Every August, a group of selected playwrights goes to camp. Work-in-progress scripts in hand, the lucky few head off to Alamo for a weekend, where each is matched up with counselors: a dramaturge, a director, and in some cases a visual artist, for intensive workshopping and rewriting, periodically demo-ing the developments for the rest of the campers.
The counselors' roster reads like a who's who of Bay Area theater: Jayne Wenger, Shakiri, Tom Ross, Tracy Ward, Amy Mueller, Anne Galjour, Roy Conboy, Gavin Witt, and more. This year's campers include local favorites Brighde Mullins, Robert Henry Johnson, and Brian Thorstenson, while past attendees have included such notables as Anna Deavere Smith, Claire Chafee, and Sam Shepard. But just as camp is not camp without a talent show, a play is not a play without staged readings and audience feedback. Hence the Bay Area Playwrights Festival XXIII, in residence at Z Space Studios Sept. 13-24. Though "Bay Area" is in the name, the playwrights also come from points beyond. The local angle is more about who fosters the new talent, and later, where the final works might be staged. Festival Artistic Director Wenger works year-round garnering NEA funds and catalyzing relationships between festival playwrights and Bay Area theaters.
Mullins, whose recent Topographical Eden won her an NEA playwriting fellowship, offers Monkey in the Middle, an exploration of the fallout from Darwin's ideas set in the Mo-jave desert during the dawn of the human genome project. In Thorstenson's Summerland, the plains of South Dakota backdrop a young gay man's struggle to escape his isolation and alienation. S.F. Ballet alum Johnson's Re-Myth: The Horse Project explores the racism and rhetoric of American mythology through a dance/movement piece about horses. The festival also includes free round-table discussions on collaboration, script workshopping, and choreography.