into production existence, has joined the TheatreWorks management team as director of the New Works Festival.
You can read my profile of Sardelli from 2013, when she was directing the most excellent "Somewhere," by Matthew Lopez, for TheatreWorks.
"One of things I love about TheatreWorks," Sardelli said last week, "is that it is run with heart and artistic integrity. It's a great place to come and make art. And they are smart about it, balancing the needs of business and art with the goal of making art."
Sardelli says she will spend half the year with TheatreWorks, where she will direct one play, as well as run the New Works Festival.
"That' s the beauty of what we've worked out," Sardelli said. "I just finished working on a play at the O'Neill Play Development center, and still get to be based in New York City, but am here at TheatreWorks half the year.
"We're experimenting to see how this works.
"TheatreWorks is very, very connected to Bay Area artists, so they don’t need me here full time. But it's also nice to be in New York City, so I have access to new play development and playwrights most of them have to pass through New York. I can catch them there, when their work is just happening around the conference table."
When we spoke, it could be inferred that Sardelli was still learning the ropes at TheatreWorks' new facility in the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits in Redwood Shores. While we were speaking, she was moving around what she called the "really lovely, open, nice spaces" of the offices, rehearsal space and props warehouse, looking for a place where she could talk.
Before long she returned to her office. "The walls don't go all the way up, and I know I am a loud talker," she said, explaining she didn't want to disturb other staff members.
We pressed on.
She's also learning some geography, which is understandable for someone who would have flown in, gotten immediately to work on a play, then flown out again.
"I'm learning how territorial people are ... when they tell people they're from the East Bay, I had to ask where that is."
Sardelli has lined up a good slate of directors for each of the shows being work-shopped (except for one; keep reading), but she herself will direct Joseph's new work, "Describe the Night," which earlier was called "Liars." According to a press release, "This stimulating drama probes the mysterious 2010 crash of a Polish airplane, uncovering 90 years of lies, infidelity, war, secrets, and love."
"Describe the Night" will be read at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 10, and again at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, 2014.
The festival opens on Saturday, August 9, 2014, with "Norman Rockwell's America," book by Lynne Kaufman, music & lyrics by Alex Mandel. It will be directed by TheatreWorks founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley.
"Lynn Kaufman is writing the book, "Sardelli explained. "She learned that Norman Rockwell was in therapy ... he'd had a crisis of identity his entire life, many issues ... was he an artist or not? Two failed marriages before his third worked out. He'd struggled with his identity as an American just as America struggled with its identity during the Civil Rights movement."
"Norman Rockwell's America" will be performed 8 p.m. August 9 and 13, 4 p.m. August 16, 2014.
"The Disappearing Man," music, lyrics & Book by Jahn Sood, will be directed by Shakina Nayfack. The press release says "A ramshackle circus wows the hinterlands in 1936, but backstage its bright-light attractions prove dark and depleted."
Nayfack and Sood "have a history of development on this piece," said Sardelli. "It's not a comedy, it's a drama, really," she said. "A circus in the Depression. It takes place backstage, characters who found their way into the circus as a way of surviving.
"It's an intriguing, beautiful look at survival and community. Oddest bunch of characters you'll find, during a time in America when there is not enough to go around ... It's not angry that's the beauty of making a play about a group or artists. Hope is the fragile undertone of the play. How do you keep hope when all around you are people saying 'Don't bother'?"
"The Disappearing Man" is to be read at 8 p.m. August 10 and 14, and noon on August 17, 2014.
"An Entomologist's Love Story," by Melissa Ross, will be directed by Stephen Brackett, who just directed "The Great Pretender" at TheatreWorks. The press release says, "The love lives of bugs fascinate two 30-something researchers at New York's Museum of Natural History, but their own conflicted love affairs are under the microscope in this hilarious, edgy, and explicit look at love in our times."
"Melissa Ross is a remarkable talent," said Sardelli, "full of talent and energy, young, so intelligent. The play has an energy to it, an intellectual quality in a love story."
"Tokyo Fish Story," by Kimber Lee, is being directed by Jessica Heidt. The press release says, "Generations, gender, and tradition collide as a Sushi Master struggles to preserve ancient artistry in a society obsessed with change."
"Kimber Lee is an extraordinary playwright," Sardelli said. "I love how she is exploring relationships through behavior as much as through her beautiful dialogue. It's incredibly theatrical and engaging throughout ... about the relevance of art, the things we do for love." "Tokyo Fish Story" is to be read at 8 p.m. on August 15 and 17, 2014.
"One Woman Show," written, directed and performed by Shakina Nayfack, is "For our most adventurous theatregoers," says the press released. "This darkly funny and powerful musical chronicles the misadventures of a transgender artist now on the brink of reassignment surgery."
Nayfack is, in fact, "in the midst of gender reassignment," Sardelli said. "I saw her do her 'One Woman Show' at Joe's Pub in New York. The story is so fascinating. ... Shakina is an incredible artist and educator. Her intention with her show is to share, not to provoke, although the material is provocative. It's an interesting balance, dealing with gender in ways most people wouldn't think of. Shakina is helping us understand the question as well as entertaining us."
"One Woman Show" happens once at New Works Festival, at 10:30 p.m. August 15, 2014.
Also likely to be fun at the festival is the meet the festival artists event, at 4 p.m. August 17, 2014.
Email John Orr at email@example.com