“There is a saying in theater that shows are never finished, they just open,” says Scott Schwartz. For the seasoned artistic director of Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater, the process of getting there — from a script’s first draft to full-fledged production — is exhilarating. “I love that adventure,” he says.
Schwartz, along with a select group of directors, playwrights and professional actors, share that journey this weekend in Title Wave at Bay Street: The 5th annual New Works Festival, an opportunity for local stage enthusiasts to watch and weigh in on promising plays — and one musical — in development.
“The theater has 299 seats, and that means potentially 299 opinions,” says the Broadway veteran who created the free festival to further the East End playhouse’s long-standing commitment to emerging talent and projects. “After a performance, there is a talk-back session, a conversation between the audience, writer and director.”
Along with the post-performance exchange, attendees can expect the productions to have limited staging and rehearsals. “These are readings, not full works,” explains Schwartz. “The focus is on the words and the story.”
The festival draws participants from across the country and around the corner. The Kilbanes, rock band songwriters and authors of the musical “Medea,” for example, are based in San Francisco, while Stephen Hamilton, director of Emily Mann’s “A Seagull in the Harbor,” a contemporary interpretation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull," lives in Sag Harbor.
Another testament this year to the Bay Street festival’s mission and growing reputation is the participation of veteran actors Jane Alexander and Estelle Parsons. “I’ve spent my whole life doing new plays with few exceptions. I want theater to represent the world we live in, and I think most of American theater has the same idea,” says Parsons. “Of course, you have to have smart directors, and casting is at least 95 percent of success. But playwrights need us to get the best out of themselves and find their big challenges.”
Alexander appears in native Long Islander Jennifer Maisel’s “Eight Nights,” exploring a Holocaust survivor’s struggle to move on from her dark past. Parsons portrays a veteran actress returning to Broadway in the reality-based “The Prompter,” by Wade Dooley, a cast member in the national tour of “Jersey Boys.”
“Many of the greatest writers started out as actors,” says Schwartz, noting Shakespeare’s early career as a performer. It is that back-and-forth between what’s on the page and how it translates on the stage that, through the festival, ultimately becomes part of the works.
“It’s impossible to know what you really have,” says Schwartz. “All the fizz and foam comes bursting out with each reading. And that carries over to the audience, and they become a part of the creative process.”
While bolstering Bay Street’s commitment to new works, the annual festival befits an entertainment world that is increasingly interactive. Just as Schwartz notes of great actors who follow their instincts, “it’s scary and dangerous, rewarding and energizing.”
WHEN | WHERE “Medea,” 8 p.m. Friday; “A Seagull in the Harbor,” 2 p.m. Saturday; “The Prompter,” 8 p.m. Saturday, and “Eight Nights,” 3 p.m. Sunday, Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor
INFO Free (reservations recommended); 631-725-9500, baystreet.org