Runs weekends, February 7 – 23
Tickets and more at theatreb.org
By ARTSpulse contributor David Wintersteen
The theater world can be a small place. When the artists of Theatre B embarked on the Incubator Series, little did they know that the author of the first play would be someone who was born and raised in Fargo.
The Incubator Series started with a challenge from Rob Urbinati, associate artistic director for new play development at New York’s Queens Theatre in the Park. Urbinati, a longtime friend of the artists at Theatre B and a playwright himself, said, “It is time for Theatre B to pave the way for productions of unpublished plays.”
He sent Theatre B’s artistic direction committee a dozen scripts to read, without revealing the authors. After much discussion the committee agreed that one play in particular had the best potential for success: Sweet Nothing, A (Grim) Fairy Tale. Once Theater B chose the script, Urbinati revealed that the playwright was a Fargo native, Stephanie Timm, who was now located in Seattle.
The play is inhabited by familiar fairy-tale creatures, but it is set in a war-ravaged land. Three sisters share a cottage; wolves lurk outside; a mute wood-cutter’s boy wants to help. One of the sisters marries a prince and goes off to live with him; the postcards she sends home hint that all is not right.
One unusual part of the development of Sweet Nothing is that the title changed during the submission process. The original title was Picked, but another playwright had published under that title, so Timm felt it best to draft a different title to reduce confusion. In doing so, aspects of the play related to that idea also changed in later drafts.
Director Kimberly Miller was surprised to see some of the changes that the script had undergone since she was first invited to direct it. When she received the latest version she exclaimed, “Wow, I can’t wait to see what else has changed.” This is one of the joys and risks of producing new work. It can be a highly collaborative process, with playwrights editing the script based on a director’s questions or the manner in which specific actors inhabit their developing characters. Or, it can simply be a process of surprises, with artists having to be flexible as the story continues to evolve.
Another risk is that these new works have not been tried and tested by an audience. Unlike the Tony and Pulitzer award-winning plays usually produced at Theatre B, the artistic direction committee has to trust that the story that engaged them on the page will translate to the production on the stage. But it is in Theatre B’s mission to take risks, and it’s exciting to break new ground.
If the Incubator Series is successful, Theatre B plans to commission new work by regional and local playwrights. This will encourage local writers to draft and edit stories with the input of other creative artists. It will allow Theatre B’s artists to do more than interpret words on a page, but to influence storytelling at an early stage of the process when changes can still be made. And it will invite regional audiences into the unique experience of being the first to encounter a play.
Image: courtesy Kensie Wallner for Theatre B.