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Posted on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:47 a.m.

Performance Network's Fireside Festival offers a chance to warm up to new plays

By Staff

Performance Network Theatre has announced the lineup for the December installment of its Fireside New Play Festival, showcasing four full-length plays from emerging American playwrights. These new plays have been selected from hundreds of submissions and will be showcased to the public at Performance Network from Sunday, Dec. 2 through Wednesday, Dec. 5 in developmental performances known as a “staged readings.”

Associate artistic director and literary manager Carla Milarch, who helms the festival, calls the work of developing new plays the most important work in theater today. “It’s the research and development arm of American Theatre,” Milarch said in a press release. “Plays don’t just spring to life fully-formed, but rather go through a painstaking process of writing and re-writing, which is nearly impossible without hearing them read out loud. The Fireside New Play Festival gives playwrights a vital opportunity to hear and revise their work with feedback from an audience.”

Audiences, meanwhile, will get a rare opportunity to view plays that may make it into Performance Network’s professional season, or go on to be produced around the country. “Plays from Fireside have gone on to productions at theatres nationwide, including The Goodman, Shakespeare and Company, New Jersey Rep, and many more,” Milarch said in the same press release. “Our Fireside feedback sessions are lively and thoughtful, and give the playwright invaluable feedback about how their words are landing with audiences. It’s a unique window into the creative process and a rare chance for audience members to actually help shape the plays.”

In fact, Performance Network Theatre is holding a full production of "Brill" by David Wells in January, a favorite from last year’s Fireside Festival. Audience feedback was so strong and favorable after the reading that Performance Network decided it would be honored to host the world premiere of the play with music about the Brill Buildings in Manhattan in 1959 - a time when you could find a publisher, cut a demo, promote the record, and make a deal with radio promoters all within one building.

Performance Network Theatre is one of 26 Core Members of the National New Play Network, the country’s alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development, production and continued life of new plays. Since its founding in 1998, NNPN has supported over 100 productions nationwide through its innovative Continued Life of New Plays Fund, commissioned eighteen playwrights, and provided more than twenty MFA graduates with paid residencies. Through its affiliation, PNT is part of a large and flourishing Network of plays and playwrights, accessing the best new plays available and participating in national development efforts.

The Fireside New Play Festival Schedule, provided by Performance Network, is as follows:

"Miracles in the Fall," by Chuck O’Connor: Sunday, December 2 at 7 p.m.

Clare Connelly, a Dominican Sister in 1968 Detroit, is the caretaker of her alcoholic father and the keeper of her dead mother’s virtue. She embodies the contradictions of her hometown, where the self-hatred of race riots dusts the city’s baseball team championship hope. Clare’s desire for holiness is challenged by the indignity of her increasingly infirm father, the confidence of a maverick priest’s intimacy, and the self-crippling family secret revealed with the untimely return of her prodigal brother. Clare must face her personal history and accept that survival is a very human act of self forgiveness.

"Merit," by Lenelle Moise: Monday, December 3 at 7 p.m.

Winner of the 2012 Ruby Prize (Southern Rep’s annual new play award for a woman of color playwright), Merit is a two-act comedic drama about race, isolation, academia and sex. Set in a fictional but contemporary college town in Vermont, Merit follows Mona, a precocious and passionate fiction writer who is the only student of color (and Southerner) in her prestigious graduate program. When she befriends distinguished professor Doctor Sive - a demanding divorcee with fatigued sex appeal - the two are called to strike a balance between curiosity and propriety, power and love, desire and professionalism. "Merit" was developed as part of the 2010 Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival.

"County Line," by David Wells: Tuesday, December 4 at 7 p.m.

"County Line" is a comedic drama that taps into our collective sense of being unmoored, and the hardwired perseverance that keeps us from floating completely adrift. Set in rural Kansas, Lois’s mother left when she was six-years-old. When Lois is 17, her lovable but irresponsible father gets 18 months in state prison, and Lois is sent to a foster parent who also runs the County Line Truck Stop & Travel Center. Now 22-years-old, Lois tells the story of that time in her life five years ago and why she’s returning to the County Line.

"Road Through Heaven," by Ricky Martinez: Wednesday, December 5 at 7 p.m.

What would we do to stay embraced by love, to bathe in its truth, to understand its unconditional core, to live in its heaven? For an orphan coming-of-age, haunted by his past, this haven of love dwells in a humble home where he is bound by a lovers’ triangle. Yet, within the walls of paradise, the secret seed of a curse is growing and threatens to be birthed. Set on an island in the Caribbean, this full-length magical-realistic play explores the poetry of life and death, the responsibilities of friendship, and the determination of willing dreams into realities.