Dressed in street clothes holding a black script binder in one hand while gesturing with the other, the actors on Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater stage this weekend may appear as if they are in the middle of a casting call or, perhaps, a rehearsal. That is, until you realize they are being watched by a full house.
“The audience is the last character,” says Scott Schwartz, the East End theater’s artistic director and the force behind “Title Wave @ Bay Street: The Sixth Annual New Works Festival” running Friday through Sunday. “They provide the energy of the piece and help bring it into much sharper focus by what they react to and by what they don’t.”
The popular free event, comprising three in-development plays and one musical selected with the help of Bay Street’s Patrons Council, also includes “Talk Backs,” an opportunity after the readings for audience members to ask questions and comment. “‘Title Wave’ is a place where writers can grow their projects in a live setting, not just sitting at a keyboard,” explains Schwartz, who has reinvigorated the 28-year-old performing arts center’s commitment to cultivating new works.
“The high caliber of talent at Bay Street is inspiring to be around, while at the same time they create an environment which makes you feel free to take risks creatively,” says Jack Canfora, an East Northport resident who saw his play “Fellow Travelers” fully produced on the theater’s main stage last season. This year Canfora is offering up “Delmonico,” a telltale account of the Beatles’ real-life, star-struck encounter with folk legend Bob Dylan.
“Once you throw an audience into the mix, you really start to see the play become an entity all on its own,” adds playwright Amy Berryman. Her socially conscious, somewhat futuristic drama “Walden” simultaneously tackles the relationship between two sisters and the health of our planet. “I feel this combination of terror and joy deeply when I'm sitting hearing my play with an audience. It's thrilling, but also exposing.”
Writers get the chance to hear their works out loud and actors have an opportunity “to try a role on for size,” says Schwartz.
“Actors can really shape the direction of the play, just as much as the writer can shape who the characters become,” notes Berryman, who has numerous acting credits. “It is great to see both sides of the process, to understand how challenging scary, and joyful it is for the playwright to be in the middle of excavating a new piece.”
Rounding out the festival is Deborah Brevoort’s play-in-progress “My Lord, What a Night,” inspired by an invitation Albert Einstein extended to opera singer and civil rights icon Marian Anderson to stay in his home after she was denied local accommodations after a concert in Princeton. The rock musical “Bliss,” co-written by Tyler Beattie and Emma Lively, also addresses injustices by turning the fairy tale concept on its head. Here princesses save the day instead of needing to be rescued by Prince Charming.
“It’s undiluted. When you see a production, it’s through a specific lens, the directors’ and their team,” Schwartz says. “With Bay Street’s new works festival, you are getting a complete theatrical experience, but more rooted in text than a full-scale production. It’s kind of a pure experience of the author’s vision.”
WHAT Title Wave at Bay Street: The Sixth Annual New Works Festival
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m., Sunday, Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay St., Sag Harbor
INFO Free (reservations recommended); 631-725-9500, baystreet.org