New play festival opens at Emory

A young woman changes into a frog. Florence Nightingale contemplates the devastation of modern warfare. Civil War soldiers speak in lines of poetry.

These aren’t things theater audiences typically witness, but new and experimental plays will become the focus at Emory University as its Brave New Works festival kicks off Thursday night. The event, presented by the Playwriting Center of Theater Emory, gives contemporary playwrights a chance for workshops and readings, all of which are free and open to the public.

“You write plays to be performed in front of an audience,” said Los Angeles-based playwright Madhuri Shekar, whose work will be presented Thursday. Her play “In Love and Warcraft” will have its first professional production at the Alliance Theatre opening Friday, but Shekar says workshop readings like those at Brave New Works are crucial for emerging playwrights.

“Writing a script is only one step in a long process. A reading in public is the next step. It’s important in so many ways,” she said. “It’s wonderful that Emory helps give emerging playwrights a little more exposure to help introduce their work to Atlanta. It’s wonderful to have that sense of community with the audience because that’s why we write plays.”

“Brave New Works is a festival that gives playwrights, theater artists and students the opportunity to take risks and to participate in the process of creating work,” said Janice Akers, senior lecturer and resident artist at Theater Emory. “Our program encourages originality and enrichment of the art of theater and that spirit of inventiveness in Brave New Works reflects our goals.”

Akers is directing the work “The Sapelo Project” as part of the festival on February 15.

“‘The Sapelo Project’ is a detailed interpretation of the lives of the direct descendants of slaves brought from West Africa,” said Josiah Watts, the play’s author and a Sapelo descendant himself. “It is about a people surviving the horrors of one of the worst journeys in recorded human history to somehow build a unique way of life that still survives to this day.”

Brave New Works is hosting what is certain to be a highlight of the festival on February 7. Alliance artistic director Susan Booth is directing a developmental workshop of a new adaptation of “Native Guard” by Natasha Trethewey, Emory professor and Poet Laureate of the United States. Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of poetry examines the lives of black soldiers during the Civil War.

All events take place in the Theater Lab in the Schwartz Center on the Emory campus. A complete schedule of free events:

  • Shekar presents selections from “In Love and Warcraft,” “The Frog Girlfriend,” based on a Polish folktale about a girl who turns into a frog, and “The Untitled Chemistry Project,” set in a chemistry lab in a graduate research facility. Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • “The Bitch of Balaclava” by Patricia Henritze. Moving between the devastation of the Crimean War and the luxuries of Victorian London, the play reveals Florence Nightingale as a woman of wit, passion and brilliance. Saturday, 7 p.m.
  • Selections from “A Work of Pure Fiction” and “Total Power Exchange” by Edith Freni. The playwright, a candidate for Emory’s 2014-2016 Fellowship in Playwriting, presents works in progress, directed by Donald McManus. February 6, 7 p.m.
  • “Native Guard” by Trethewey. Booth directs this developmental workshop adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of poetry about black soldiers who fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War. February 7, 7 p.m.
  • Element of Risk: Bringing Bravery into the Creative Process. Innovators in the areas of design, science, performance art, poetry and public health will discuss taking risks, breaking new ground and redefining how one thinks about creative work. To make a reservation for this forum, contact Emma Yarbrough at (404) 712-9118 or eyarbro@emory.edu. February 8, 5:30 p.m.
  • Selections from “An Elaborate Systems of Ropes and Pulleys” and other new works by Jef J. Petersen. The playwright, a candidate for Emory’s 2014-2016 Fellowship in Playwriting, presents works in progress directed by Brent Glenn. February 13, 7 p.m.
  • “The Sapelo Project,” by Sapelo descendant Watts, is a theater piece that integrates music, movement, spoken word, acting and video to capture the culture and stories of Sapelo Island and the development of the Saltwater Geechee-Gullah dialect. The piece explores the history of slavery on the island and the melding of influences of Arabic, English, Spanish and French cultures. February 15, 7 p.m.