Johnson replies, "Hambone? No. Are plays ever finished? I just rewrote my first published play," he admits. These two playwrights may tend to think of their plays as perpetual works in progress, but Horizon's festival is designed to develop and showcase new voices with distinctively Southern accents.
In its third year, the New South for the New Century Play Festival evolved out of Horizon Theater's aspiration to find and stage new scripts. "We've always been focused on new plays and wanted to do workshops of new ones," says artistic director Lisa Adler. "But we had a hard time finding ones we liked. A lot of new plays are geared to a real New York or Los Angeles sensibility. Some will focus on issues like New York overcrowding, because the writers have the goal of seeing them produced in New York."
Instead, the Little Five Points playhouse decided to cultivate work that reflects concerns closer to home. "We decided to commit to a certain time of year to focus on new work. With the limited resources we have, we wanted to focus on the South, but not in the traditional way. We're more interested in the urban South than the rural South, and we're looking for things that don't reinforce some of the Southern stereotypes."
Shaeffer had a compatible intention with The Genes of Beauty Queens, which opens June 1. "Often when I went to the theater, I'd have a difficult time finding myself and my friends on stage -- and I wanted to." Of her three thirtysomething protagonists, she says, "They're not twangy, Crimes-of-the-Heart Southern women."
For last year's New South Festival at Horizon, Shaeffer's play was developed as one of eight "Playworks" scripts, which get 25 to 30 hours of workshops a piece, culminating with a staged reading. "I can't tell you the joy of the experience," says Shaeffer, whose He Looks Good in a Hat was staged at the Alliance Studio in 1999. "I got unbelievably great feedback. Before, I didn't know what my play was about, but after the workshop, I could call my husband and say, 'Now I know what my play is about!'"
This year's Playworks focuses on nine scripts by such playwrights as Kim Brundridge, Regina Porter, Kendra Myers and Margaret Baldwin, with settings ranging from North Carolina to New Orleans to Kentucky. July 30 sees the last of the staged readings, Easy, Philip DePoy's stage treatment of his Flap Tucker character, the hero of his Atlanta-based mystery novels. Adler hopes to see Easy as a fully staged production at a future festival.
But not all of the Horizon productions rise from the ranks of the New South workshops. "We'd like to develop our reputation so there's a mix of Atlanta-based writers and national playwrights," Adler says, and Javon Johnson represents the latter. An actor, writer and co-founder of the Congo Square Theatre in Chicago, Johnson has seen his work staged and workshopped across the country, with his play Crying Shame being produced in Los Angeles with Malcolm Jamal Warner next month.
"Hambone [opening June 15] is very Southern, just as I'm very Southern," explains Johnson. "A lot of my work deals with the decade of the 1980s in the black community. Something happened then to interrupt the traditions of African-American culture, the tradition of passing down what's needed to survive, from one generation to the next. The absence of the black father became more of a problem in the 1980s."
Adler points out that Beauty Queens and Hambone, which will play in rotating repertory, have differences that complement each other. Beauty Queens depicts three thirtysomething women in Atlanta musing on family and careers while watching "The Miss Coast-to-Coast Pageant," while Hambone finds evidence in a South Carolina diner of the communication gap between black men of different generations. Coincidentally, food and the mass media play significant roles in both works, with Hambone serving sandwiches and the mystique of James Brown while Queens considers beauty pageants over homemade lasagna.
In addition to Shaeffer and Johnson's plays, the Playworks workshops and readings, Horizon will be offering the ninth installment of Plain Sight and Synchronicity's The 24-Hour Plays July 1 and the New South Young Playwrights festival, which culminates June 30 with budding writers' short plays being read by professional actors.
For the New South for the New Century Festival, Adler estimates that between the full productions, the readings and the workshops, literally several hundred actors and other stage professionals participate, but the writer is the star. "What Horizon does is provide a healthy environment for the writer," Johnson says. "You're not writing to satisfy your audience but to find your voice."
The New South for the New Century Play Festival will be held June 1-July 30 at Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. at Euclid Avenue. Show time is 8 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 8:30 p.m. Sat. and 5 p.m. Sun. Call 404-584-7450. www.horizontheatre.com/
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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