This weekend some new actors tackle a new play, offering audience members a brand new experience. The play is Lidless, by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, and it will get a staged reading at the Jones Playhouse by a cast of five, three of whom are students in the UW’s Professional Actor Training Program (PATP). The project is a collaboration between the UW School of Drama and Seattle Repertory Theatre.
“This is such an exciting opportunity for us,” said Jerry Manning, Seattle Rep producing artistic director. “This play is very powerful, and we’re proud to help develop a piece from one of the most promising new voices in American theater. And to do it with the vitality and dedication of the actors in UW’s Professional Actor Training Program is incredibly special.”
Lidless centers around Alice, a former interrogator at Guantanamo Bay who has done her best to move on from the brutality she was involved in there. But when one of the Guantanamo detainees shows up in her Minneapolis flower shop, she’s forced to confront her past. Alice will be played by PATP student Heather Rash. Fellow students Camille Thornton-Alson and Maura Tang play her daughter and a friend who was also at Guantanamo. The male roles in the drama are handled by professional actors — John Farrage as Alice’s husband and Troy Fischnaller as the former detainee.
“In the play the characters look at their pain together — where they hide it and how they overcome it and what the ramifications are for the family,” said Braden Abraham, the associate artistic director at Seattle Repertory Theatre who is directing the production.
The play has already earned Cowhig the 2009 David C. Horn Prize in the Yale Drama Series competition for emerging playwrights and has received multiple readings, but has not yet had a full production. Abraham said the UW readings will be a “step up from music stands.”
“We won’t have a set but we will have a few pieces of furniture,” he said. “The actors will carry scripts, at least most of the time. But it will be fully staged, and we’ll have some lights and sound.”
The playwright, who currently lives in Austin, Texas, has been present as the play has been rehearsed and will be here for the performances.
Abraham said that staged readings such as this one are valuable for the playwright because she gets to see the show “on its feet.” The playwright, he said, learns more when she can see her work in three dimensions than when it is just read.
The show is also a learning experience for the PATP students.
“This provides an ideal opportunity to have our actors work with professionals on a new play, which gives those actors a terrific new experience,” said Mark Jenkins, the UW faculty member who heads the PATP. “Working with professionals is a huge part of an actor’s education.”
It’s also intimidating, Rash said. “But in all acting you’re working against that critical voice in your head. You just have to let that go.”
She said she found it exciting that the playwright is also young and relatively new to the theater. “She’s still learning to be a writer, and to be able to watch her process and have her answer questions has been great,” Rash said.
Her colleague Thornton-Alson said she often wonders what the playwright is thinking as she watches rehearsals. “She’s written the words, but there’s a big shift between the words on paper and what they sound like on stage. Working on this play has been different in that I think the playwright has the last word on what should be done.”
Seattle Rep is continually receiving new play scripts, Abraham said, and he and Manning are the first to read them. However, the two got to know Cowhig through the Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival, during which playwrights chosen by Hedgebrook Writers Retreat on Whidbey Island get a public reading of their work at the Rep.
“We enjoyed this play and thought it would be a great fit for casting with UW students,” Abraham said. “My favorite thing as a director is working on new plays with the playwright in the room. The dynamic is different. It’s exciting to see the UW actors interact with Frances.”
Because this is a staged reading rather than a full production, the show will go on with only a week and a half of rehearsal. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 4-6 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7. Tickets are just $6 — less than most movies.
Abraham said Seattle Rep hopes to do more collaborations with the UW. “On a practical level I think it’s important for us to make a connection with students because we might want to engage them for productions in the future,” he said. “But beyond that, education is part of our intent with new plays. This is what we think of as the future of American theater.”