Dorset Theatre Festival hosts writers for new play series
DORSET -- The Dorset Theatre Festival is famous for producing world premieres, despite its rural location. Many of those brand-new plays are not rushed over from Broadway -- they are cooked up in an old farmhouse on the theater grounds.
The Festival hosts writers' retreats as part of its New Play Development Program, allowing for a focused environment to work on a production. In the past five seasons of its New Play Reading Series, many playwrights have come to spend a week in Dorset.
"We bring the writer in with their director, and we put them all up in our farmhouse," DTF artistic director Dina Janis said. "They're in residence for several days working on the piece, and then they present as part of our series."
This summer, DTF has highlihted two new works -- Theresa Rebeck's "Zealot" and Nicole Burdette's "Utterly Changed" -- and will present a reading of Lucy Thurber and Matt Gould's musical "Dillingham City" at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9.
"I choose writers that I think are very deserving of support," Janis said. "'Dillingham City' is an interesting piece. [Thurber] writes about real working class folks. A lot of her plays are set in poor or economically deprived American storylines, and this play looks at a fictitious futuristic world as the economy as we know has collapsed."
"Dillingham City" -- whose details are still currently being perfected -- focuses on love, revolution and corporate greed in a land of independent city states.
Thurber said she drew from the idea of the classic Greek choruses that represent the average townsperson and often comment on the "one percent" upper class."I was interested in revolution, economic structure and looking from the bottom up [at class status]," she said.
"['Dillingham City'] is really about the world that we're in right now, and how it is changing in the economic fallout, and the impact that's having on us a culture," Janis added.
This political standpoint led to the play's evolution to include music.
"Because of the Greek choruses, as it went along, there were songs. That's when I realized I need a composer," Thurber explained.
Gould, whose music has been performed in a multitude of theatres nationwide, joined the effort to flesh out the fledgling songs.
Given its musical elements, Thurber describes the piece as a "hybrid."
"You could call it a musical or a play with music. It's not a traditional musical," she said.
Thurber had also included music in her critically acclaimed play, "Stay," which she said represented a departure from the naturalistic style she had used before.
"It's just become a different way of telling stories. ‘Dillingham City' is an interesting combination of natural and highly theatrical. It's not one or the other, although it has elements of both," she said.
Thurber's step in a new direction is exactly what the Festival hopes to promote, Janis said.
"It takes a lot of guts to do a premier," she said. "It isn't there for the name, and you're putting yourself on the line by committing to do it every year."
However, audiences have taken to the New Play Readings Series.
"I thought it would be secondary programming, but it has become very popular," she said. "The house was almost entirely sold out for ‘Zealot.'"
Regional theaters like Dorset are where plays get their "tryouts," Janis went on to explain. Because the economic pressure is much less than in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, a place like Dorset "allows the play to get on its feet."
Although the new plays are still in the stages of development, they draw big-name talent. Actress Alfre Woodard ("12 Years A Slave" and TV's "True Blood") came in to read for "Zealot." For "Utterly Changed," Kathryn Erbe of "Law and Order" starred.
"We get a lot of well-known actors that are interested in coming [to DTF] because they have a chance to work on a new piece that they may develop a relationship with and work on in the future," Janis said. "We've been graced with tremendous actors. It's partly how we've built a lot of the community and talent that we have. It stems from first bringing in these writers."
If you go ...
What: The Dorset Theatre Festival's New Play Reading Series presents Lucy Thurber and Matt Gould's ‘Dillingham City'
When: 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 9
Where: Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset
Information: (802) 867-2223 or dorsettheatrefestival.org
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