Florida Studio Theatre announces that, in association with the National New Play Network (NNPN), it will produce and host the NNPN Women in Playwriting Festival this spring. Part of FST’s Sarasota Festival of New Plays, this three-week Festival will take place throughout April and May, with staged readings of the featured plays in FST’s Keating Theatre on April 26, May 3, and May 10, and in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre on April 24.

As Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre, new play development is at the core of FST’s programming. FST’s New Play Development Program is dedicated to providing a forum for new works to be heard, discussed, and workshopped. The four playwrights featured in this Festival—Sarah Bierstock, Minita Gandhi, Jacqueline Goldfinger, and Lia Romeo—will each come to Sarasota for a week of rehearsals and development sessions with FST’s artistic staff. At the end of each week, a staged reading of their play will be performed, followed by a talkback session in which the playwrights will receive feedback from Sarasota’s socially and politically diverse audiences. These sessions are essential to the development and creation of new plays, and enable playwrights to view their piece from new perspectives.

In order to commemorate the bicentennial celebration of women’s suffrage in America, which is taking place in August 2020, FST has designated this year’s Richard and Betty Burdick New Play Reading Series to be the NNPN Women in Playwriting Festival. This Festival is just one of many events and programs that are part of FST’s 18-month long arts and community initiative, The Suffragist Project: Celebrating 100 Years of the Woman’s Right to Vote.

“Now more than ever, it’s so important for arts organizations to support women and amplify women’s voices,” shared Lia Romeo, one of the playwrights featured in the Festival. “This festival of women playwrights will give each of us the chance to develop our own plays, with the support of a theater full of amazing artists, and will also give us the chance to network and connect with other women writers. Community is the lifeblood of theater, and while every theater is a community in itself, NNPN allows theaters and playwrights from across the country to be in community with each other.”

The Festival begins the week of April 22 with an untitled work in progress by Sarah Bierstock, whose first play, Honor Killing, received its WORLD PREMIERE production at FST last spring. Bierstock’s next project focuses on the Ehrlichs, an all-female family that gathers together for the Christmas holiday following the death of the family matriarch. Daughters Sadie, Becca, and Stephanie do their best to manage their mother’s erratic ways while also navigating their own struggles with infertility, infidelity, and health. FST will be the first theatre to workshop this new play, which will receive a staged reading on April 24 in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre.

The Festival continues with Babel by Jacqueline Goldfinger, which will receive a staged reading on Friday, April 26. In Babel, prospective parents in a near-future society learn within the first weeks of conception which traits their child will have and what behaviors he or she is likely to exhibit. Based on these test results, the parents are either issued a PRE certification, which legally guarantees the baby will be a “good” person, or not. Without the certification, the child will be limited in what s/he is allowed to do. The play focuses on two couples, both early in their pregnancies, as they collide over what to do with their PRE certification test results. Babel asks, with the rapid advances in reproductive technology that exist, how far will we go when playing God?

Following Babel is Lia Romeo’s The Forest on May 3, which was developed at the 2018 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. The Forest follows the journeys of Juliet, who is in the process of losing her marriage, and her mother Pam, who is losing her memory. Meanwhile, a mysterious forest starts to grow in the family’s living room. The Forest explores unconventional love and how to proceed when there appears to be no right answers.

Concluding the NNPN Women in Playwriting Festival is MUTHALAND by Minita Gandhi on May 10, which has been called “A funny, brash, and truthful portrait of embracing one’s past without being smothered by it” by the Chicago Tribune. Inspired by conversations with her parents about their life journeys, MUTHALAND tells of a young woman’s trip to India for her brother’s arranged marriage. During the trip, she unearths family secrets, encounters a prophet, and ultimately discovers her voice within a culture of silence. In this dark comedy about identity, spirituality, and sexuality, the distinction between familiar and foreign becomes blurred.

The Sarasota Festival of New Plays seeks to provide a forum for playwrights of all ages to develop plays that can be fruitfully produced. From our young playwrights to our emerging adult playwrights and seasoned play-writing veterans, the Sarasota Festival of New Plays aims to broaden the breadth and depth of thought in American theatre by encouraging people of all ages and all perspectives to write plays. New Play Development is the lifeblood of FST. It is a year-round activity that is fully integrated into each of the theatre’s other programs. FST’s approach to new play development focuses on the continued life of the work. Aside from presenting world premieres, such as Sarah Bierstock’s Honor Killing (2018), FST frequently provides plays with their second, third or fourth productions. Examples include Black Pearl Sings! (2009), which was given its third production at FST, and was one of the top produced plays nationally in 2010. The 2014 selection Dancing Lessons went on to rave reviews for FST. In addition, in partnership with the National New Play Network, FST has presented the rolling world premieres of Shotgun by John Biguenet (2010) and Doublewide by Stephen Spotswood (2017).

Public readings of select plays by female playwrights presented through the NNPN Women in Playwriting Festival will take place in FST’s Bowne’s Lab and Keating Theatres on April 24, April 26, May 3, and May 10 at 3 p.m. each day. The series of staged readings is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Reservations can be made online at floridastudiotheatre.org, by phone at 941-366-9000, or by visiting the FST box office, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota.

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