If you want to understand how a play is born, how playwrights begin their careers, and how theatres nurture new projects, then you need only check out Anacostia Playhouse’s “New Voices, New Works” Festival. I have been a part of a number of short play festivals both as a spectator and participant, and I must say that the folks at Anacostia Playhouse do this type of festival as well or better than any in which I have participated.
…a cohesive and thought-provoking evening…This playhouse is a theatrical incubator in the best way possible.
Of the 100+ submissions they received, they ultimately narrowed the field down to nine 10-minute plays all centering on the theme: “Love Will Make Ya Do Right, Make Ya Do Wrong”—thanks, Al Green! The nine plays are presented over the course of three consecutive Monday nights, three performances per night. Admittedly, this is a highly effective way to produce this type of show as it allows for some “breathing room” between short works and thus gives the audience time to engage in brief talkbacks. The point of this festival is after all to foster potential play development.
I attended the first Monday night performance featuring the short plays, “After the Wedding,” “Rising Polls,” and “For Sore Eyes,” all with vastly different takes on the “Love” theme. Each block of Monday night performances is directed by a different director; for the first Monday, the directors up to the plate were Myrrh Cauthen, with Morgan Duncan on deck, and Renee L. Charlów to follow.
In between the individual plays, Anacostia Playhouse’s managing director, Pamela A. Jafari, led the audience engagement. All in all, it was a lively atmosphere that perfectly lent itself to what the playhouse was trying to do: figure out what worked in the performances; what could have been changed; and what, if any, future was there for a particular play.
The plays featured on this particular Monday ranged from a story involving a couple who abruptly split up after a wedding; a sketch featuring a door-to-door salesman hawking the cure for marital boredom; to a politically-charged piece centering on unrequited love. While seemingly very different, the pieces all made sense together and worked well in terms of creating a cohesive and thought-provoking evening. A lot of this was due to director Myrrh Cauthen’s knowing hand and whimsical vision. At one point, esteemed singer/songwriter “Lady Myrrh” even (almost) serenaded the audience with a song once made famous by a Mr. Ray Charles. It was one of the highlights of the evening.
Beyond the love theme, the evening also spotlighted the undeniable theme of community. Though it was my first time at the Anacostia Playhouse, I could tell (and feel) immediately that this was a theatre that was a profound part of their beloved community just as the community was a part of the theatre. Yet, it was not an isolationist experience, in the sense that there are some theatres where it seems a bit difficult for those not from the neighborhood to relax into the atmosphere of it all and consequently feel embraced by it. This was not the case at the Anacostia Playhouse—not even close. For the Anacostia Playhouse team, the importance of community is being able to share its spirit, creativity, and love with those who happen to wander through the doors…from near or far. This playhouse is a theatrical incubator in the best way possible.
If you’ve never been to a short play festival before, I highly recommend this one. The talented actors and dedicated crew have transformed this into something quite memorable, not to mention fun. “New Voices, New Works” at the Anacostia Playhouse is everything that developmental theatre should be and so much more.
Running time: Approximately one hour with no intermission,
“New Voices, New Works” will also be held n May 1, 2023 & May 8, 2023 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl SE, Washington, DC 20020. For tickets and more information, click here.