The New Works Festival Is Back In Full Swing At Bay Street - 27 East

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The New Works Festival Is Back In Full Swing At Bay Street

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Actress Samantha Massell, director Scott Schwartz and playwright Madeline Myers during a work through of Myers's musical

Actress Samantha Massell, director Scott Schwartz and playwright Madeline Myers during a work through of Myers's musical "Double Helix." SAMANTHA MASSELL

Allison Moon's play

Allison Moon's play "Zero State" will be presented as part of Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

Augusto Amador's play

Augusto Amador's play "Atacama" will be presented as part of Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

Scott Schwartz directing a stage production. MARK KITAOKA

A previous reading of

A previous reading of "Double Helix" with actress Samantha Massell, choreographer Addy Chan, director Scott Schwartz and playwright Madeline Myers. ADDY CHAN

Joe Kinosian wrote the music for

Joe Kinosian wrote the music for "One Man Titanic," a one-man musical that will be presented at Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

Kellen Bllair wrote the lyrics for

Kellen Bllair wrote the lyrics for "One Man Titanic," a one-man musical that will be presented at Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

Madeline Myers musical

Madeline Myers musical "Double Helix" will be presented at Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. Scott Schwartz will direct. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

Scott Rothman wrote the book for

Scott Rothman wrote the book for "One Man Titanic," a one-man musical that will be presented at Bay Street Theater's New Works Festival. COURTESY THE AUTHOR

authorAnnette Hinkle on May 2, 2022

While there’s nothing like a night out at the theater to see a performance of a polished production, it’s worth noting that behind every successful play and well-crafted plot point, there is a playwright (and if it’s a musical, a lyricist and composer as well) who have spent years sweating the small stuff in order to make the piece stage ready and picture perfect.

This weekend, audiences will have the rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the playwriting process when Bay Street Theater presents “Title Wave: 2022 New Works Festival.” This is Bay Street’s eighth annual New Works Festival and from Friday, May 6, through Sunday, May 8, theatergoers will be able to enjoy professional actors and directors presenting staged readings of four brand new plays at Bay Street — two of which are musicals.

“This is the first time we’ve done two musicals,” said Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s artistic director, who added that presenting musicals during the New Works Festival is a little more complicated than bringing in a straight play because casts are often larger and musicians need to learn the music.

Schwartz knows all about the process because he is directing one of the New Works musicals this weekend — “Double Helix” by Madeline Myers. Set in the mid-20th century, “Double Helix” explores the race to find the structure of DNA through the story of Rosalind Franklin, a scientist who made one of the greatest discoveries of all time.

“Rosalind Franklin took the first photograph of DNA in the ’50s,” Schwartz explained. “She was not credited for her work and they wouldn’t have discovered DNA as quickly if not for her photo. She was a brilliant scientist, but for years was not known because she died before the Nobel Prize was presented. Recently, more information has come out about her. While exploring her story sounds heady and upsetting, it’s actually sweeping and romantic.

Schwartz, who has been working on this play for a couple years, compares “Double Helix” to other musicals based on historical events, like “1776” or even “Hamilton.” “Madeline Myers has written everything — including the full book and music. There are 10 people in the cast and I’m so excited to present it.”

Schwartz first met Myers while he was in Copenhagen, Denmark, working on a production of “Prince of Egypt.” Myers’s previous musical, “The Devil’s Apprentice,” made its world premiere in Copenhagen in 2018. The two stayed in touch, and Myers began sending Schwartz demos of songs she was working on.

“She has a distinctive musical voice. I said, ‘Are there any ideas you want to work on?’” recalled Schwartz. “She said, ‘Someday I want to write the story of Rosalind Franklin.’

“She told me the basic story, and I felt it was a brilliant idea. It’s also kind of contemporary since it’s about a woman struggling against the male-dominant structure. It had a great setting,” Schwartz added. “I said ‘Let’s do it.’”

Though the pandemic slowed down Schwartz’s ability to bring it to the stage, this Friday, Bay Street audiences will have the opportunity to get a first glimpse at “Double Helix.” Schwartz hopes they are as excited about the musical as he is.

“I do things on Broadway and in London,” he said. “I think this one will go all the way.”

While plays presented as readings at the New Works Festival do sometimes end up as full productions at Bay Street Theater (“The Prompter” by Wade Dooley which opened the theater’s 2019 Mainstage season was one such play), it’s not necessarily the final goal for “Double Helix.”

“Doing musicals is a big proposition, so it’s possible, but maybe other venues are as well,” Schwartz said. “I think right now, we want to see this reading and where the show is in terms of storytelling development. All the shows at the New Works Festival are things that could potentially be done at Bay Street. But the purpose is not just that. We want to support artists with interesting voices, stories that surprise and are new to audiences and a broad range of what theater can be for our audiences.”

Schwartz is eager to spread the word about this year’s New Works Festival and build momentum for the readings series after the festival was derailed in 2020 with the arrival of COVID-19.

“It’s young — as festivals go — and because of the pandemic, things stopped for two years,” Schwartz noted. “Before the pandemic, we were selling out and getting well over 100 people at some readings. I don’t expect to be at that level this year, but these were getting really popular with our audiences. They are relatively low commitment. You’re seeing actors, writers and directors work instinctively, but you also get full performances and staging. You’re really getting to experience a story live in a compelling way, and the audience is engaged.”

He adds that another strong selling point of the New Works Festival is the opportunity to witness the birth of a show that may go on to find great acclaim on a big stage down the road.

“There is a play called ‘Walden’ that we had at the last fully live festival in 2019 before the pandemic,” said Schwartz by way of example. “Though we liked the play, it’s not something we thought we would do at Bay Street. That play was produced in the fall on the West End of London. These shows have gone on to have many productions.”

With the festival fully live and in person this year for the first time since 2019, it would seem that playwrights are also eager and ready to get back on stage. Bay Street received over 600 play submissions for consideration for the four slots. Schwartz explained that usually, Bay Street’s policy is that in order to consider a play, the piece must be solicited — meaning that an agent, representative or someone with whom Bay Street has an association — has to recommend the work.

“But we felt in order to broaden our reach and give more people exposure who don’t have a traditional theater experience, we would open it to all playwrights,” Schwartz said. “We got plays from well-known playwrights, authors you never heard of and everything in between. It was thrilling. There was a lot of good work there, but in the end, we narrowed down to four for this year.”

He adds that every submission is read by one of Bay Street’s readers — some are on staff, others are volunteers. The initial group of plays is then cut down to a selection of finalists, and then that list is narrowed again and discussed until the final lineup is determined.

On Saturday evening, the second musical presented at this weekend’s festival will be “One Man Titanic,” a one-man musical with music by Joe Kinosian, lyrics by Kellen Blair and book by Scott Rothman. Though based on a famous tragedy, Schwartz noted that the show is hilarious.

“The concept is one man telling the story of the band that played as the Titanic was sinking,” Schwartz explained. “But what’s cool is it starts from the beginning of the journey, gets into the internal politics and wonderful period of the show, and highlights the theatricality of one man, Joe Kinosian, playing all the roles.

“It’s strange, wild and really funny. I think it’s quite timely as well,” he added. “The man even plays the piano. I can’t wait to see that.”

The two plays on the New Works Festival docket are Augusto Federico Amador’s “Atacama,” which will be read on Saturday afternoon, and “Zero State” by Allison Moon which will close out the festival on Sunday.

Set 30 years after the dirty wars waged by the General Pinochet regime on the Chilean people, “Atacama” follows two strangers, a mother and a father, who are searching the Atacama Desert for their buried loved ones.

“It’s a beautiful play,” Schwartz said. “It’s about two older parents searching for the remains of their children. It sounds very upsetting, but it’s a magical realism piece by a Latinx writer and has an amazing twist in it. It’s kind of funny in its own way and tells the story of something that actually happened in the world and is important.”

The last piece of the weekend, “Zero State,” is a futuristic offering that tells the story of a neuroscientist who uses her revolutionary consciousness-transferal technology to inhabit her dead husband’s body, where she learns uncomfortable truths about her genius and her marriage.

“It’s this wild, sexy sci-fi-influenced piece about a woman who’s a brilliant scientist and invents a technology that can take a consciousness of a living person and move it into a dead person,” Schwartz explained. “Her husband dies unexpectedly, and she moves her consciousness into him. She learns about consciousness itself, and it gets into their romantic relationships quite deeply. It reminds me of something you’d see on Netflix or Apple TV. There’s humor, but mostly this exploration of a relationship through a futuristic lens.”

“This one is kind of for mature audiences,” Schwartz cautioned.

While the New Works Festival is great for theater fans who want to see the latest theatrical pieces in development, ultimately, it’s extremely beneficial for the playwrights, lyricists, composers and directors, all of whom are eager to gain valuable insight and feedback from the public about their work in moderated post-reading conversations.

“This festival is to give shows in development feedback and the opportunity to be seen,” Schwartz said. “We’re happy to be doing the festival fully live and in person. We have four new shows with professional actors and directors, and will be presenting staged readings of four really, cool new pieces.”

Title Wave: The 2022 New Works Festival

Friday, May 6, 8 p.m. — “Double Helix,” a musical by Madeline Myers.

Saturday, May 7, 2 p.m. — “Atacama,” a play by Augusto Federico Amador

Saturday, May 7, 8 p.m. — “One Man Titanic,” a musical with music by Joe Kinosian, lyrics by Kellen Blair and book by Scott Rothman.

Sunday, May 8, 3 p.m. — “Zero State,” a play by Allison Moon.

Tickets for each reading are $10. A festival pass with tickets to each performance is $25. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org to purchase. All guests must show proof of vaccination and will be required to wear a mask upon entry to the theater. Bay Street Theater is on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

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