Roadmaps by Cody Nickell

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You know, reading plays is hard.  Or at least most people would probably say so.  If you are reading this, you probably have some connection to theatre. If you are a patron, you probably haven’t read many plays.  If you are a theatre maker, you certainly have, it’s part of the job.  But I know a lot of people that don’t like it, professionals included.  Actors and directors, designers, stage managers, dramaturges, literary managers, marketing people, everybody has to read them because we are working on them, but really plays aren’t meant to be read, they are meant to be seen and heard.

My wife Kate, an actor, refers to plays as roadmaps. And as you know, maps aren’t the journey. You can’t experience London or South Bend or Poughkeepsie by looking at a map.  You actually have to go there.  And with a play, to really go on that journey, you need to be in the room with other attendees, watching actors breathe life into those words.

But here’s the thing.  I love reading plays.  I don’t think I am unique, I am sure there are tons of people out there who do (well maybe one ton). But I really do.  I love reading plays. I have developed a knack for taking that roadmap and imagining the journey. So, lucky for me that our Producing Artistic Director, Kristen Coury, thought it was a good idea for me to help create a New Works Festival for The Playhouse. Awesome. Count me in.

So we put out the call. We placed Press Releases in the appropriate places, reached out to agents, got in touch with colleagues, and spread the word, “We want new plays!”

And son-of-a-gun if we didn’t get some.

Slowly, digital copies of plays started arriving in my inbox. And then not so slowly.  All of a sudden we had over 80 plays submitted from playwrights all over the country. Better get reading, Nickell…

And read I did. Over April and May I read all of those plays. Between other duties here at The Playhouse, and a freelance acting gig up in DC, I was cramming these plays into my head, sometimes three or four in a day.  And if reading plays is hard, reading new plays is even harder. Keep in mind, these are plays in various stages of completion, none of which have been proven in front of an audience. I’ve heard finding a great new play compared to trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.

But I gotta tell you, I had a blast reading all those plays. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were some bad plays. Some really bad plays. But there were also some good plays. And some plays that showed tremendous promise. And even some great ones. And I began to realize that even the bad ones were attempts at creating something beautiful and heartfelt. Or something funny or something shocking. These were brave people, attempting something that truly terrifies me (I mean, I will say all the words a playwright wants me to, really well most of the time, but god forbid I actually have to write a play [shiver, shudder, shiver]).  I got to take over 80 journeys. Some awful, some heartbreaking, some hilarious. These plays blossomed in my mind, and I am so thankful to all the playwrights who were brave and submitted their plays to our theatre.

And from this batch of 80 plus plays, some wonderful scripts began to rise up.  A list of twenty. And then a list of ten.  And then finally the shortest list. Three plays. Three wonderful playwrights that will be coming down to sunny Florida to work hard for a week at making their plays even better. 

Working on new plays has been one of the most rewarding parts of my professional acting career. Having a playwright in the room, honing their play, responding to living, breathing actors that are bringing their characters to life is a thrilling way to work.  In the theatre, a truly collaborative art form, having the playwright in the room makes the collaborative circle complete. And then having the chance to share that work with an audience, even if only for one performance, is such a hugely important and satisfying event. Come join us as we take these three maps, and act as your guides on three beautiful journeys. None of which are to Poughkeepsie…

Stay tuned to the blog over the next week or so to learn more about our playwrights, their plays, and what we are doing during the festival week. And make sure not to miss the readings.

* Want to learn more about the three plays being featured? Click here for more information. 

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