Noticing the New Works Festival

In August, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley had its 15th annual New Works Festival, hosting almost 100 theatre artists reading 2 new plays and 4 new musicals, and featuring many special events such as the Meet the Artists panel, and several up close and personal meals and interviews with various artists.

Actor Remi Sandri

Actor Remi Sandri

It’s not news that I always love the Festival, and this year was no exception.  While there were many exciting and promising works (my personal favorites being Rajiv Joseph’s play Archduke and Min Kahng’s musical The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga), the real zenith for me is the opportunity to feel like I get to know these artists as people, not just as talents.  They are around and they love to talk theatre!  When they’re not rehearsing or performing, many of the actors, directors, playwrights and other theatre professionals are seeing other readings or, like me, hanging around the courtyard, happy to talk about what they just saw, or attend the special events and participate in fascinating discussions about the process of building new plays. (I was able to speak several times with terrific actor Remi Sandri, who was in one of my favorite plays The North Pool at TheatreWorks a few years ago, and worked at Oregon Shakespeare Festival for many seasons.)

However, as I’ve thought about and absorbed the Festival and its impact on me, what I think most about is probably the Opening Night keynote speech by playwright Rajiv Joseph.  I’ve been a fan of Rajiv and his writing for a while now (See, “The Shockingly Talented Mr. Joseph“), and this talk resonated deeply with me. It was about noticing.

Playwright Rajiv Joseph

Playwright Rajiv Joseph

He started by reciting a saying (which I had never heard)  that made an impact on him when he was young:  “You’re like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.”

I was startled into total attention by this for some reason.  I confess to being in my own world sometimes and not necessarily observant of the world around me, so as he went on to talk about the importance of training ourselves to notice more, I was keenly interested.  “If we are not vigilant about noticing things and accruing memories, how do we combat our blindness?”  For him, one of the answers is keeping journals.

He started to keep journals as a homework assignment at age 10.  Recently, he looked at his childhood journals and shared with the audience a photo projection of one page from a trip with his family to India.  Sandwiched in among more mundane 10-year old observations of his day, was a sentence about his visit to the Taj Mahal and wondering about the man who would build such a place. Here, clearly, was the first unconscious beginning of a thought process that would grow into his play Guards at the Taj decades later.  Intrigued, Rajiv checked other old journals and found seeds of some of his other plays including Huck & HoldenBengal Tiger at the Bagdad ZooGruesome Playground Injuries and Mr. Wolfe.

Rajiv went on to fascinate and entertain us and give us plenty to think about.  I decided to try and notice more.  So, in the spirit of fun, here are a few things I noticed at TheatreWorks 15th Annual New Works Festival (in no particular order).

– Everyone has a crush on New Works Director Giovanna Sardelli;

– Bill Adler brought friends to the Festival from Washington D.C. who see even more theatre than Bill and I do;

– Kate Kilbane has to be one of the most thoughtful, articulate and interesting 24 year old artists I’ve ever seen;

– No matter how long they sit in a crowded theatre, Gayla Lorthridge Wood and Anne Hambly always look amazing;

– Playwrights Foundation Artistic Director Amy Mueller got to sit by Remi Sandri at one of the readings;

– Jeffrey Lo only has one joke he retells when he does the curtain speech;

– Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere, so interact, be generous, and be kind to one another;

– The casts of all of the readings were stunningly high quality — extraordinary talents; beautiful voices!  Great casting.

– We have beautiful weather in Palo Alto.  We get to see great new work every August in Palo Alto.


P.S.  Addition 9/3/2016: I just saw Life of the Party: A Celebration of the Songs of Andrew Lippa at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in Mountain View and was totally delighted!  Catch it if you can during its run through September 18.  -skf



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  1. Anne Hambly
    Sep 3, 2016

    Thanks for noticing, Susan! I agree totally about Rajiv’s talk.

  2. John Orr
    Sep 16, 2016

    Fun column, Susan! I agree about Giovanna, Anne and Gayla.

    • Susan Fairbrook
      Sep 19, 2016

      Thanks John!

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