Anna Deavere Smith Kicks Off Philadelphia Theatre's PTC@Play Festival Tonight

Philadelphia Theatre Company's PTC@Play Festival of new work will host a special onstage conversation with PTC's artist-in-residence playwright/performer ANNA DEAVERE SMITH, and two evenings of staged readings by the winners of the Terrence McNally New Play Award, playwrights BILL CAIN and A. ZELL WILLIAMS, all at PTC's home, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre at Broad and Lombard Streets. Admission is free, but reservations are required by calling 215-985-0420.

Anna Deavere Smith will participate in a talk-back lead a discussion tonight, February 26 at 7 PM about the research process for her new play-in-progress, The Pipeline Project, which explores the "school-to-prison pipeline," a national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. With funding made possible by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Wyncote Foundation, PTC is hosting a multi-phased residency for Anna Deavere Smith that will include her engaging with our community to research and interview students, teachers, principals, members of the legislature, judiciary, thought leaders, wardens, guards, youth in juvenile hall, police officers and other institutions and to use their videotaped interviews to help her create a new work for the stage. In the coming year, Ms. Smith, in collaboration with PTC, will present a free staged reading of the new work that will serve to build awareness of the schools-to-prison pipeline while also providing support for this developmental phase of her writing. Once the play is finished, PTC anticipates giving the completed script a world premiere production. Philadelphia is one of only four cities across the United States that will be hosting research/residencies for Smith and The Pipeline Project.

Last seen at PTC in her Barrymore-Award winning performance in Let Me Down Easy, in 2011, Anna Deavere Smith is an internationally recognized artist whom President Obama recently awarded the National Endowment of the Humanities Medal. Her ground-breaking body of work, which combines theatrical art, social commentary and journalism, includes Twilight: Los Angeles and Fires in the Mirror.

Television audiences know her from "The West Wing" and as Gloria Akalitus in the hit Showtime Series "Nurse Jackie," as well as film roles in Rachel Getting Married and The American President.

PTC@Play continues with a staged reading of the 2013 Terrence McNally New Play Award winner, The Urban Retreat, by A. Zell Williams, directed by Matt Pfeiffer on Saturday, March 1 at 7PM. The Urban Retreat explores today's views on hip-hop, class, and race in America. The play follows Chaucer Mosley, an unpublished writer and divorcee trapped in his life as a high school teacher. He hopes this will change when he is invited to meet with an ambitious editor. But joy turns to disbelief when he discovers he has been asked to co-author a memoir by a former student-turned-rap-superstar, Trench Deep.

A. Zell Williams is the author of The Audacity, The Biggest Valley, and Carroll Gardens as well as In A Daughter's Eyes and Down Past Passyunk at InterAct Theatre. He is the winner of Marin Theatre Company Emerging American Playwright Prize, NYU's Goldberg Playwriting Award, and National New Play Network's Smith Prize.

PTC@Play concludes on Wednesday, May 7 at 7 PM with a staged reading of American Canvas, by the 2012 Terrence McNally Award-winning playwright, Bill Cain. Thomas Eakins - 19th Century Philadelphia artist-created a painting that he had to sell for less than the cost of the materials. In 2008, Philadelphia spent $68,000,000 for The Gross Clinic - the painting Eakin couldn't give away. What changed in 100 years? In his day, this visionary painter, photographer and teacher was called a provocateur, sexual outlaw and a very dangerous man. His art, a mix of 19th Century restraint and total naked abandon that was provocative, without precedent and even now shocking, changed American art forever -- and changed a $200 canvas into a $68 million dollar masterpiece.

Prior to the play reading, PTC will announce the winner of the 2014 Terrence McNally New Play Award.

Bill Cain is the author of How To Write A New Book For The Bible which premiered in a co-production at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre after a staged reading at the 2011 PTC@Play. His play 9 Circles was awarded the Sky/Cooper Prize by Marin Theatre Company where it received its world premiere production. His play Equivocation received its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and its New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club, as well as being produced at the Geffen Playhouse (Ovation Award for Best Play), Seattle Rep, Marin Theatre and Arena Stage. Other works include Stand-Up Tragedy, which earned six LA Critics Awards (including best production and distinguished writing) for its premiere at the Mark Taper Forum before moving around the country and eventually to Broadway. He is currently writing plays on commission for OSF and South Coast Rep and creating a new musical with the songwriting duo The Gay Agenda. He is the founder of the Boston Shakespeare Company, where he was Artistic Director for seven seasons, directing most of the Shakespeare canon. He was the recipient of the Steinberg New Play Award, (first- ever recipient to win two years in a row), multiple Edgerton grants, Helen Hayes Awards, the Joe A. Callaway Award, a Peabody, the WGA Award for Episodic Drama and a Christopher Award.

PTC@Play is an outgrowth of PTC's annual STAGES program, established in 1986, which also includes commissions, workshops and the Terrence McNally New Play Award. Through STAGES, PTC has developed 90 plays, half of which have gone on to production or publication. Readings that have made it on to the PTC mainstage include the world premieres of Jeffrey Hatcher's A Picasso and Bruce Graham's According to Goldman. Two of PTC's commissions have been After Ashley by Gina Gionfriddo which premiered at the Humana Festival and Bruce Norris' The Pain and the Itch which premiered at Steppenwolf. On the mainstage PTC has produced 38 new plays and musicals. Recent world premieres include Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel, Terrence McNally's Golden Age, Bill Irwin's The Happiness Lecture, and the recent musical, Stars of David.

Founded in 1974, Philadelphia Theatre Company is a leading regional theatre company whose mission is to produce, develop and present entertaining and imaginative contemporary theatre focused on the American experience that both ignites the intellect and touches the soul. By developing new work through commissions, readings and workshops, PTC generates projects that have a national impact and reach broad regional audiences. Under the guidance of PTC's Executive Producing Director, Sara Garonzik, since 1982 and PTC President Priscilla M. Luce, since 2013, PTC supports the work of a growing body of diverse dramatists and takes pride in being a home to many nationally recognized artists who have participated in more than 140 world and Philadelphia premieres. PTC has received 46 Barrymore Awards and 155 nominations. In October 2007, PTC opened the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, their home on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts, which has helped contribute to the revitalization of Center City Philadelphia's thriving arts district.

For further information, call 215-735-7356.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride

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