This summer, if you are seeking something fresh and locally grown, the Farmers' Market isn't the only place to turn. UW-Madison's Continuing Studies in Theatre, University Theatre, and the Madison Repertory Theatre are joining forces to produce the Wisconsin Wrights New Play Project, designed to foster the development of original works by Wisconsin playwrights. In its inaugural year, the project feature three premieres.
After weeks of intensive workshops, Normal Human Beings by Bruce Murphy, The Queen of Janesville by Greg Lawless and Recovering the Real Me by Kurt McGinnis Brown will receive staged readings in UW Vilas Hall's Hemsley Theatre from June 7 to 9, with 7:30 p.m. performances each night. Selected from a pool of more than 40 entries, these three finalists were scored by a team of expert readers, evaluated by a panel of judges, and finally ranked by lead judge and Madison native Bradley Whitford, the Emmy-winning actor of West Wing fame.
Besides a public reading, Wisconsin Wrights finalists are awarded a week's stay at Madison's Edenfred Mansion and provided with professional dramaturges and directors to assist in their works' development. Once scripts are finalized, one of the three plays will be selected for inclusion in the Madison Repertory Theatre's 2007 New Play Festival.
At the hub of this multifaceted project is Tony Simotes, director of University Theatre, who took up the idea of a Wisconsin playwrights competition when it was proposed last year by members of Playwrights Ink. Simotes has enlisted the support of much of Madison's theater community to turn the project into a professional workshop.
"We saw an opportunity for Wisconsin Wrights to be so much more than a playwriting contest," says Simotes. "To make this project special, we knew we needed to partner with others and to reach out across the city and the state. From there I knew I needed real logistical and fiduciary support, and Sarah Marty [program coordinator for UW-Madison's Continuing Studies in Theatre] came to the rescue."
Marty, whose position puts her at the helm of Wisconsin Wrights' administrative branch, has been involved in everything from coordinating the selection process to securing the support of the Edenfred/Terry Family Foundation and the UW-Madison Anonymous Fund.
"With our statewide outreach programs and administrative strengths, the University Theatre's talent pool and resources, and the experience of the Madison Repertory Theatre, the three organizations were incredibly complementary partners," says Marty.
Greg Lawless' historical farce The Queen of Janesville, which explores themes of family conflict, slavery and survival in pre-Civil War Wisconsin, will begin the run of performances with a reading on June 7. Kurt McGinnis Brown's Recovering the Real Me, a tragicomic look at modern concepts of addiction and identity, follows on June 8.
Bruce Murphy, a former Isthmus editor and current editor of Milwaukee Magazine, won the project's top honor, garnering his play an extended workshop. Murphy's Normal Human Beings is a sometimes harsh examination of sexual norms and personal responsibilities. "It puts a spotlight right where we don't want to look," says Simotes. Normal Human Beings will conclude the readings on June 9.
"We're eager for our audiences to enter the conversation on these new works," says Simotes. "The audience is the final partner in the Wisconsin New Play Project."