PlayPenn Announces 2017 Conference of New Plays

By: Jul. 11, 2017
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The Taft State Hospital for "insane negroes," an Iranian-American professor who is falsely identified as a terrorist, the pressures of climate change and economic survival in a small Australian coastal town, a complex look at race and love in war-time, a family business suffering from a neighborhood's crack epidemic, and a couple navigating a blizzard, a dead son, and a half-decorated Christmas tree will all be explored this summer atPlayPenn's annual new play conference.

The conference, which takes place July 11 through July 30, 2017 in Philadelphia, includes workshops and readings of six plays, additional readings of up to two works-in-progress, forums for artists, and a presentation of monologues written by past conference playwrights.

The selection of this year's six Conference playwrights follows an exhaustive evaluation of over 800 applicants for spots in the 2017 13th annual new play development conference. Conference playwrights represent a range of cultural and career experience, which contributes to the creation of a dynamic and diverse community. The plays that will be developed at the conference are likely to find production at stages across the country, as has happened for 60% of PlayPenn's 100 developed plays since 2005.

This year's conference playwrights are a celebrated collective of noteworthy theatre artists from both the United States and Australia. The playwrights develop their plays through in-depth workshops with directors, dramaturgs, designers, and professional actors from the local theatre community. Ample rehearsal time is interspersed with significant amounts of time for writing and for meetings - both formal and informal - between the writers and their creative teams. Each of the six plays is given two free public readings at Philadelphia's Drake Theatre, one at the conference midpoint and the other at the end of the development period.

This year's writers and plays are:


The year is 1935 and the Taft State Hospital is one of seven psychiatric facilities in the U.S. built exclusively to care for "insane and idiotic negroes," where the homeless and downtrodden are housed alongside the criminally insane and diseased. Attius builds coffins at Taft Hospital, where he has been locked up for over a decade, but when two new patients ask him to help them escape Attius dares to dream of a life beyond the hospital walls.

Terence Anthony's play Burners had its world premiere at Moving Arts in Los Angeles in 2017. He has been awarded writing fellowships to the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation and the Santa Fe Art Institute. Terence's play Tombolo was a Finalist for the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. His play Euphrates was awarded the Max K. Lerner Playwriting Fellowship in 2013. Terence's work has been seen at Chicago Dramatists in Chicago, the RADAR L.A. Festival in Los Angeles, the Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, and the Without Walls Festival in La Jolla.

HARD CELL by Brent Askari

Hard Cell is a comedy concerning Nick Abtahi, an Iranian-American professor whose car breaks down during a cross-country road trip. When a tough local thug falsely identifies the mild-mannered Nick as a terrorist - and threatens his life -- Nick feels he has no choice but to pose as a bomb-wielding terrorist merely to stay alive! As the situation spirals out of control, Nick uses his attackers' own Islamophobic stereotypes and fears against them, manipulating the situation in order to survive a modern American nightmare.

Brent Askari's play Digby's Home was a semi-finalist in the O'Neill Playwriting Conference and produced at Mad Horse Theatre. His play Cocktails and Travails won the Neil Simon Festival's National New Play Contest and was produced at The Theater Project. His play Dirty Deeds Downeast (then titled Island Blue) was part of The Different Festival in Santa Fe. Brent has been a finalist in the Samuel French Short Play Festival, the Reva Shiner Comedy Award, and the Mountain Playhouse International Comedy Playwriting Contest. He was part of HBO's New Writers Project and has written scripts for Paramount Pictures, Marvel Films, MTV, and Reveille Entertainment.

GALILEE by Christine Evans

Galilee takes place amidst the competing pressures of climate change and economic survival in a small Australian coastal town on the Great Barrier Reef. As the sea temperatures rise and the world's first hybrid black-fin sharks appear, biology student Carol, her mother Mardy, and the old-time diver Jimmy struggle with their own decisions-fight, flee, or adapt to the changing environment?

Christine Evans is an internationally produced and published playwright and novelist. Selected theatres producing her work include American Repertory Theater (ART); HERE Arts, NYC; Crowded Fire; Spooky Action Theater; Perishable Theater; Chaskis Theatre at Arts Above and Playbox Theater (UK). In Australia: Belvoir Street, the Adelaide International Festival of the Arts, Vitalstatistix and Darwin Theatre Company. Awards include the Rella Lossy Playwrights Award, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, "Plays for the 21st Century" Award, and two RISCA Playwriting Fellowships. Christine taught at Harvard from 2007-12 and is on faculty at Georgetown University. Her first novel, Cloudless, was published in 2015.

THIRST by C.A. Johnson

Samira and Greta lead a peaceful life. They have their own clearing in the woods, their own hut, and their son Kalil to keep them laughing. When Kalil returns home one day without their water rations, however, Samira and Greta find themselves in conflict with the local political leader. Set in a tense segregated society, Thirst is a complex look at race and love in war-time.

C. A. JOHNSON is a Louisiana native currently living in Queens. Her plays include Gossamer, Mother Tongue, The Climb, Waitin' On The Moon, Elroy Learn His Name and Thirst. She is The Lark's 2016 Van Lier Playwriting Fellow, a member of The Civilians' 2016-2017 R & D Group, and a 2016-2017 Dramatists Guild Fellow. Her work has been developed at NYU Tisch, The Lark, Open Bar Theatricals, UC San Diego, and The Fire This Time Festival. C.A. was also a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow and the winner of a Legacy Prize from The Creativity Foundation. BA: Smith College MFA: NYU.

WITH by Carter William Lewis

Clifford and Minnie devolve into a world of often hysterical but ultimately heartbreaking minutiae as they navigate a blizzard, a dead son, a rat in the kitchen and a half decorated Christmas tree, to find dignity in their final days.

Carter W. Lewis is currently Playwright-in-Residence at Washington University. Previously, he was Literary Manager & Playwright-in-Residence for The Geva Theatre Center (NY), and was co-founder and Resident Playwright for Upstart Stage in Berkeley, California. He has won several national awards including The Julie Harris - Playwriting Award, The State Theatre - Best New American Play, The Cincinnati Playhouse Rosenthal New Play Prize (1996 & 2001), New Dramatist Playwriting Award, Playwright's Center Jerome Residency, and is a two-time nominee for the American Theatre Critics Award. He has had close to 200 productions of his plays nationwide. Carter lives in St. Louis with his dog, Bucket.

Penny Candy by Jonathan Norton

1988. Paw-Paw's Candy Tree has seen better days. Operating out of a one-bedroom apartment in a badly-aging apartment complex, business is dropping off as the crack epidemic ravages the neighborhood. Its owner, Dubba J, desperately fights to save the family business. While his wife, Laura Mae, fights to save her family's soul, and she wants out. Set in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas, Penny Candy explores the conflicting responsibilities of our duty to family and community.

Jonathan Norton's work has been produced or developed by Dallas Texas Center, PlayPenn, Black and Latino Playwrights Conference, TeCoTheatrical Productions, Castillo Theatre, Soul Rep Theater Company, African American Repertory Theater, and the South Dallas Cultural Center. Jonathan's play Mississippi Goddamn was a Finalist for the Mimi and Harold Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and won the 2016 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award. Other awards include: Artistic Innovations Grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, SDCC Diaspora Performing Arts Commission, TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund. His play, Penny Candy, was commissioned by Dallas Theater Center.

At the final review stage, the six conference playwrights were culled from a group of 12 finalists, which also included Matthew Capodicasa The City in the City in the City), Angela Joy Davis (The Spanish Prayer Book), Mary Elizabeth Hamilton (One of the Women), Deneen Danielle Reynolds-Knott (Baton), Andrew Lawrence Rosendorf (Paper Cut), and James Anthony Tyler (Stewart and Lamb).

A detailed schedule of conference events will be available in May. In addition to the two readings of the aforementioned conference plays, PlayPenn will offer as many as two readings of works-in-progress (to be announced), including one by a member of The Foundry, PlayPenn's professional development and membership program for emerging Philadelphia area playwrights. All readings are open to the public, free of charge

In place of PlayPenn's symposium, this year PlayPenn will offer an evening of monologues written by alumni playwrights in response to the election and political divide in our nation.

Registration for the 2017 PlayPenn Conference will begin on July 1 by visiting Priority reservations, beginning two weeks earlier, are afforded to donors making annual gifts to PlayPenn of $175 or more.


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