Friday, May 5, 2017

Keep writing, Austin: Cyndi Williams reflects on our first Festival of New American Plays

Stephen Mercantel, Jess Hughes and
Andrew Osborn Ginder in rehearsal for
Sarah Salwick's Low Hanging Stars
In the 1980's, not too many people in Austin wrote plays. Or maybe lots of people wrote scripts and tucked them into the back of their sock drawer, because Austin didn't have many development or production opportunities for playwrights at the time. For years I only knew one playwright, Marty Martin, who wrote wonderful historic dramas. The first time I was nominated for an award for a new play script, only two other original scripts were nominated. Randall Wheatley won for his very funny radio station comedy Billy's Last Broadcast, and he stood in front of the theater community and said this...

"If Austin wants a national profile as a theater city, it doesn't matter how many amazing new interpretations of Hamlet we present... it matters how many original plays we produce."

Not to slag Shakespeare, but a living theater calls for living playwrights. 

In the late 90's, ScriptWorks, a service organization for playwrights, was founded by David Mark Cohen, along with a small band of playwrights, including me. (Carson Kreitzer, the writer of Capitol Crime! is a Core Alum of ScriptWorks, and Sarah Saltwick is a current member who happens to also have a script in ScriptWork's Out of Ink Festival this weekend!). 

Director Cyndi Williams &
Playwright Sarah Saltwick in
rehearsal for Low Hanging Stars
By the early 2000's, I heard this figure: fully one out of three plays produced in this city was an original script. 

But Austin's more recent economic upturn has its downsides (traffic, anyone?) and one of those downsides has been the loss of affordable theater space. In the last few months alone, we have lost Salvage Vanguard's theater on Manor Road, and the Off Center, run for many years by the Rude Mechs. Both of these companies produce and promote new work, and have national profiles... but they don't have theater spaces in Austin, Texas, anymore.  

I am so proud of Austin Playhouse for stepping up with our first festival of New American Plays.  We had over 700 entries, and we read quite a few excellent scripts, including the lovely ghost story, Low Hanging Stars by Austin's own Sarah Saltwick. 

Keep writing, Austin.

For tickets and more information on Austin Playhouse's Festival of New American Plays, click hereAdmission is Free. If you would like to pick a price for your ticket it will support the actor salaries, playwright awards, and production expenses for the New Play Festival!