Jason Tam (actor), Jeremy Morse (assistant director), Jason Williams (actor), John Simpkins (director), Joe Iconis (music, lyrics and book) and Sara Katz (line producer) from The Black Suits
By Cindy Pierre
"Bring me your theater enthusiasts, your pop memorabilia auction seekers, and your exotic-drink drinkers" could have easily been the marketing campaign for the Summer Play Festival (SPF) launch party on June 26th, 2008. Based on the flock of people at the bar, the auction table, and surrounding the SPF interns, not to mention those just walking around, any of those would have been well-received. As it was, the producers were able to string all of them together to make for a cool, fun, and informative night.
The posh event drew people from various walks of life, from Sam & Lucy playwright Brooke Berman (SPF '04) to NYC Parks Foundation and Taxi and Limousine Commission executives. Founding Director of SPF and Tony Award-winning producer Arielle Tepper Madover was at hand not only to give thanks to the festival participants and to debrief the audience about SPF history, but also to honor sponsors such as WNBC, HBO and Equinox. At the heart of things, beyond the silent auction of things like Sex and the City DVDs and the imbibing of creative cocktails, each linked to one of the eight SPF plays, they were there to give a "big up" to the festival itself. Given what SPF does for emerging playwrights and other theater artists, there needed to be a lot of glass-raising.
SPF was created four years ago to feature emerging theatre artists and their new plays and musicals. Since its inception, the festival has helped 65 emerging writers develop plays such as Beau Willimon's Lower Ninth, Kenny Finkle's Indoor/Outdoor, and Elise Thoron and Jill Sobule's Prozak and the Platypus, each of which have since gone on to find new homes. What makes SPF distinctive is the way it provides guidance from Broadway professionals, full financial and production support to the artists, no application or participation fees, and has a "hands off" policy on future productions from the participating writers. In addition to these bee-to-honey incentives, the low cost of $10 per performance attracts a young and diverse crowd, dispensing with the affluent times of old. In conjunction with The Living Room for Artists, Inc., formed in 2005, SPF ensures that the voices of the young and diverse are heeded and protected.
For instance, take Joe Iconis, writer of the only musical this year, The Black Suits. Iconis says that he's not only been having a blast with his production team and cast, but that he is most appreciative of having hand-picked them. All eight members of the cast are actors that Iconis has known and worked with for years. I caught Iconis in the middle of five days off from rehearsals, sporting a black suit with Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams (Brandon), Lance Rubin (Nato) and director John Simpkins. Jason Tam (John), line producer Sara Katz, choreographer Jen Werner and stage manager Alix Claps were also around, but didn't get the memo that Simpkins claimed he sent out about the attire. However, the team was in synch about their positive SPF experience.
According to Iconis, SPF is all about the writer's voice in the production process, and executing the original vision for his or her piece. And for writers who have been in and around the circuit as long as Iconis has, that authority is about as good as gold. Conceived at NYU with Robert Maddock, The Black Suits went through workshop after reading after workshop before it was picked up for the festival. Set in Nassau, Long Island, it's the story of a garage band with big dreams and "white boy" issues. Iconis is thrilled to have Williams, Rubin, and Simpkins, three of the original team members attached to the project, back for SPF. It was easy to spot the camaraderie between the group, and the love doesn't stop here. The foursome, along with Werner, are set to also work together on the upcoming The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks (Lucille Lortel Theatre), the show that Iconis has coined his "mistress" show versus his "wife" show, The Black Suits. For now, everyone couldn't be happier to be in the SPF environment.
The team agrees that respect, good will, incredible talent, wisdom, and a sincere desire for the artists to succeed are only a few of the rare and admirable qualities for the staff there. Iconis, along with the seven other writers, have been blogging about the experience on the festival's website, www. spfnyc.com. According to his blog, Iconis describes SPF as "....an enterprise....just feels important and fancy and cool." But the creative team and cast aren't the only ones having fun on the production. The interns have been openly discussing the show that in their opinion, "gets better and better every time" on their own blog.
I caught up with wardrobe intern Spencer Leopold Cohen, and stage managing interns Liza Luxenberg and twins Caroline and Heather Englander. They were happy to share that they are getting invaluable experience as future theater professionals, and honing their skills in a warm and friendly environment. Unlike other internships, each was able to choose what they wanted to do and were happy to spend their summer productively and proactively.
According to Luxenberg's blog, "sometimes, when you work on a show, jokes get old, you get sick of it or maybe even both. With The Black Suits, not only is it not possible, but I find myself rocking out more and more every day." If that isn't an endorsement for the festival, I don't know what is.
This year's lineup should have something for everyone to relate to. There's Billy Finnegan's British comedy Esther Demsack, Stephen Brown's prison drama, Future Me, Sarah Hammond's mystical Green Girl, Jennifer Haley's sci-fi drama, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Jacquelyn Honess-Martin's serious Tell Out My Soul, Sylvia Reed's evocative The Ones That Flutter, and Matthew Lopez's Broadway-inspired family drama, Tio Pepe. With all of that to choose from and only $10 a pop, there's no excuse for missing theater anymore. No, really, what are you waiting for?
By Internet: http://www.publictheater.org/ Select show and view calendar after link, or review shows below first. By Phone: 212-967-7555Phone ticket sales available 10:00am - 9:00pm (Mon - Sun). The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003(South of Astor Square)