Florida Studio Theatre announces its Summer Play Reading Festival, presenting three staged readings of new works by contemporary American playwrights.
This summer’s Festival features "The Suffragette’s Murder" by Sandy Rustin, "Baton" by Deneen Reynolds-Knott and "Master of the Revels" by Jeffrey Couchman.
As Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre, new play development is the lifeblood of FST, providing a forum for new works to be heard, discussed and workshopped. Two of the artists highlighted in this Festival — Rustin and Couchman — are members of FST’s Playwrights Collective, a select coalition of artists dedicated to developing new work for FST’s stages. Reynolds-Knott, the third playwright featured in this festival, is new to FST. Her work has been developed by theatres across the country, including Liberation Theatre Company, Project Y, and Rising Circle Theatre Collective.
Each playwright will travel to Sarasota and take part in one week of rehearsals and development sessions with FST’s artistic staff. At the end of each week, a staged reading of each of their plays will be performed for a live audience, followed by a conversation about the work in progress. Following each staged reading, audiences will have an opportunity to share their experience of the play with the playwrights. These discussions also give FST the opportunity to understand if and how each play connects with the audience. Several plays that have been part of FST’s previous new play festivals — "America in One Room" by Jason Odell Williams, "Honor Killing" by Sarah Bierstock and "Wednesday’s Child" by Mark St. Germain — went on to have their world premieres on FST’s Mainstage.
“We’re excited to share these stories with the audience,” said Catherine Randazzo, who leads the theater’s New Play Development program. “This festival’s lineup includes three distinct plays that will both charm audiences and make them think at the same time. 'The Suffragette’s Murder' by Rustin features her one-of-a-kind humor, but also encourages us to consider how far we have come — or not — since the fight for women’s suffrage first started. Reynolds-Knott is an up-and-coming playwright whose work packs a powerful punch. We’re looking forward to discovering how her play, 'Baton' resonates with our audience. 'Master of the Revels' blends history, Shakespeare and family drama into one piece that is full of theatricality and tension. This festival is vital to our New Play Development efforts and helps FST’s artistic team identify areas of growth for each play.”
The Festival begins July 8, with "The Suffragette’s Murder." In Rustin’s latest play, Loralee Hart, an orphaned suffragette, turns up murdered after a gang riot on the Bowery in the summer of 1857. This brings her fellow residents of The Mayhew Boardinghouse — an eccentric group of unlikely women’s rights activists — under suspicion. Each woman must face a morning of interrogation from an unknown officer while gang leader, Chucky the Moose, looms large on the streets of Manhattan.
Next up is "Baton" on July 15, a modern drama about hard choices and today’s pressing issues. Baton opens on Ava and Tim’s date at a sports bar in Hell’s Kitchen, which seems to be going well … until the TV screens suddenly all light up with breaking news. Images of unrest in Baltimore, Md., are seen on every screen — it is the night of Freddie Gray’s funeral. Flashbacks run rampant through Ava’s mind, and she finds herself suddenly so far away from Tim, from the sports bar, and from the date. When the young Black couple’s differing feelings about the case come spilling out, the past and the present collide, unleashing an evening of accusations, confessions and questions.
“Baton examines whether or not there is anything that can change how you feel about the people you love, even when dark secrets are uncovered,” said Randazzo. “The play helps round out the comedy of 'The Suffragette’s Murder' and contrasts with the period-style drama of 'Master of the Revels.'"
'Master of the Revels' the Summer Play Reading Festival to a close on July 22. This new play is based on the true story of William Henry Ireland, a 17-year-old boy who forged notes and letters — and even entire plays — in the name of Shakespeare. In Couchman’s play, Ireland is an aspiring young author who dreams of finding success through his storytelling, but his father is not supportive of his son’s aspirations. Vying for his father’s approval, he concocts a plan to give his father exactly what it is he is searching for: the works of Shakespeare. Master of the Revels is a gripping story about truth, lies and the tales we create to protect ourselves.