Audience Appeal

TADA! Fest stages four readings with the hope that one is an audience winner

I don’t know what it is, but Tucson seems to have a love affair with new plays.

And that would include both developing them and producing them. Old Pueblo Playwrights has been around for almost three decades, providing a nurturing place for writers to experiment and get feedback from their colleagues on a regular basis.

Winding Road Theater Ensemble is committed to producing a world premier every season. Borderlands Theatre has always been committed to producing new works, and The Rogue Theatre on a regular basis adapts works of fiction into plays, as they did last season with some of Virginia Woolf’s work. Recently SheworXX was formed by a group that will emphasize creating and developing work by women. And just recently, the Community Players, a long time Tucson amateur theater group, announced that they were sponsoring for the first time a one-act play contest for Arizona playwrights. (Information can be found at

And then there’s the Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists, a relatively new organization whose eventual goal is to do a five-play season of all original work. They are currently in the process of trying to establish a theater facility in which they can produce a full season, but in the meantime they have sponsored for four years a playwriting contest which draws entries from all over the country—and beyond. The idea is to whittle the entries to the best four—an enormous undertaking considering they had over 300 entries this year—they think is worthy of receiving a staged reading. The one that gets the best audience response, as determined in a survey filled out by audience members after the readings, is crowned the winner and is given a full production with sets, costumes, lights—the full treatment—the following year.

This weekend the group is rolling out this year’s contest final four. A different play will be presented, as a staged reading, from Thursday through Sunday.

Sheldon Metz, co-founder and artistic director of TADA!, oversees the entire process, but says it’s the last year it will be called a contest. “If it’s a contest we really do have to read all the plays submitted and score them. We had over 300 entries this year. That’s just too hard, so we will just ask for submissions to TADA! Fest.” This year he had 17 local theater practitioners who tackled the initial screening.

One of the criteria for the plays is that they be “relevant—socially, politically, historically or religiously.” But that doesn’t mean they are all dark and serious, Metz assures. They cover a wide range of themes, and there are numerous ways those themes are treated.

This year there are two Arizonans who made the final cut. Ron Pullins is from Tucson, and his play, Money Master, will be directed by Dlyn Fairfax. According to the description of the play in the press release, “Ralph makes corn dogs and reads Plato, but his wife wants him to get rich … Ralph finds out the true cost of unearned riches.” It will be the first play of the festival, presented Thursday night.

On Friday, T Loving will direct Other People’s Dreams by internationally recognized writer Evan Guilford-Blake. The story concerns “the dissolution of an African-American family.” This play was the winner of the Southern Playwrights Competition.

Private Company, Saturday night’s offering, was written by Briane Raine of Los Angeles and will be directed by John Vornholt. It concerns the fallout from the death of “the elderly founder and CEO of Maynard Associates,” as his widow, Ardyce, tries to “give the shareholders an appearance of a smoothly organized transition.”

David Middleman, from Tempe, is the other Arizonan represented in TADA! Fest, and Metz will direct his play, Senior Moments. It was actually commissioned by the medical ethics committee of the Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, Florida. Middleman has revised it, but it does deal with the serious ethical questions surrounding a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Middleman, who will be able to attend the reading of his work on Sunday afternoon, says it’s of great benefit to a playwright to be able to see his work in the hands of actors and a director. He will look specifically for several things. He’ll want to discern if the “rhythm I hear in my words is the same that others hear. I also assume I have created real people with real interactions, but actors will bring a new eye to the material and it may turn out that’s not the case.” He’ll also want to see “if the humor works. That’s always a tricky thing.” And perhaps the most informative aspect is to be able to “watch the audience reaction.”

And, ultimately, it’s the collective judgment of the audiences which will determine which play will win the opportunity for a full production in March of next year.

“And, of course,” says Metz, “we will negotiate royalties.”

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