The (New) Play's the Thing

The Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists aims to assist in the development of new plays through staged readings

One of the more remarkable characteristics of Tucson's thriving theater scene is the widespread emphasis on the development and production of new plays.

Several theaters make it a point to produce at least one brand-spanking-new play each season.  Now there is a theater group whose mission is to produce only new plays.  If you can get past the rather precious acronym—TADA!—the Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists shows promise as an exciting addition to the performing arts in Tucson.

The brainchild of artistic director Sheldon Metz, a long-time theater practitioner who moved to Tucson five years ago, TADA was conceived in 2010 while Metz was watching the Tony Awards on television.

"I realized that 60 percent of the shows on Broadway are recycled.  We're doing revisions of old musicals.  Some are re-writing their scripts to update them. But I felt like there is plenty of talent out there.  But they're not getting produced."

So Metz put his head together with some other Tucson theater folk, and came up with the idea of an organization to encourage playwrights across the country by soliciting new scripts and then choosing a small number to receive staged readings here in Tucson.  Then from those, one would be chosen, based on feedback from audiences, to be given a full production the following summer.   

Last summer, TADA! presented a version of what the organization hopes to do. The plays of six Tucsonans who Metz knew were given readings over two nights to audiences of around 120 each night.  But TADA! had already begun the process of what is resulting in this summer's series of four new play staged readings. 

A call went out nationally for submissions of new plays.  "We received 52 scripts from Maine to Hawaii over eight months," says Metz.  "Eleven people pre-read those scripts and we narrowed it down to nine finalists.  Then we had three new people—who hadn't read any of the scripts—read those nine scripts and evaluate them, and we came to the four finalists:  two writers from New York, one from Florida and one from Pennsylvania.  One of them, Hal Corley, has actually won five Emmy's.  We had no idea, because they were blind readings, that all four of these writers are award-winning playwrights and published writers of books and plays."

So these are the plays being given staged readings this summer.  One, The Christian Way, by Kris Bauske, was presented in May.  The others will be presented over the summer months.

 "Kris actually flew out here to see the reading.  The audience loved it, and she thought it was much better than the small reading she had back home. 

"We'll have a questionnaire for the audience for each show, as well as a talk-back.  The talk-back for Kris' play lasted 50 minutes.  Nobody left.  She got some very interesting feedback."

 The submission call has already gone out for plays which will be given readings next summer. "We started this year's contest a couple of weeks ago and it will run through Sept. 1.  And we've already got 64 scripts—in two weeks!"  Metz says they're not charging a submission fee yet, but probably will later on, in the $25 or $30 range.  

Next up in the series is Hal Corley, Jr.'s play, Eight Fourteen.  Longtime Tucsonan Esther Almazan is directing.

"The play is based on the actual event of the blackout (in the New York area) that happened two years after Sept. 11 (on Aug. 14).  No one knows what's going on and everyone thinks it's a terrorist attack again.  Subways are shut down; people are trapped and can't get home.  They are sort of having a PTSD moment of reliving the attack.  Even after it was declared just a blackout, people still thought it was an attack and they were being told that it wasn't just to keep them calm.

"It's kind of an amazing monster of a play.  It's got more than 25 characters in it and it's supposed to be done with just nine actors, but we ended up adding one because we just couldn't figure out how to do it with nine, so we have 10.  I've had a lot of help from Hal Corley himself.  He's pretty wonderful.  He's written long emails talking about how we can do it and how he envisions it being staged.  He knows it's a difficult process with this many characters."

The play is presentational in style, with the actors coming on stage as a company to tell the story.  "It is a staged reading—not a sit-down reading, so the actors have scripts in their hands, but they're changing costume pieces and moving set pieces.  I was fortunate enough to get a good cast and we've been able to work together to get some tricky things figured out."

In July, Emmett, Down in My Heart by Clare Coss will be presented with Metz as the director.  Its focus is on some of the fallout from the actual 1955 torture and murder of black teenager, Emmett Till.  August's presentation will be Love Conquers, written by Sharon Talbot and directed by Vince Flynn.  All shows will be at 7 p.m. in the Hotel Congress' Copper Hall, and admission is free.

Almazan, herself a playwright, agrees with Metz that it's important to encourage new voices in the theater, particularly for women, who have traditionally been very under-presented in the field.  Metz has said that the only real requirement for the submitted plays is that they be "relevant."  Says Almazan, "To me, relevance means we need to experience how we are all connected through the issues of the plays."