Trustus Theatre has been committed to producing new work from its earliest days in the Vista. The annual Playwrights’ Festival, created by founders Kay and Jim Thigpen in 1989, is now one of the longest-running play festivals in the nation. Each year’s winner, chosen from original plays submitted by authors from across the country, is given a full production in August.
But this year, the theater wanted to do more. With Artistic Director Dewey Scott-Wiley and Managing Director Larry Hembree now starting their third year as leaders of Trustus, the theater is presenting not only the Playwrights’ Festival, but also the Premieres Festival, a broader celebration of local artists and original works. Incorporating music, dance, visual art and collaboration among different disciplines, Premieres includes two performance-based projects — Terrance Henderson’s The Black Man ... Complex and a stage production of local band The Restoration’s album Constance — as well as a 24-hour theater festival in which five short plays will be written and produced within 24 hours.
The Playwrights’ Festival runs Aug. 8-16, while the Premieres Festival runs Aug. 20-24. Premieres is presented by Trustus and Jasper magazine.
“Trustus wants to become more aggressive in presenting new live work — eventually branding it as part of the Trustus identity,” Hembree says. “Original work is something that I have always been interested in and have participated in as a writer, director and actor.”
One benefit of Trustus’ renewed emphasis on new work is that it gives audiences more to see on stage in the late summer, a traditionally slow time for local theater groups, which are in rehearsals for their fall seasons.
Up first is the Playwrights’ Festival, which will present the world premiere of last year’s festival winner, The Velvet Weapon, Deborah Brevoort’s allegorical farce about populism, revolution and the power of art. The play takes its inspiration from former Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, in which decades of Communist domination ended after peaceful demonstrations and playwright Vaclav Havel became president of a new democracy.
Brevoort — award-winning author of The Women of Lockerbie — uses metaphor, satire, absurdist and traditional comedy to retell this pivotal movement in a theatrical setting, where a disgruntled audience rises up in protest over an unsatisfactory matinee performance, demanding instead that an unknown play by an untested author be presented. While her work is based on events that took place in Prague, Brevoort noted last year that audiences at workshop readings also found similarities to the Occupy movement.
The Velvet Weapon, directed by Dewey Scott-Wiley, opens Friday, Aug. 8 and runs through Saturday, Aug. 16.
Debuts continue the following week with the Premieres Festival, which begins with Terrance Henderson’s The Black Man … Complex.
Henderson — an award-winning choreographer, dancer, actor, teacher and director — describes his work as a huge personal journey, a multimedia, multidisciplinary presentation that incorporates film, dance, song and spoken word. Henderson and five other African-American males comprise a “congregation of truth,” also speaking from the perspective of specific voices: The Brotha, The Stereotype, The Mighty Real and The Mandinkandre.
“There’s a new direction in my life — to not be motivated by fear, and to walk without apology for my own complexity, and for my work to be moved by the same motivation,” Henderson says. “If I want to be known for my own voice, then I’ve got to keep shouting and telling my own stories and telling original stories from my perspective.”
The production explores adult themes and is intended for mature audiences. The Black Man …Complex will be performed Aug. 20 and Aug. 22; following the show, there will be a facilitated discussion, allowing for audience feedback, which Henderson hopes will help shape future incarnations of this work.
Meanwhile, Chad Henderson (no relation to Terrance, although the two collaborated as the Henderson Brothers on an original burlesque production last year) is taking an acclaimed local album, The Restoration’s Constance, and adapting it as a staged concert performance, with actors embodying the central characters. A longtime friend and former roommate of The Restoration’s Daniel Machado, Henderson has been a fan of the album since its release in 2010, and felt that its rich story of Southern Gothic love, hate and family dysfunction would work on stage.
In this first step toward a fully realized production, the band will play live, as actors and Trustus company members (including Kyle Collins, Chip Stubbs, G. Scott Wild, Paul Kaufmann and Vicky Saye Henderson as Constance) provide vocals. As director, Henderson intends to develop the material into an actual musical theatre production over the next two to three years, with a complete book added to the existing lyrics, and hopes to gauge audience reaction in this initial, concert-style realization.
Constance will be performed on Aug. 21 and Aug. 23.
That same night, playwrights Dean Poynor, Robbie Robertson, Randall David Cook, Sarah Hammond, and Michael Downey will be given the challenge to create a new 10-minute play overnight. Part of the Premieres Festival, Chad Henderson is modeling Fest 24 after a similar event in Florida in which he has participated. Directors will pull their cast members from a hat and report to their designated author, who will be writing remotely; Cook will be participating from London.
“There will be some pre-determined commonalities,” Henderson explains, “like ‘toilet paper must appear in every script,’ or a character must say, ‘Luke, I am your Father’ in every script,” although the actual stipulations will remain top secret until that evening.
“Actors and directors will convene at 8 a.m. the next morning and rehearse in a frenzy until the shows are presented at 8 p.m. Sunday night (Aug. 24) on the Thigpen Main Stage,” he continues.
Henderson is excited about the 24-hour festival’s possibilities:
“When I’ve participated in these before, what is spectacular is that you watch a community come together and work together, and the audience and the performers have a great time because the final performance is visceral and one-of-a-kind,” he says. “All in all, it’s about having fun, being unexpected, and creating for creation’s sake.”
Which is also true of the other elements of this month’s Playwrights and Premieres festivals.
Tickets to each component of the Premieres Festival are $20, but ticket packages for all three events may be purchased for $50 by calling the box office at 254-9732. For more information on the Playwrights’ Festival or the Premieres Festival, visit www.trustus.org.
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