Bay Area Playwrights Festival 45: Exposing New Plays, on Stage and Online

by Jim Gladstone

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday July 26, 2022

Inda Craig-Galvan, Sharifa Yasmin and Elana Dykewomon's plays are among the five works in this year's Bay Area Playwrights Festival
Inda Craig-Galvan, Sharifa Yasmin and Elana Dykewomon's plays are among the five works in this year's Bay Area Playwrights Festival  

How can a local theater festival amplify its pursuit of national and international exposure for up-and-coming playwrights? As it turns out, the pandemic offered some valuable lessons.

"We're actually keeping aspects the online approach we did last year and combining it with our pre-pandemic in-person approach," said Jessica Bird Beza, Executive Artistic Director of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, which presents its 45th showcase this weekend and next.

The stellar roster of playwrights whose work has been showcased at BAPF in previous years includes Sam Shepard, Anna Deveare Smith, David Henry Hwang, Lauren Yee, and Rajiv Joseph. Three of the five scripts being presented this year feature queer content.

"Some people still have immunity concerns related to COVID," Beza said, "So having online access is valuable for that reason; but going online during the pandemic also helped us realize that we can be seen by more people who can be exposed to these works, both potential producers and funders, and engaged audience members. We've had one playwright's grandma see their work for the first time because of it."

"All of the scripts with be presented on both weekends," explained Bird. "For its first reading, each play will have only in-person audiences. On the second weekend, they'll also be live-streamed online, which allows members of the theater community all over the world to watch and participate in the discussion."

How Dramatic Sausage is Made

The in-person readings will all take place at the Potrero Stage, and for local theater artists, aspiring playwrights and theater lovers intrigued by the creative process, they offer a rare opportunity to experience new plays and engage with emerging playwrights early in their development.

"One of the most important things about our festival," said Beza, "is that these are works in development. After each reading, the playwright asks the audience questions: 'What's working well? Are there elements that are harder to understand?' "

Using feedback following the first weekend's readings, Beza explained that the writers are likely to make changes and adjustments that get implemented in the second readings. Hybrid passes will allow attendees of in-person readings to revisit any or all of the plays online the following weekend.

Online technology will even have a role in two of this year's first weekend events, which will essentially be intimate watch parties with in-person group discussions. Cast members in the first readings of Elana Dykewoman's "How To Let Your Lover Die" and Sharifa Yasmin's "Close to Home" will be performing remotely. In the case of "Close To Home," this allowed the role of a trans female with Arabic heritage to be cast with an actor who aligned with the playwright's vision of the character but happens to live in England.

Selected from 240 applicants, this years showcase plays are:

"A Jumping-Off Point," by Inda Craig-Galvan; a sharp comedy about race, plagiarism and privilege in Hollywood.

"How To Let Your Lover Die," by Elana Dykewomon; a poetic, sometimes harrowing story of caregiving and community in a community of lesbians.

"An Arab Spring," by Denmo Ibrahim; a fractured family reconnects after the death of an estranged patriarch.

"Saturday Mourning Cartoons," by Iraisa Ann Reilly; millennial siblings mourn the death of a brother while considering whether to put their abuela in a nursing home.

"Close to Home," by Sharifa Yasmin; a trans teen, a good old boy and a protective Muslim immigrant cross paths in the American South in this comedy-drama.

Bay Area Playwrights Festival, July 29-Aug. 7. In-person at Potrero Stage. 1695 18th St., SF. Also online. Tickets and packages, $5-$200, sliding scale. www.playwrightsfoundation.org

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