By Nancy Shank
Far from the lights of Broadway and the tinsel of Hollywood, new works are sprouting in the Midwest/Great Plains region. From theatre companies that focus entirely on planting a crop of new works to companies that sprinkle new works into their seasons, there is a lot to report in the annual harvest.
Angels Theatre Company (ATC), a longtime professional theatre company in Lincoln, NE, now focuses primarily on new works. ATC premiered two plays this year. Dove by BRIGID AMOS had its regional premiere. Dove tells the story of parents whose different expressions of grief over their daughter's death threatens to drive them apart. Amos, who has had two full-length plays produced by ATC, said, "Angels seeks out the top talent in the Lincoln area, the finest actors, the most creative designers, and directors with a passion for new plays. My experience working with this hidden gem of a theatre company has been an education in play development for which I am eternally grateful."
ATC mounted the first production in the rolling world premiere of JENNIFER BLACKMER's Predictor. Predictor tells the real-life story of Margaret Crane, who in 1967 invented the first home pregnancy test. Blackmer said, "I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that ATC was the perfect company to kick off the rolling world premiere of Predictor. The company is committed to educating their audiences about the importance of new plays. For Predictor, they did this by partnering with local service organizations and setting up events that kicked off conversations about the issues in the play before rehearsals even began. By the time the show opened, audiences were more than ready to engage with it."
ATC's two-week First Flight Festival, now in its eighth year, has produced over 100 short plays and monologues. ATC convenes a monthly staged reading series, featuring new plays from across the United States. To support and nurture local playwrights, ATC sponsors the active Playwrights Collective which meets monthly to provide peer critiques. Executive Artistic Director Timothy Scholl says, "the theatre has always been an art form focused on the now, and new work is so important to that focus."
The Bluebarn Theatre brought the Washington Irving classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to life in a new adaptation by Ben Beck and Jill Anderson, with original music by Olga Smola. The world premiere play incorporates music, dance, and puppetry to tell the tale of Ichabod Crane. Beck reflected, "The Bluebarn has always very much been a place to see theatre you couldn't see anywhere else. This was my first experience writing for the Bluebarn and it has told me I can be a playwright. That's how much of an impact this process has had."
Jill Anderson noted, "The Bluebarn is friendly to new works and local playwrights. I pitched an up-and-coming visual artist, Sarah Rowe, to be the scenic designer, which they embraced, and the collaboration was extremely successful. The Bluebarn is also very focused on diversity and thinking outside the box. They allowed and encouraged nontraditional casting which resulted in a unique production." Producing Artistic Director Susan Clement said, "The Bluebarn has produced new works as part of its mission since its beginnings in 1989. We have over the years produced many new works and consider a new play process to be the strongest way to reflect on our stage what is happening in our world today. Bluebarn is honored to be part of bringing and supporting new unique voices in the form of new play work-shops and productions."
Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) in low produced the world premiere of A Thousand Acres by Kristin Kuster (music) and MARK CAMPBELL (libretto), based on the PulitzerPrize-winning novel by Jane Smiley. DMMO commissioned A Thousand Acres to celebrate its 50th anniversary season. Campbell, who received a Pulitzer in Music (Silent Night) and a Grammy for Best Opera Recording (The(R)evolution of Steve Jobs), founded the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize, awarded annually to an American librettist. Campbell said of his experience working with DMMO, "It felt as if they'd been commissioning operas every year. They whispered in my ear as Kristin I and developed the opera but didn't whisper so loudly that they interrupted our process. I felt very supported. We had four workshops including one with the orchestra. The final production was beautifully realized."
LAMB Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa presented KENNETH JONES' Hollywood, Nebraska in its first rolling world premiere production. This was the second Kenneth Jones play LAMB has produced, the first being Alabama Story in 2017, which was a nominee for the 2016 Steinberg/ American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and a finalist in the 2014 National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. In the comic Hollywood, Nebraska, two actresses of a certain age return to their hometown and overcome past hurts to find hope in a place they left behind.
According to Kenneth Jones, a New York City based playwright, lyricist, librettist, and theatre advocate, "LAMB Theatre is really interested in cultivating new plays for their audience which is incredibly ambitious. They approach new work with lots of respect and curiosity." Throughout its 43 seasons, LAMB has produced numerous new works. According to Russell Wooley, Managing/Artistic Director, "If you're a passionate storyteller, you want to get new stories onto the stage to affect others. Our audience knows they are going to see things they've never heard of." Other theatres participating in the rolling world premiere of Hollywood, Nebraska were Oak Ridge Playhouse, where Jones held a residency (Oak Ridge, TN), and Wetumpka Depot Players (Wetumpka, AL). |
*World Premiere Production Photos of HOLLYWOOD, NEBRASKA at LAMB Theatre, Sioux City, Iowa
WORLD PREMIERES: MIDWEST/GREAT PLAINS, COLORADO
Predictor by JENNIFER BLACKMER. Angels Theatre Company, Lincoln, NE
A Thousand Acres libretto by MARK CAMPBELL, music by Kristin Kuster. Des Moines Metro Opera, Des Moines, IA
Fourteen by AMY P CRIDER. Front Range Community College, Fort Collins, CO
Shucked! book by ROBERT HORN, music and lyrics by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, UT
Hollywood, Nebraska by KENNETH JONES. LAMB Arts Regional Theatre, Sioux City, IA
Behind Every Bush by VIRGINIA HOWE KINCAID. The Lofte Community Theatre, Manley, NE
Eat, Slay, Live by HEATHER MEYER. 3rd Act Theatre Company, Oklahoma City, OK
Happy Wright by STRATON GEORGE RUSHING. Wichita State University, Wichita, KS
NANCY SHANK is an emerging playwright whose first play, This Mortal Life Also, premiered in Lincoln, NE, winning the Mayor's Arts Award Outstanding Arts Event of 2022. Nancy's work explores personal integrity and the search for meaning during times of societal upheaval. Nancy co-hosts the Front Porch Book Club podcast. nancyshank.com