Calling all armchair theater critics

Festival lets audiences help playwrights take key step in crafting scripts

Nadia Mishkin | Boulder Weekly

In plays, unlike other art forms, the audience itself is a fundamental element of the performance.

“Theater is not theater until it is performed in front of an audience,” says Pesha Rudnick, artistic director of Boulder’s Local Theater Company. “The developmental phase in front of an audience is essential in the creation of a play and is very important for emerging scriptwriters.”

For those who are not enticed by the live element of theatre alone, Boulder’s Local Theater Company invites everyday patrons to become a part of the creative process. Local Theater Company is dedicated to creating new theatrical works by connecting up-and-coming playwrights with local actors and live audiences to aid plays still in developmental stages. From Friday, March 14 through Sunday, March 16, Local puts on the third annual Local Lab festival at eTown Hall.

“[Boulder] is not New York City in terms of the quantity of theater that we can offer, but the quality is not lacking. We have found that Boulder really is a perfect place for this event because the audiences here are really smart. Local Lab has given us this format to spark some really important discussions.”

The festival features a staged reading of a play each night, accompanied by post-show discussions led by theater practitioners. The conversations precede after-parties that include music, champagne, Japanese hors d’oeuvres, pasta dinners and more. Being an actor or a theater guru is not necessary — the members of Local consider a typical live audience member important in the development of new work.

“[The festival] is our way of giving Boulder a snapshot of what’s happening in theater right now,” Rudnick says. “It is high-quality, professional entertainment, but also a way of getting involved with the art.”

Local Theater Company consists of five women with backgrounds in acting, directing, producing, casting and teaching theater. Company members spend up to five months reviewing over 100 submissions to the festival, ultimately narrowing it down to three plays. They select works that impress and demonstrate the potential to benefit from development by the seasoned professionals in the group. Rudnick explains that Local selects plays that illustrate Aristotle’s fundamentals of theater — great writing, plot, story, character and spectacle — and have the potential to blossom into exceptional works.

The three final selections for the festival include Faith by James McLindon, a story about fanaticism and religion, Thoreau, and Other Assholes, by Kyle Warren, about plagiarism and the ownership of ideas, and You’re Getting Warmer, a play by Megan Mathews about climate change and the future.

“Hearing the play read out-loud is absolutely vital,” says Warren, author of the play Thoreau, and Other Assholes, “There is no other way to create a work that is complete. It’s not like a short story or a work of non-fiction. It only exists on stage and through people’s voices. Having a group of talented actors pro vide those voices is invaluable.”

Warren says he began working on his piece in March of 2012.

“I have never felt that anything I have ever written has been finished,” Warren says. “I could probably keep working on this for years and not have it be complete.”

Warren says he hopes that, at some point, someone will want to produce his play so that he will be forced to call it finished.

The performances in the Local Lab are staged readings put on by professional actors, Rudnick says, not full productions of the plays.

“There are no sets and no costumes,” Rudnick says, emphasizing, “it is a chance for audiences to hear new plays, and for playwrights to get feedback and grow their work.”

“This will be the first time I have interacted with an audience on this work,” Warren says. “The audience’s presence and reactions change how the work is performed. Whenever I watch a reading like this, I usually try to sit in the very back, usually the corner. As much as you are watching the actors, you are also watching the audience. You are feeling what they feel. You can tell when an audience is no longer on board with a scene or moment, as much as you can tell when an audience truly is on board. You can feel the entire audience get lost or stay riveted in certain moments, and that’s how you build as you continue to develop the play.”

The Lab also features a script analysis workshop, The Write Angle, on Sunday of the festival for writers and non-writers to learn fundamentals of dramatic literature.

Works included in past Local Lab readings such as Elijah, by Michael Mitnick, have gone on to premieres in fully staged productions at the Dairy Center for the Arts.

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