This town hasn't had a new play festival since the waning days of the Charlotte Repertory Theatre in early 2002. Now, Actor's Theatre of Charlotte is bringing the first of what's planned to be an annual festival, nuVoices for a nuGeneration, which celebrates emerging American playwrights. The festival is not only equipped with a nu spelling, it opens this week at 650 E. Stonewall St. with plenty of nu ideas.
For starters, the festival opened with a bang on Sunday night with a kick-off event that gathered together all the playwrights, actors, directors, and judges who will be participating between now and Aug. 12. The event served as an intro for the four playwrights whose works were chosen from among 288 nationwide submissions.
While Charlotte Rep often retooled its script-in-hand productions and presented fully staged world premieres of its new plays, Actor's Theatre is building in an annual new play premiere into its festival structure. One of the fledgling plays presented this week in two public readings — followed by post-show talkbacks — will return next year in fully staged form immediately after the readings of the 2013 nuVoices Festival.
That's where audience preferences and a panel of judges come into play. The judges will attend one of the public readings for all the Final Four, weigh in with their opinions of each script, and choose a favorite.
Judges introduced at the kick-off event included playwright Ann Marie Oliva, Theatre Charlotte artistic director Ron Law, actor/director/former NWSA principal Charles LaBorde, Charlotte Viewpoint editor Michael Solender, Charlotte Observer theater critic Lawrence Toppman, and some dude that Actor's Theatre artistic director Chip Decker said he never heard of, Perry Tannenbaum.
Bankrolled by a generous $70,000 donation from the Woman's Impact Fund, nuVoices culminates with a schedule of eight readings on Aug. 9-12. Here are the plays, their directors, and showtimes:
• Still by Jen Silverman, directed by Polly Adkins; readings on Aug. 9 at 6pm and Aug. 11 at 2:30pm.
• Summer on Fire by Mike Bencivenga, directed by Matt Cosper; readings on Aug. 9 at 9pm and Aug. 11 at 9pm.
• Narrow Daylight by Sevan Kaloustian Greene, directed by Peter Smeal; readings on Aug. 10 at 6pm and Aug. 12 at 1:30pm.
• Scene of Dreams Bar & Grill NOLA by James Marlow, directed by Vito Abate; Aug. 10 at 9pm and Aug. 11 at 6pm.
Often viewed as an insulated clique, Rep was an Actors Equity regional theater that relied substantially on New York and national talent for its mainstage plays. But the company always opened its arms wider to local talent during the New Plays in America Festival. Actor's Theatre already emphasizes local talent on its main stage, but it is also finding ways to be more welcoming to nu talent during nuVoices week.
Polly Adkins had only a scant directing résumé in Charlotte, including the award-winning Dixie Swim Club, before she was selected for nuVoices.
"I was talking to Chip several months ago about the festival and expressed my wish to direct," Adkins says. "They think of me over there as an actor, and most people don't realize that I do have experience for 30 years in high school productions and probably 20 in community shows in Rock Hill and Fort Mill."
Peter Smeal is perhaps best known around town for his whimsical prop designs at Children's Theatre and his comical performances with Charlotte Shakespeare and Off-Tryon Theatre. Unlike Adkins, he had never worked with Actor's Theatre before.
"I never imagined that they would want to take me," Smeal admits. "Directing has been on my mind for a while, even if it's something that doesn't work out to be a permanent gig for me. When I do it, it gives me a better perspective: When I go back and I do my props work or I design a costume or I get to be in a show, it helps me have a bigger-picture feel for things."
For more details about nuVoices for a nuGeneration, go to actorstheatrecharlotte.org/nuvoices.