The Old Globe takes its commitment to new voices and new works seriously.
From Friday, January 10, to Sunday, January 12, it will hold its seventh annual Powers New Voices Festival, a series of readings of both commissioned works and works by local playwrights. For two days, the public is welcomed in at no charge to witness plays in their nascent stages and participate in the process of giving birth to eventual full productions.
“The audience becomes a collaborator in the making of the play,” says Karen Zacarías, playwright of the Globe-Commissioned “The Age of Innocence.” “Once you go see a play that is all done, you’re part of the celebration of the play, but people who come to the reading, their reactions or their questions afterward will actually help me change my perspective or words in it. So, the audience is this really essential artistic partner in the creation of a new play that few other audiences will get to say they were a part of.”
This year, the first day of readings will start at 7:30 p.m. and will feature works by San Diego playwrights. Friday evening is entitled, “Celebrating Community Voices” and are short works that were developed in play-development workshops and are directed by Gerardo Flores Tonella and Katherine Harroff. The readings include:
- “Codeswitchin’ is Conscious” by Andréa Agosto
- “Pussycats” by Thelma Virata de Castro
- “Tune Up” by Tim Cole
- “The Mojave” by Jaime Estepa
- “Transit Stop by Jordan Jacobo
- “When the Sun Dies” by Melanie Taing
- “Courtesan Way” by Zakiyyah Saleem
Saturday and Sunday will focus on readings of full-length plays by professional playwrights. Those shows are:
- “El Borracho” by Tony Meneses, directed by Ed Torres, 4 p.m. Saturday, January 11. Raul, a heavy drinker, must move in with his ex-wife, Alma, during the final months of his life, a woman who had hoped she’d never see him again. They’re joined by his son, David, who has secrets to share. They all come together to finally say goodbye.
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Chad Beckim, directed by Shelley Butler, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 11. Clay and Jess want to escape Maine and poverty, but to do so, Clay has to go off to college and Jess has to take a job at a local chicken farm while living with Clay’s mom.
- “The Age of Innocence,” a Globe-commissioned work by Zacarías, directed by James Vasquez, 4 p.m. Sunday, January 12. Based on the Edith Wharton Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Newland Archer has a conventional, prestigious engagement in 1870s New York. Then his bride’s unconventional and scandalous cousin enters his life and changes everything.
- “Shutter Sisters,” a Globe-commissioned work by Jireh Breon Holder, directed by Butler, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, January 12. The play shows two women’s worst day as they live parallel lives. One is attending her adopted mother’s funeral, the other is kicking her adult daughter out of her home. It is a journey through womanhood, identity and what it means to belong.
“This year’s installment of the Powers New Voices Festival is very exciting,” says Artistic Director Barry Edelstein. “Each of the four plays we will present in readings is fascinating in its own right, and taken together they present a remarkable glimpse of the vitality of today’s American stage. The four works cover a range of styles, genres, and themes, but they have in common a bracing commitment to the idea that the theatre is a powerful place to examine big questions, from the deeply personal to the most public.”
For the directors and playwrights participating in the festival, it is both an opportunity to work at one of the premier companies in the country and to be a part of the process of getting new works to the stage.
Zacarías is returning to the festival after having her work, “Native Gardens” fully produced in the past season after it got a reading at a previous year’s festival.
“The Old Globe is one of the most revered theaters in the country,” Zacarías says. “I had such a good experience with the reading and the beautiful production that Eddie Torres did with that great company.”
She says the whole process takes a little less than a week and it gives her the opportunity to see how ready the play is.
For Torres, who is directing Meneses’ “El Borracho,” returning to the Old Globe’s New Works Festival is an experience he is eager to repeat.
“San Diego is my artistic home,” Torres says. “Ever since I started working there, they are so open, very generous and very supportive. I really love the theater. Every time they give me a challenge. So, it is fun to work in an environment where they respect your work and allow you to grow as a director.”
When the Globe commissioned Zacarías to write a new work, they gave her the freedom to work on whatever she wanted. She says she’s always been a big fan of the book, “The Age of Innocence” and had wanted to adapt it for some time.
“It hasn’t had a lot of stage adaptations,” says Zacarías. “It’s a tricky book to adapt. It’s not very plot-oriented and it has a lot of elevated language and mordant wit. When this came up, I said I’m just going to commit and try to adapt this book and try to understand why it has not been adapted for theater before.”
Her goal has been to make it theatrical and dramatic on stage and she said she did that by embracing the density and beauty of the language and by making clever use of an ensemble of actors to create the atmosphere and the staging.
“If you read the book, they go to the opera and plays. You start realizing that she’s talking about how human beings are performing their real lives. They’re not being themselves,” says Zacarías. “The real actors are not the ones on stage, but them. That broke something open for me. It is not really a play about a couple, but a whole community all at once.”
The play will be very movement based with the ensemble creating and dissembling things on stage throughout the show. She’s been working with her director to provide a taste of that in the staged reading.
Torres, meanwhile, is ensuring that “El Borracho” gets a clear depiction in its reading. He says Meneses’ writing is both profound and succinct. He develops his characters through actions more than words.
“It is not verbose, it is very specific,” says Torres. “The way his characters deliver the words and how they do it is coming from a place of honesty in terms of what these characters are going through. It is very personal. We can all look at this story and have some sort of connection to it. The family is in a situation that is unusual, but one a lot of people will recognize. The way (Tony) tells the story is very fascinating and very, very powerful.”
Torres praises the Old Globe’s commitment to new works and the way they shepherd shows through the process. When the Globe commissions a show, he says, they stick to its word of putting on full productions after the readings.
“They’ve really been able to commit to doing these plays and not just developing them,” says Torres. “That’s huge—especially with new works by people of color. They do that from plays to musicals and are just really committed to the storytelling aspect of theater. There is never a boring moment there, never. They have a top-notch staff that allows the professionalism to come through.”
The festival, Torres says, is a profound and beautiful way of allowing audiences to see what The Globe is working on. It brings people together from the writer to the directors to the staff to the audience.
“There is nothing like a live performance,” Torres says. “It is an equal exchange of compassion and empathy. That’s what really happens when we all get together. It is a festival and we celebrate that. Stories do make a difference in how people look at each other, how we see ourselves and they make a difference in allowing us to communicate clearly together about what it is we are feeling as human beings. In these times we find ourselves in right now, it is difficult to be relatable. Right now, we are very divided. We need to be about how to help each other and how to communicate our ideas with respect for other ideas, even if you don’t agree.”
Zacarías encourages people to be a part of the process, saying she is always grateful to those early, test audiences who guide her in how to change her works. She points out it is a great experience for them too.
“You get to have this beautiful, interesting, experimental night and see a play where it is beginning,” she says. “Plus, it is free.”
Powers New Voices Festival 2020
The Old Globe, Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego
Various times Friday, January 10, to Sunday, January 12