Local thespians welcome audiences into their process
TheatreNOW Play-reading Series
Thursday, November 15th, 6:30 p.m.
10th and Dock streets • $5
“We have professional theatre quality in Wilmington, we just don’t have a professional pay scale,” local actor Langley McArol observes. He’s right. Most audience members probably don’t realize the incredibly talented performers they see onstage every weekend rarely take home a check. When and if they do, it’s only stipend. After dividing the hours of performance, preparation and rehearsal, it wouldn’t come close to minimum wage.
Theatre has been an intimate part of Wilmington’s cultural landscape for literally hundreds of years. Thomas Godfrey, who wrote “The Prince of Parthia,” which was the first original play professionally produced in the American colonies (1767), is buried in St. James Church Cemetery. After the American Revolution, Thalian Association, the official community theatre of NC, was founded in 1788. Willis Richardson, the first African-American playwright to have a play produced on Broadway (“The Chip Woman’s Fortune,” 1923), was born here in 1889. Now in the 21st century we have multiple theatre venues, and we would be hard pressed to find a weekend without a show in production around here.
Wilmington’s most recent and much lauded addition to the theatre scene is TheatreNOW at 10th and Dock streets. Built to be a dinner theatre, it also houses a non-profit theatre education program called Theatre Network of Wilmington, which has introduced a monthly play reading and networking event to our community. “The TNOW board wanted to create an event that would entice actors and those in the theatre community to come together in a low-key, social environment,” Alisa Harris, TheatreNOW founder, says. “Nick Basta suggested a play-reading, [which] combines an element of performance but without any of the production pressure.”
The first run featured “Jerusalem” by Jez Butterworth; Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning play “Take Me Out” was read in October. This month Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning script, “August: Osage County,” will be read in November. “[The cast] reads as a who’s who of Wilmington royalty,” Harris hints.
The last two months of casting have included notables like David Andrews (“Fight Club,” “Justified”), Jane McNeill Balter (“Walking Dead”), Don Baker (“Runaway Jury,” “Leo,” “Ya Ya Sisterhood”), Grey Hawkes of theatre productions like “The Full Monty” and “Reefer Madness” and Ashley Grantham (“The Foreigner,” “The Diary of Anne Frank”)—to name but a few.
Though the talent at one end of the spectrum is certainly a draw, Harris points out the conscious decision made to include student actors, as well. It’s an educational opportunity for a novice to see that level of craft in process—even more so from an audience perspective. Most of the performers come to the readings “cold.” Having not seen the material or at least had very little time to prepare for it, they have a read-through so the audience can see the process—before the fully developed, fleshed-out performance comes alive. It makes the evening much more focused on the material, the text, then the performances.
Staged readings are an incredibly important part of the writing process for playwrights. The Playwright’s Producing Company here provided an outlet to allow aspiring playwrights to hear how the characters and dialog interact. Both Harris and her deceased mother, MC Erny (a respected actress and very generous patron of the arts), read for Playwrights Producing Company before. Though the shows being read at TheatreNOW are far from works-in-progress, it is fascinating to have the opportunity to interact with the material the way professionals would encounter it at first. It may even come as a surprise to audience members to learn that actors are frequently drawn to shows which are more esoteric and avant-garde than the public is interested in seeing. The roster of shows so far selected for the play-reading series are all excellent, but fully developed may not currently be viable commercially in a market like Wilmington.
Harris maintains an essential part of the evening is industry networking, both before and after the reading. “The bottom line is that this series will have actors of differing experiences onstage,” she says, “and talent agents, casting directors, other producers, writers and directors in the audience. Add a little alcohol and an engaging script to the mix, and conversations should just flow. A good evening all around.” Audience members, too, will partake in interesting opportunities to meet and chat with their favorite local performers.
There is a requested $5 donation to attend, which re-generates into the community. “Those monies go to our theatre arts education outreach program,” Harris explains. “Right now, Zach Hanner, our executive director, spends two or three days a week teaching theatre classes free of charge throughout the community, to help fill the gap in arts education amongst school-age kids.”
TheatreNOW’s next play-reading is scheduled for Thursday, November 15th at 6:30 p.m.