It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or at least in the Top 5. And we’re not talking about the Super Bowl.
February means Kendeda season at the Alliance Theatre, when five newly minted playwrights share their work with the rest of the world. It’s exciting, nerve-racking, wondrous and mostly free.
Officially, it’s called the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. The program, one of Alliance Artistic Director Susan V. Booth’s brightest ideas, began in 2003 as a way to showcase young talent and bridge the often decade-long gap between the time playwrights leave graduate school and the time they land their first productions on a national stage.
Each year students from 30 or so graduate playwriting programs submit a piece for consideration. Alliance readers select a pool of finalists. These plays are then read by three theater artists with national reputations. A winner and three runners-up are named.
The winner’s play goes into the Alliance season, gets the full complement of professional actors, designers and director, and a three-week run on the 200-seat Hertz Stage. The runners-up each receive a staged reading.
This year’s winner, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls by Meg Miroshnik (Yale School of Drama), is a fable for adults featuring 20-year-old Annie, an American in Moscow in search of her roots. The trip is a fairy tale — until the lines between Russian folk stories and Annie’s reality start to blur. (Recommended for ninth-graders and up. Previews Feb. 3-5 and 7. Opens Feb. 8. Runs through Feb. 26. $30. Visit the website for $15 seats on Super Bowl Sunday. alliancetheatre.org, 404.733.5000.)
The rest of the fun starts Monday afternoon with the first of the four readings. All are free and in the Black Box Theatre on the third floor of the Woodruff Arts Center. The acting pool is generally top-notch, pulling from among the best in Atlanta. Dessert is even served at afternoon sessions. Reservations required via the Alliance box office or at 404.733.5000.
Why should you go? It’s a chance to see exciting new work before anyone else does, and it’s amazing to see how polished actors can be with just a few hours of rehearsal. Your opinion counts, too. Stay for the post-show discussions; the playwrights — American theater’s best and brightest — take your feedback seriously when they go back to polish their plays. And if you hit the afternoon sessions, there’s always the free dessert. The lineup:
2:30 p.m.: Reading of Shoe Story by Ben Snyder (University of Texas at Austin and a Juilliard Graduate Playwriting Fellow). An urban fairy tale about love, loss and the metaphysical significance of a free pair of kicks. Directed by Kate Warner, formerly of Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage Theatre Company and the New Repertory Theatre in Massachusetts. Dessert provided. Discussion follows.
5:30 p.m.: A conversation with playwright Meg Miroshnik, this year’s winner. No reservation needed.
7 p.m.: Reading of We Fight to Die by Tim Guillot (Catholic University in Washington, D.C.). A pack of urban poets, echoing the worlds of hip-hop, spoken word and Greek myth, tell the story of graffiti artist Q, who has transfixed the city with his work. When caught by the police, he must license his talents to the government to avoid jail. Directed by Adam Fristoe, co-artistic director of Out of Hand Theater. Discussion follows.
2:30 p.m.: Reading of Whales by Bob Bartlett (Catholic University). Owen — a typical urban14-year-old — isn’t interested in getting to know his estranged gay father and even less interested in the secluded Outer Banks beach where Dad lives. Then an injured whale awakens his forgotten connection with the sea. Directed by Lisa Adler, co-artistic producing director at Horizon Theatre. Dessert provided. Discussion follows.
7 p.m.: Reading of Lost Cause by Alexander Maggio (UCLA). A Dartmouth freshman named Shawn has a crush on Gillian, his debate partner. Gillian is into Conor, a hard-core Confederate re-enactor. She convinces Shawn to accompany her to the Battle of Bentonville State Historic Site. There’s just one problem: Shawn is black. Directed by David DeVries. Discussion follows with the playwright and director, Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan Booth, Alliance Theatre Artist in Dialogue Pearl Cleage and others.
Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s managing editor, has seen, edited or written about, or worked in the performing arts for most of her life. She spent 25 years in daily newspapers and was most recently on staff at Atlanta’s smart, bold and gutsy Synchronicity Theatre. She can be reached at email@example.com.