BE IT RESOLVED
Northwest Arkansas premieres, supports and produces more new scripts than Kent Brown and Roger Gross could ever have dreamed.
From 1986 to 1996, University of Arkansas drama professors Roger Gross and Kent Brown created, curated and nurtured the Mount Sequoyah New Play Retreat to foster fledgling playwrights — like Bob Ford, who later returned to Fayetteville and helped found TheatreSquared, a professional regional company which continues to hold an annual New Play Festival.
In its ninth year in 2017, TheatreSquared’s New Play Festival reached a level of national recognition that included Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour and prominent Lebanese-American playwright Mona Mansour submitting plays, as well as a workshop production of University of Arkansas’ playwriting program head John Walch’s “Transatlantic.” But the concept of creating, seeking out and presenting new works has spread throughout Northwest Arkansas, reflected in the 17 plays by Mark Landon Smith that have been published, nine of them developed at Arts Live Theatre; in the first production of “Every Day a Visitor” outside New York, which happened in November at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers; in the TheatreSquared production of Amy Evans’ “The Champion,” the story of an unforgettable night for Nina Simone and her bandmates, which was workshopped at T2’s New Play Festival last year and produced at T2 in October; and in the February University Theatre production of “Lysistrata” adapted by drama professor Morgan Hicks.
“On one end of the spectrum, the play could be approached for historical accuracy — think togas and choral odes and masks,” Hicks says. “On the other end of the spectrum, we could have pulled the general idea from the play to inspire a completely original story. Spike Lee recently took this approach with his film, ‘Chiraq,’ where the women go on a sex strike to convince the men to give up gang violence in Chicago.
“For our production, we took a blended approach. We decided to use a fairly faithful translation of the scenes, but to use the design elements to pull us into the 21st century. We also explored the ‘choral odes’ found in the original script. These sections, designed to highlight the central argument of the original play, were reimagined in our production through popular modern songs that showcase gender dynamics like ‘Stand by Your Man’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’.
“My major motivation was to create an adaptation and production that allowed students to hear the words of Aristophanes while being able to understand how this ‘old’ story still has an immediate resonance in their lives.”
T2 executive director Martin Miller says that the first show of the New Year will be the work of playwright Stephen Karam, whose show “Sons of the Prophet” was previously seen on the T2 stage in Season 7. “Humans” is a family dramedy that takes place over a particularly fraught Thanksgiving dinner. It won four Tonys in 2016, including Best Play, says Miller.
Also new in the spring will be the the University of Arkansas’ ArkType Festival of New Works in April. The festival will be two weeks of original work, including plays by two MFA playwright candidates and faculty member John Walch, head of the MFA playwriting program and author of “Transatlantic.” ArkType will be the first department of theatre production to take place in the newly renovated Global Campus Theater on the Fayetteville square.
‘The Humans’ Jan. 24-Feb. 18
Arkansas Public Theatre
‘Life Is a Dream’