Philadelphia playwrights give new works a trial run at PTC@Play

Posted: February 27, 2012

ATTENDEES OF PTC@Play, be forewarned: Michael Hollinger will be watching you.

Don't worry, the local playwright isn't stalking you (not that we know of, anyway). Instead, he's one of four playwrights who will get the opportunity to read their new works at the PTC@Play Festival, a two-week celebration of new theater works at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. The festival also includes a "reading" (or should we say singing?) of a musical, a night of short plays by Philadelphians, and Philly Reality, two days of performances by five area high schools.

PTC@Play will also mark the inaugural year of the Terrence McNally New Play Award, named after the Tony Award-winning playwright known for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Love! Valour! Compassion!" Four of McNally's works - "Master Class," "Golden Age," "Some Men" and "Unusual Acts of Devotion" - debuted at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Actors will read Hollinger's play "Hope & Gravity," a series of nine interwoven short pieces in the vein of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" or Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia." While it's being read, Hollinger will have his eyes on the audience to gauge their reaction to see what works and what doesn't.

"For every play, there's essentially a blueprint, and the playwright doesn't really know what it is until it's spoken aloud in the presence of fresh ears," Hollinger said. "So, for me, a reading is like a test drive of a new car that you've only worked on in the drafting room."

It's not just about whether people laugh at jokes, though. Hollinger also gathers information on how people perceive a character and if shifts in the plot worked or didn't. "You need to add the audience," said Sara Garonzik, producing artistic director of the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

The festival also benefits the Philadelphia Theatre Co., which can get acquainted with playwrights the company hasn't produced yet.

"This year, these writers are a little bit earlier in their careers and are just at the point of breaking big," Garonzik added. "Stars of David" isn't a straight play, but a compilation musical about what it means to be Jewish.

The songs and book are made up of interviews with notable Jewish figures such as Dustin Hoffman, Marvin Hamlisch and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Charles Busch, who wrote "The Tale of Allergist's Wife" and "Psycho Beach Party," adapted these interviews into song.

Another important component to the festival is Future Philly, readings of eight short works that Garonzik called "a Whitman Sampler of local plays."

Of course, the audience benefits from seeing a play in its nascent stages as well. "I think contemporary play-going audiences love readings because they require the kind of imaginative input that old radio shows had . . . The audience has to create much of the world themselves," Hollinger said. "When you, as audience member, participate that actively with the theatrical event, your engagement can be very intense. You own a piece of it rather than it being handed to you fully realized."

Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-

5909 or eichelm@phillynews.

com, or on Twitter @mollyeichel.

PTC@Play, 480 S. Broad St., 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and March 5, 7, 9-11, 6:30 p.m. March 8, free, 215-985-0420, philadelphia

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