Page-to-Stage is free, open to the public and offers a chance to see theatre companies showcasing new plays and musicals.
Incubator, buffet, or new play superhighway?
That just about covers it, according to Gregg Henry.
Henry is the curator of the annual Page-to-Stage Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Kennedy Center hosts the eleventh Page-to-Stage festival, September 1-3, 2012. More than 40 theatre companies will offer free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals. These are new works being developed by local, regional, and national playwrights, librettists, and composers.
Since its inception, Henry has been the person inviting theatres to participate in the festival. Theatre companies, large and small, universities, and artistic collectives all have an outlet to try out new works in the open forum of Page-to-Stage.
“Everybody uses it in different ways,” Henry explained. “Some companies use to it to see if they would want to produce a new play. Or they use it to take the temperature and see what needs to be done on a play they are about to produce. They gain audience feedback before they go too far down the road of a production.”
He said it is also fascinating to see some of the ensemble based companies – Synetic and Taffety Punk – come to Page-to-Stage to show their how their work comes together. “Audiences would not normally watch them at work creating a piece, so they can lift the veil on their process.”
Crucial first steps to production
For the writers themselves, Page-to-Stage is vital. “It’s tough to get plays produced, so playwrights relish getting their work in front of an audience.” This is true of brand new playwrights, but it is just as important for an established figure like Ken Ludwig.
Ludwig, who makes his home in Washington, D.C., has had Broadway hits such as Lend Me A Tenor, and wrote the book for the ‘new Gershwin musical’ Crazy for You. For the 2010 Page-to-Stage, Ludwig directed a reading of The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays). The comedy thriller set in the backdrop of the theatre was also a new twist on the legendary Sherlock Holmes. The following year, The Game’s Afoot was produced at the Cleveland Playhouse.
Ludwig returns to the world of the world’s greatest consulting detective this year with a reading of Baskerville, described as “a highly theatrical tour-de-force for five actors.” This new play is an adaptation of the Arthur Conan-Doyle’s masterpiece, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
“This is one of the things I love about Page-to-Stage is that no matter what degree of experience the playwright might have, this festival can be beneficial.”
When playwrights approach Page-to-Stage about a reading of their newest work, Henry refers them to the theatres, since the Kennedy Center is not commissioning the plays. “I tell the writers that we would love to showcase your work, but a company has to sponsor it. We don’t want a playwright flying solo; they need a group of artists behind them.”
A testament to Marcia Gardner’s ferocity
In the mind of Gregg Henry and others, Page-to-Stage will be missing one crucial figure this year – a determined individual who believed such a festival was needed. “I think it’s worth saying that the individual who brought this festival to the Kennedy Center was Marcia Gardner.”
Marcia Murdock Gardner was an actor, educator, dramaturg, casting director and literary manager who worked in Washington, D.C. for many years. Gardner died January 20 after a battle with cancer. She was 66.
“I miss her a great deal,” said Henry.
She was most frequently associated with Signature Theatre, where she acted in their first production and served as director of education. She was also a great proponent for playwrights.
“It was her force of will that got the whole thing going” for Page-to-Stage, said Henry. “Her ferocity was unwavering.”
More than ten years ago, Arena Stage hosted a conference about the plight of new American plays. Gardner and many others “were fired up after that,” said Henry. “Marcia wanted to keep the momentum going, to find a way to showcase new plays.”
Serendipity works in mysterious ways. Around the same time, Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser wanted a chance to use the time between seasons for an outreach effort. He saw early September as a time to welcome the Washington theatre community to the center .
Saturday, Sep. 1 from 1 to 10 p.m.
Sunday, Sep. 2 from 6 to 7 p.m.
Monday, Sep. 3 from 1 to 10 p.m.
Venues throughout the Kennedy Center
No tickets are needed. All events are free.
Seating is on a first come basis.
Doors open 30 minutes before the start of each performance.
Note: No free parking when attending free events.
Henry sees this convergence as the birth of Page-to-Stage. “Marcia thought the Kennedy Center was a great neutral venue for the festival and Michael wanted to engage the community, so it was a happy miracle.”
Producing the festival over Labor Day weekend drew skepticism, according to Henry. Since so many people look upon the early September weekend as the last hurrah of summer vacation “no one believed we would get audiences over Labor Day weekend.”
For eleven years Page-to-Stage has welcomed thousands of visitors to the Kennedy Center. Henry said attendance constantly grows.
The growth of the festival is also displayed in the line-up of theatres and artists. “We have some new and different companies this year,” Henry said. “Over the years, it’s nice to see the companies having a regular presence now didn’t exist when we started.”
Henry also described a legacy momentum that seems to have grown from these efforts. Washington is home to a rich environment for actors, directors, designers, and, of course, playwrights. “We get playwrights who move to DC to be part of this thriving theatre community and they want to be part of Page-to-Stage.”
Local playwrights such as Martin Blank, Jacqueline Lawton, Robert McNamara, Alan Sharp and Mario Baldessari along with Ken Ludwig are introducing new works. Be there as these works make the leap from page to stage.
Participating theatres include:
Active Cultures Theatre
African-American Collective Theater
American Ensemble Theater
Bouncing Ball Theatricals
Bowie State University Theatre Department
DC-Area Playwrights Group
Dramatists Guild of America
Field Trip Theatre
Indian Ocean Theatre Company
Intersections: A New America Arts Festival
Kennedy Center Access
The Kennedy Center Kenan Fellowship
Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences
My Creative Spirit
National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts
The Performance Corporation
The Playwright Zone
Playwrights Group of Baltimore
Safe Streets Arts Foundation
Seventh Street Playhouse
The Comedy Academy, Inc.
Timeless Visual Works, LLC
Virginia Children’s Theater
Wanderlust Theater Lab
The Washington Rogues