The Bay Area Playwrights Festival: What, Who and Why Bother

Did you hear the one (so the joke goes) about the Polish actress? She slept with the writer.

Now this is a joke about screenwriters and Hollywood. Not playwrights and San Francisco. But it pretty much holds true everywhere that writers don't have a lot of control of the final product. But at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, a Polish actress could do a lot worse than schtuping the writer.

The 35th annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival, which runs July 20-29, 2012 at the Thick House in San Francisco, is a theater festival with the emphasis on the writing. "The playwright is in the leadership position during our festival," explains Playwrights Foundation's Artistic Director, Amy Mueller. "This festival is about the playwright's process, which, counter-intuitively, often gets side-lined in the process of a full production."

The festival's productions are "plays in the making," staged readings that are the end result of much rewriting, research and discussion. "The playwrights voice is important to us," says Mueller. "While the festival presents staged readings, they feel very performative, because they feature amazing actors and are the result of much rehearsal." Mueller notes that this year, the selections all have an unintended unity of theme. "They question the ways in which advanced technologies are changing 'the very humanness of modern man.'" she says, quoting Vaclav Havel.

Here's why each of these plays is so very worth your time:

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Tea Party by Gordon Dahlquist
What's the quote unquote "plot"? Tea Party is a scary journey into a world that could very well come to pass if an extremist fringe political system comes into power.
Why bother? It creates this world with a barest minimum of exposition -- and it turns time on it's head so that you have to figure out what is happening by unpacking it backwards.
Who's the playwright anyway? Dahlquist's first novel, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, was a NY Times bestseller and has been published in 30 countries.

Brahman/i: A One Hijra Stand Up Comedy Show by Aditi Brennan Kapil
What's the quote unquote "plot"? The play explores the journey of a young intersexual person (a Hijra), someone born both male and female, coming of age along with the colonial history of India.
Why bother? Staged as a stand-up routine, the play concerns gender identity, the history of colonialism in Southeast India, and modern medicine. It's intelligent, fun, fascinating and it is fall down funny, truly comic.
Who's the playwright, anyway? Aditi Brennan Kapil is a playwright, actress, and director, of Bulgarian and Indian descent, raised in Sweden. Her most recent play, Agnes Under The Big Top, a tall tale, was selected as a 2009 Distinguished New Play Development Project by the NEA New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage.

Grounded by George Brant
What's the quote unquote "plot"? A one person play about a female fighter pilot who is 'grounded' after having a baby -- and returns to the air force reassigned to control a drone in Afghanistan from a computer screen near Las Vegas.
Why bother? "Because of the badassery of the character," says Mueller.
Who's the playwright anyway? George Brant has been awarded the Kennedy Center's David Cohen National Playwriting Award, the Smith Prize, the Keene Prize for Literature, an OAC Individual Excellence Award for 2012.

Ideation by Aaron Loeb
What's the quote unquote "plot"? Without knowing who they will be working for, American management consultants compete for a contract to solve a thorny high-security problem. The contract is extremely lucrative but the project will no doubt annihilate their morals, their relationships and maybe also their lives.
Why bother? To get a scary peek into the ruthless, and morally questionable day-to-day boardroom of corporate America.
Who's the playwright anyway? Aaron Loeb's Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party had its Off-Broadway debut in 2010 and received the Outstanding Play recognition from the New York International Fringe Festival and was a GLAAD Media Award Nominee.

Samsara by Lauren Yee
What's the quote unquote "plot"? In one last attempt at procreation, an American couple go to India to find a way to create a baby of heir own. Don't ask me how because I haven't seen the play yet but -- their tiny zygote will somehow escape and grow up. Flash forward 25 years.
Why bother? So you can tell me what happens. The play promises to be a hilarious yet unsettling look at reproduction in the 21st century.
Who's the playwright anyway? Lauren Yee was born and raised in San Francisco, her play Ching Chong Chinaman was a finalist for the Princess Grace Award.

The Hundred Flowers Project by Christopher Chen
What's the quote unquote "plot"? So this is more of a "meta-theatrical journey" than a plot-based narrative. The Project's play-within-a-play structure mirrors Mao Tse Tung's impact on modern-day China and his regime's profound effect on political and social engineering on the world stage.
Why bother? Because Christopher Chen believes he can dismantle your smug presumption that "meta" is so over. He has heard the grousers grouse that "this play-within-a-play thing's been done ad nauseam," and yet he is brave enough to go there.
Who's the playwright anyway? Chris Chen's The Hundred Flowers Project is a co-production with Crowded Fire Theater, and will be further developed and produced fully in the fall. He is a resident playwright at the Playwrights Foundation. He has received a Ford Foundation Emerging Writer of Color Grant and finalist status for the Jerome Fellowship.

So Polish actresses, on your marks...

The Bay Area Playwrights Festival runs July 20-29, 2012 at Thick House in San Francisco. For more information visit playwrightsfoundation.org.

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