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BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre

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Five weekends, seven new plays.

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre

Created as a meaningful way to celebrate its 75th Anniversary, the Morgan-Wixson Theatre (MWT) is engaged in a meaningful effort to amplify new voices to engage, challenge and connect audiences to each other and the wider community, and elevate the greater potential of what theatre can offer to our lives.

Last weekend, I attended the first weekend of the Morgan-Wixson's New Works Festival, their first return to presenting live theatre to audiences since the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020. To maintain a safe indoor environment, audience members must show proof of vaccination, have their temperature taken, and wear a mask while indoors. For the full safety protocols in place, visit https://www.morgan-wixson.org/covid-policy

I was so impressed with the two new plays I saw, Boulevard of Bold Dreams and Pretender, I decided to speak with New Works Festival Co-Producer Jonathon Saia (who is also active with the Morgan-Wixson as a D.E.I. Committee Member and Play Reading Committee Member) to find out more about how and why the New Plays Festival came into existence.

(Shari): Hi Jonathon. Can you give me a bit of background on how the New Works Festival was created?

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (Jonathon): The idea of doing new works has been floated around the Morgan-Wixson for some time, but the timing never seemed right to balance them with our mainstage season, our children's program, classes, and variety of rentals. Enter COVID and the world taking a giant pause. When regulations started to loosen enough that we could open our doors, we were itching to invite people back into the space. But since we had no idea when and how or if our doors would close again, we didn't want to commit to full scale productions. So instead, decided this was the moment to commit to mounting elevated staged readings of new works.

(Shari): Why the idea of presenting new plays rather than well-known shorter plays, perhaps those in the public domain which would not require paying rights to produce them since the New Works Festival is free to attend.

(Jonathon): The era we are all sharing is about turning a page, growth, fresh perspectives, and righting wrongs. And as an organization that has made a commitment to being a steward of change, we wanted to embrace new voices and today's points of view, not be stuck in a version of the past. Which on a personal note, was very exciting for me to be a part of. As a fellow writer and television story producer, I am excited to see works in progress; to learn how other people see the world and to help hone my own storytelling skills.

(Shari): How many new plays were submitted for the festival and how did you go about choosing which ones to offer?

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre

(Jonathon): We were pretty shocked that within days of sending out the posting, we had dozens of submissions. Writers were clearly clamoring for opportunities to see their visions come to life. We ended up with about 100 submissions and whittled them down to the 7 being presented over a five-weekend run.

(Shari): Was it difficult to decide on which seven to present?

(Jonathon): Oh my gosh, yes. With that many options, everyone had their personal favorites. But what we all shared was a commitment to uplifting storytellers and stories that the Morgan-Wixson had not embraced in the past. My personal ethos of theatre is that it is an educational tool: to show an audience a world they may not know, a lived experience they may find foreign, maybe even a viewpoint they disagree with, in order to illustrate that we are all in this together; that though the human experience may be varied, humanity is connected by the need to be heard and seen for the fullness of who we are. And this slate of plays fully embraces that ethos.

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (Shari): Can you tell me how you became involved as a member of the New Works Festival committee?

(Jonathon): I have been around the Morgan-Wixson Theatre as a performer, choreographer, committee member, and producer since 2009. I love this crazy troupe of artists - all volunteers, by the way, which still boggles the mind how many things not only get accomplished between our day jobs, but turn out to be something worthy of pride. So when Mirai Booth-Ong (Vice President, Production) asked if anyone from the Play Reading committee wanted to join the New Works Festival production committee, I was very excited to raise my hand. Not only to be a part of fostering these exciting works to fruition, but for the chance to work side-by-side with Mirai, who is not only an insanely talented actress, but an insanely patient and diplomatic person who is so inspiring to be around for my own development as a creative and a human.

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (Shari): Live theatre, of course, is the ultimate expression of real teamwork! That's something all of us learn from the first time we get involved with a show and realize there is so much more than just the actors appearing onstage! (Pictured from left: Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield and Mildred Marie Langford in Boulevard of Bold Dreams)

(Jonathon): I grew up doing theatre. It will always be my first love. The Morgan-Wixson rekindled that love for me over a decade ago when I was in their production of A Chorus Line. It is my greatest wish for this festival that the new artists who have joined us will remain and expand our family of creatives.

(Shari): You must be so proud of the audience's positive reaction to the first weekend of plays, especially the enthusiastic conversations that went on during the talk back for Boulevard of Bold Dreams. It was such a wonderfully written and magnificently presented new play imagining how Hattie McDaniel may have spent the evening waiting for her history-making Academy Awards ceremony. And to learn its author, LaDarrion Williams, wrote the play while living in his car during the pandemic last year, made me realize that when you have true passion for a project then nothing should ever get in your way of completing it.BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre

(Jonathon): Nothing is more exciting than to be at the beginning of something new. To dream where it can go with those who also share that dream. And to think, maybe I had a little hand in helping it become great. I want to send a heartfelt thank you, congratulations, and break a leg to all of our participants - and to our audience for sharing their laughter, their applause, and their love. We could not do this without you.

In summary, MWT is now hosting its inaugural New Works Festival, staging one-two new plays per week for five weeks. Plays were chosen from an open round of submissions seeking previously unproduced plays for up to six actors, with each selected play having two performances on Friday and Saturday nights.

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre
(pictured from left: Amy Coles, Francine Wong, Akiko Morison, Grace Power in Pretender)

Tickets are FREE with promo code newworks (suggested donation $20), with pre-registration through the box office at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1221 The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, CA 90405, and may be contacted via email to i??info@morgan-wixson.org or by calling the box office at (310) 828-7519.

For complete descriptions and cast listings for each play in the New Works Festival, visit https://www.morgan-wixson.org/newworks-shows

The two new plays being presented next on October 1 and 2:

BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre


BWW Interview: Jonathon Saia on the NEW WORKS FESTIVAL at Morgan-Wixson Theatre


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