All Work and New Plays

People in New York and Los Angeles are used to getting the first look at a new play — they open almost daily. But here, where people are lucky to get the opportunity to see an art film before it comes out on DVD, it's a pretty remarkable event.

Phoenix Theatre's 5th Annual New Works Festival is premièring four new plays in staged-reading format starting this Friday, July 19. The first in the festival lineup is a musical called The Quiltmaker's Gift. Written by Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company director Alan J. Prewitt, The Quiltmaker's Gift is the first stage adaptation of the New York Times best seller of the same name.

Like an advanced rehearsal, a staged reading features actors with scripts in hand — but don't let that fool you into thinking they don't know what they're doing.

"These are professional actors, and we handpick them," says the festival's resident playwright and co-producer Richard Warren. The actors are given four days to work with the director and playwright before the show opens. They rehearse from Monday to Thursday, and the readings occur Friday and Saturday nights.

The purpose of the workshop process is to perfect the play and let the playwrights see how it works in the hands of actors. "If we do it right, by Saturday night, their play is better," says Warren. He also claims it's not uncommon for a playwright to rewrite the play within the workshop process — even the day before the play opens. Good thing the actors still have their scripts.

Other plays in the festival are Jack Heifner's China Dolls; Darwin's Captain, by Bill Bruehl; and Bunny & Bird, by Warren.