The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

It is quite a feat to produce an Off-Broadway play or musical; it is quite another to produce an entire festival of Off-Broadway showcases – during covid.

Yet that is exactly what we did with the first 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival, in association with Prism Stage Company.

From April 15th to May 15th at NYC’s prestigious Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street), we showcased seven productions – six new musicals and one new play – from writers across the country who had developed their work in-house through CreateTheater’s resident writer company, The Expert’s Theater Company (ETC). The productions in the festival were Finding Madame Curie by David KurkowskiThe Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant; Fire Island: The Musical by Jarlath Jones; Sewing the Dream by Judith Estrine, music by David Kurkowski; Ocean in a Teacup by Joel Krantz, lyrics by Neil Selden; Rewind: An 80s Pop Musical by Geoffrey and Sam Rose; and the play Retraction by David Z. Gutierrez.

CreateTheater’s mission has from the beginning been to help develop and produce new plays and musicals. Writers trust me with their new scripts and librettos as a dramaturg-producer. That’s a sacred trust. It’s my job to help them craft work that delivers over their intention to the audience, what they need to say in this time, in this space, through this story. Once I feel the script or libretto “works,” then it must be tested out in front of an audience – which is what we just did.

As an Off-Broadway producer I am known for a certain level of quality, which it was important for me to retain even at the festival level. If you look at the photos on the newworksfest.org website, you can see that each of these shows reflected our high production values. Most sophisticated NY audiences were surprised at what they saw onstage, which went far beyond what they’ve come to expect in a “festival” format.

“The New Works Festival on Theater Row, produced by Cate Cammarata, was an exhilarating display of new work by playwrights with new voices,” said Ed Levy, one of the festival adjudicators.  “From the exuberant 80’s rock and roll of Geoffrey and Sam Rose’s Rewind to the deep philosophical reflection of Joel Krantz’s Ocean in a Teacup, from the Golden-Age melodious, lyrical and comic numbers in the period musicals, Finding Madame Curie by David Kurkowski and Sewing the Dream by Estrine and Kurkowski, to the delightfully fanciful and innovative Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant and the lively and beautifully choreographed Fire Island by Jacobs and Solla, the musicals were dramatic and joyful.  The one straight play, Retraction, by David Gutierrez was charged with electricity, incisive and provocative.  Coming after the drought of the shutdown, this festival of wonderful new works is a welcome shower of delights.”

“Cate Cammarata has established a most needed and important organization in the form of ETC,” said Neal Rubenstein, a veteran Broadway producer. “It is here that those aspiring to be part of the theater community, under the auspices of Ms. Cammarata, have been instructed, guided, and in many instances seen their respective projects produced for viewing.”

Rubenstein also found much of the new work promising. “For me, Finding Madame Curie was especially exciting. It was an enlightening story which should be performed in elementary and/or high schools. Kerry Conte & Kyle Yampiro’s voices soared!  The casting brings this musical to vocal heights.  Kudos to David Kurkowski for amazing music & lyrics that carry Marie Curie’s story forward under the deft direction of Stas Kimiec and musical direction of Larry Daggett.”

We had four adjudicators for the 2022 New Works Festival, all experienced theatre-makers. Steve Marsh is a playwright/director, and a member of the nominating committee for the 2014-2015 Drama Desk Awards. Neal Rubenstein is a five-time TONY-nominated Broadway producer and also a producing member of The Experts Theater Company (ETC). Two other writer members of ETC served as adjudicators: Ed Levy, a librettist-lyricist, and Chris Sherman, a playwright.

“CreateTheater’s New Works Festival on Theatre Row in NYC is one of the most hopeful theatrical events in recent years,” says Marsh. “It has given great opportunities for playwrights, composers, and librettists to have their works produced professionally, Off Broadway, in front of a true NYC crowd. This year’s festival was truly inspiring! I can’t wait to see more.”

“CreateTheatre, under the skillful and loving eye of Cate Cammarata, has produced a new festival that showcases a wide variety of top-notch plays and musicals,” added adjudicator-playwright Chris Sherman. “Calling it a festival does not do it justice.  I’ve never seen such professional and polished production values in any other festival, complete with full sets, period costumes, and scenic projections.   Future productions are sure to be on every producer’s must-see list.  A true Off-Broadway experience!”

It is always my producing goal to give writers something tangible to take away from a production, something that  captures the ephemeral moment of theater once it’s over. Awards are important “proofs” of excellence, preserving the momentous work of so many theatremakers that collaborate to make a production unique. Although I cannot begin to recognize all of the amazing talents and hard work that went into this project, I am proud to present these  2022 CreateTheater NWF Awards.

The 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival Award winners are:

 

Best Actor in a Play or Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Jason Denton)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Chris Isolano)

 

Best Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Aubrey Matalon)

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play or Musical

  • REWIND (Nick Bernardi)

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Catherine Ariale)

 

Best Set Design & Projections

  • REWIND (Richard Oullette, David Forsee)

 

Best Lighting Design – (tie)

  • REWIND  (Zach Pizza)
  • FINDING MADAME CURIE (Michael Cole)

 

Best Costume Design

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Debbi Hobson)

 

Best Director in a Play or Musical

  • RETRACTION (Jen Wineman)

 

Best Book of a Musical

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)

 

Best Musical Score- (tie)

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

Best Choreography

  • REWIND (Whitney G-Bowley)

 

Best Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Book, Music, Lyrics by Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • SEWING THE DREAM (Book & Lyrics by Judith Estrine, Music by David Kurkowski)

 

Best Play

  • RETRACTION (David Gutierrez)

 

Most Innovative Production

  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

To see photos of this work and for more information, go to the Festival’s homepage at www.newworksfest.org

Want to keep up with CreateTheater as we continue to develop and produce new work? Jump on our email list here.

Why Are You in Theater?

Why Are You in Theater?

I know it’s not for the money.

So… what’s your why?

Part of the privilege of teaching theater on a college level is the constant re-evaluation of the art form as it shape-shifts through human history. For the Greeks it was an integral part of the social experiment to foster loyalty to and identify with the Athenian ethos. Likewise, part of the success of the Elizabethan theater was in response to and encouragement of the burst of patriotic spirit in England following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Throughout the twentieth century, theater was used to express the larger need for social change, to interpret and reinterpret the human conditions in which they found themselves.

Artists make art in response to the culture that surrounds them – and use it to collectively create the social change they desire.

My students often comment on how even a cursory study of theatre history helps them to understand social movements over different time periods, and what life was like “back then” for “real people.” I explain that is because theatre can be seen as a “mirror” on the human experience from one participant’s perspective of life (the playwright) as he saw it. It gives voice to a period that no longer exists.

What needs to be voiced now, at the beginning of the 21st century? What is your interpretation of the human experience?

What’s the Story Only You Can Write?

We live in some amazing times. Collectively I feel that paradigm shift is occurring in our lifetime.

Do you see it?

  • Political division in our country
  • A potential global conflict in the making
  • Little sense of the collective “we,” a loss of community spirit that unites us
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Tribal mentalities that are exclusive rather than inclusive
  • A loss of trust in our leaders and institutions
  • Shifts in attitudes regarding work and labor
  • A pervasive sense of grief for what was and is no more
  • Plus so many others – fill in your own blanks.

In every area, we are experiencing a tectonic change. A profound shift that is breaking our sense of personal continuity with “the way things are.” Referring to 2019 right now feels like a different time and place.

These feelings, both on the collective and individual level, are the 21st century artists’ canvas.

Envision Change

Artists, especially theatre artists, have always said, “Look at yourself. What do you see? Do you like it? Do you really want it to be this way?”

My dear artist friend – what is your message? How do you see life today?

Artists are cultural changemakers, people who stand up and force us to look at who we are, in hopes of creating change.

  • Henrik Ibsen saw the powerlessness of women in their own homes. His play A Doll’s House sparked the women’s movement.
  • George Bernard Shaw saw the degradation of poverty and the exploitation of the poor around him and wrote social plays that led to the improvement of social conditions everywhere.
  • Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank saw the unjust conviction of prisoners on Death Row and interviewed many who were jailed for crimes they didn’t even commit. Their Off-Broadway play The Exonerated led to the overturning of the death penalty in Illinois in 2003.

There are so many more examples that illustrate that when artists’ voices are heard, social and cultural change begins to happen.

How Are You Contributing to the Cultural Conversation?

What’s the story only YOU can write, based on where you are in the world and what you are feeling right now?

What truths do you hold to be “self-evident?” What is not being said that needs to be understood?

What will future academics teach about YOU?

CreateTheater was formed help you launch the plays that need to be told right now. Create theater that makes a difference. Write the play YOU NEED TO WRITE.

I’m looking for new plays and musicals to develop.

Follow us for more information coming soon.

Story vs. Plot

Story vs. Plot

Where in the Story Does Your Plot Start?

 

A discussion about the difference between plot vs. story is anything but an academic question. Instead, like most talks about structure, how a plot is designed from the ground up defines how the audience experiences the story later in the theater. The point of attack is that first thing the audience will see or hear as the curtain goes up.

It’s the first decision that can make or break a great idea for a play, and frankly, I’ve seen too many playwrights who are confused at what point their show should begin in the story.

 

What’s the difference between plot and story?

 

Story is a chronological sequence of events: this happens, then that happens, then that happened next.

However, a plot is carefully constructed by the writer to create a meaning out of those events. A writer sorts and sifts, edits and rearranges the sequence of events in a story to tell the story in a certain way to a certain audience, to create a certain effect on that audience.

This is the craft of writing. A writer uses his own unique perspective to create meaning. A writer is not a historian nor a journalist. There’s a reason that Plot is #1 of Aristotle’s Six Elements. A weak plot will get the dramatist nowhere fast.

 

Early or Late Point of Attack?

 

It’s a generally accepted saying that in writing a play you have to “get in late, get out early.” In other words, start the plot or scene as late in the action as you can, show the action, and then get out of the plot or scene as quickly as possible. This is how most contemporary shows are built, with a late point of attack. This climactic structure allows the story to focus on building the suspense, on engaging the audience in an entertaining way while posing the dramatic question that forms the spine of the story.

Contrast this structure to its opposite, the early point of attack. Look at Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo in the 19th century, that journeys over many years, over a vast sequence of events that all play out in front of the audience’s eyes and ears. An episodic structure unfolds episode by episode onstage, with little exposition needed. It too has a dramatic spine, but is built to explain causeswhy something happened.

A climactic structure is interested in effects – what happened as a result of the inciting event.

In thinking about where the point of attack should be, keep in mind that every story and every character has a history. The problem is to decide where in that history to begin telling the tale.

Plays typically begin at a point just before the primary conflict erupts out of the world of the story. Successful musicals have a variety of both early and late points of attack.

Plays need conflict to fuel their dramatic action, so from a technical standpoint this “fuel” needs to catch fire a few pages after the point of attack – and this tells you where the point of attack should be. Let’s just say for a point of reference, for a full length play try to have the inciting event happen before page 15, on average.

Since many  contemporary playwrights use a very late point of attack, their plays cover only the last few hours or days of the story’s history prior to the climax of the major conflict logically generated by that story.

 

Climatic vs. Episodic

 

In general, for plays using a Climactic Story Structure,

  • Plot begins late in story, closer to the very end or to the climax
  • Covers a short space of time, perhaps a few hours, or at most a few days
  • Often occurs on one set
  • Casts are smaller, usually not more than six or eight
  • Plot is linear with few subplots
  • Dramatic action occurs in a logical cause and effect chain.

By contrast, in plays using an Episodic Structure,

  • Plot begins relatively early in the story and moves in a series of episodes
  • Generally covers a longer period of time: weeks, months, sometimes years
  • Travels to many locales, often exotic
  • Often employs theatricality (flashbacks, dreams, visions, etc)
  • Sometimes uses a non-linear plot structure to tell the story
  • Larger casts with many actors playing multiple roles
  • Frequently marked by several threads of action juxtaposed together to create a web of circumstances

 

How to Start the Play You Want to Write

 

The opening of your play needs to grab the audience’s attention, otherwise the battle is lost before it begins no matter which point of attach you’re using. In general, think about having these elements in your openings:

  1. Start your play as far into the story as possible. Begin well into the story, just before the inciting incident.
  2. Be sure that something happens early on (the inciting incident) to upset the world of the play and cause your protagonist to take action (no one likes a passive protagonist)
  3. Give your protagonist a critical want and make it clear to the audience. Make the stakes high.
  4. Be sure that the antagonist provides strong obstacles. The more even the battle, the greater the suspense.
  5. Get the backstory in throughout the play, when it’s necessary to do so, by gradually weaving into the dialogue the backstory exposition that happened before the start of the play.

So to sum up, a plot is a roadmap to get you where you want to go, and what you want your audience to experience at the end of the play. A plot builds a definite structure from the story’s sequence of events as determined by you, the writer..

Are you writing a play or musical? Would you like someone to look over your script, or to help overcome writer’s block?

Schedule a free consultation with me here.

 

 

 

Join the Online Theater Community at CreateTheater.com.

Do I Need a Star?

Do I Need a Star?

The Need for Stars?

 

 “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

 

Writing a play and then staying the course to see it produced is a daunting task. It requires tremendous focus and 100% dedication to each step in the developmental process.

 Once you think your play “works,” the next step is to have a staged reading to introduce it to the public, either in NYC or elsewhere. A reading is the step before a workshop or a production.

 So if a staged reading is the step before a workshop or production, what is our goal for the staged reading? Getting people to see the reading. And not just ANY people – specifically, people who could help us get to that next step, a production or a workshop. (We also want to get smart, experienced people to the reading for them to give us feedback as well, but for the purpose of this blog post let’s stay with the people who can help us move the play forward.)

 So, who are these people? How can I get them into my reading?

 

 It’s All About Relationships

 

Since everything in this business is about relationships, you should be developing relationships and networking like crazy as soon as you realize that you want to be a playwright. Specifically, you want to cultivate relationships with Artistic Directors, directors, producers, and generally, almost anyone in the industry.

 Sooner or later you realize that everyone in the theater lives or dies by their network of friends and friends-of-friends. And it’s helpful to be friends with or in close association with someone who knows or has access to a “star.”

 

Getting a “Star” Interested in Your Play

 

 I can hear the plaintive cry from many of you: “I don’t have access to a star, and don’t know anyone who does!”

 Sigh. That’s where most of us start, but if you’re in this industry for any length of time and make an effort to network, you’ll inevitably meet someone (or hire someone) who knows someone to make a connection for you. And if your work is good enough (and your price is right), you’ll probably be able to hire someone that’s worked on Broadway before to be in your reading. Often it’s not as expensive as you think.

For a quick answer, you can contact your intended celebrity by signing up for the IMDbPro, which is what most people use. You can also try contactanycelebrity.com.

 BUT the real answer is that quality work shows up very early, in the writing and in the score (if we’re talking about musicals). Sometimes I start to read a script and quickly become riveted to the story. When it’s this good, I smile and say to myself that “the magic is starting to happen.”

Losing yourself in a theatrical world established by a talented writer is a completely magical experience. The “magic” is found on the page long before it makes its way to the stage, and if you’ve read a few hundred scripts or so like many of us have, you know it doesn’t happen all that often.

“Star” actors see the “magic” when they read your script; the same with “star” directors, music directors, and yes, theaters and producers. The cream always rises to the top. Eventually.

 Unfortunately it usually takes its damn sweet time getting there.

 

I Don’t Have a Star – Yet

 

Notice the operative word here – YET.

In order to find that “star” you think you need to attract the theaters and producers that you think you need to help move your script forward – the most important thing you need to remember is that the first star of your show is …. your script. 

Let me say it again.

Your writing should be so good that your SCRIPT is your very first “star.”

 So, while you continue to network and develop each of your plays, remember it’s the constant fine-tuning to your scripts that is the real work.

No amount of networking or self-producing expensive staged readings can substitute for the nitty-gritty down-and-dirty daily work of meeting with yourself every day to sit down and write.

  •  In order to make your writing the true star it needs to be, remember to acknowledge the daily discipline to write (or re-write) every day.
  • Remember to recognize the need for real craft in your work, and
  • Understand the need to constantly keep learning.

You must be a constant student of life and of the craft of writing to master the craft of writing.

 

As Steve Martin quipped, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Want more ideas for writing your script? Sign up for our newsletter

 

 

 

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Breaking Up With Aristotle: Alternate Plot Structures

Breaking Up With Aristotle: Alternate Plot Structures

To Aristotle With Love: We’re Done

 

So many contemporary playwrights claim to have “broken up” with Aristotle.

 

As in, “Ari, we love you and all, but you’re so old school. We’re done.”

 

The energy of the “action plot,where a protagonist has a goal and takes action to obtain that goal, is the plot of Aristotelian tragedy, and the most common organizing principal used when plotting.

 

Whether structured as an episodic early point of attack plot or crafted as a climactic late point of attack plot, it’s still following an active protagonist through his idealized “want” to achieve (or not to achieve) his ultimate high stakes goal. We identify with the protagonist on some level as our “hero,” and experience his journey vicariously through that emotional identification.

 

This is the plot of The Hero’s Journey. It’s the most common plot structure taught in grad school, film school and found in myth and novel from contemporary times to the days of the Greeks.  But it’s far from the only way to construct a plot.

 

Alternative Plot Structures

 

Searching for other structures, I came across film theorist Charles Ramirez Berg’s article A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the “Tarantino Effect.” 1

Berg noticed a trend of an increasing number of modern films that didn’t fall under the dominant energeic plot paradigm. He decided to classify films by these different plot types, and has come up with twelve categories, suggesting that this is just the beginning and not an all-inclusive list.

In theater we know that many types of plots exist, and though character goals can be a part of these plots, it’s not the only way in which to plot a story. But I found Berg’s attempts to categorize them fascinating, and great food for thought.

According to Charles Ramìrez Berg, films can thus be divided into 12 categories, arranged into three main groups based on the ways they deviate from the Hollywood paradigm:

  • plots based on the number of protagonists
  • plots with nonlinear temporality
  • plots that violate classical rules of subjectivity, foregrounded narration, and the narratives of goal-orientation, causality, and exposition.

 

PLOT BASED ON THE NUMBER OF PROTAGONISTS

1) The Polyphonic or Ensemble Plot – multiple protagonists, single location

2) The Parallel Plot – multiple protagonists in different times and/or spaces

3) The Multiple Personality (Branched) Plot

4) The Daisy Chain Plot – no central protagonist, one character or prop leads to the next

PLOT BASED ON RE-ORDERING OF TIME; NONLINEAR PLOTS

5) The Backwards Plot

6) The Repeated Action Plot – one character repeats action

7) The Repeated Event Plot – one action seen from multiple characters’ perspectives

8) The Hub and Spoke Plot – multiple characters’ story lines intersect decisively at one time and place

9) The Jumbled Plot – scrambled sequence of event motivated artistically, by filmmaker’s prerogative

PLOTS THAT DEVIATE FROM CLASSICAL RULES OF SUBJECTIVITY, CAUSALITY AND SELF-REFERENTIAL NARRATION

10) The Subjective Plot – a character’s internal (or “filtered”) perspective

11) The Existential Plot – minimal goal, causality, and exposition

12) The Metanarrative Plot – narration about the problem of movie narration

Different Plots, Same Dramatic Needs

 

Instead of a particular plot structure, let’s talk about serving the dramatic exigencies demanded by plot:

  • a dramatic arc that grounds the audience in a particular world (the beginning),
  • gradually builds in emotional intensity (the middle)
  • to a climax where certain “truths” are revealed and understood by an audience, and in that understanding, the dramatic action is resolved (the end).
  • It’s about the journey that you take the audience on, and how you make them feel on the way.

 

It’s how you make them feel.

 

I’ve seen circular plots revisit an action three times, each time ramping up the emotional intensity for the audience with new information; it works. I’ve read plays that were more character studies than plays, but the structure worked because the character was approached from different perspectives, each one more intense than the one before. It was very interesting. (Admittedly, this works better for plays than musicals, which need clearer plots and subplots to be successful.)

 

An audience goes to the theater to experience something different from their own life. As long as a play takes the audience on an interesting journey, holds their interest and engages their emotions or their intellect in an enjoyable (not confusing) way, plot structures can and should be as inventive and creative as possible. There’s more than one hero’s journey.

 

So – have I encouraged you yet to play around with structure? Take Berg’s 12 categories and start brainstorming.

 

What structures would YOU like to experiment with? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

1A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the “Tarantino Effect.” Charles Ramírez Berg, Film Criticism, Fall 2006; 31, 1/2; ProQuest Direct Complete pg. 5

 

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.