By GAIL WESTERFIELD
Special to the Guide
Live theater is about to get a little, um, livelier for audiences next weekend with the staged readings of three new plays at the South Carolina Repertory Company’s first-ever Hilton Head Island New Play Festival.
The playwrights will invite feedback about their work, allowing audiences the opportunity to hear brand-new plays, then participate in the shaping of them.
Katie Rasor, the festival’s director and literary manager for the repertory company, said the plays are “finished and could be fully staged as they are right now, but this is an opportunity for the playwrights to fine-tune the jokes, tweak the plot and see how the audience reacts to certain choices they’ve made.”
When Rasor came up with the idea for the festival, she thought the South Carolina Repertory Company would be an ideal “platform for all the fabulous work that new American playwrights are creating right now.”
Scripts for plays that had not yet been fully produced were submitted from all over the country, Rasor said. She and Pat Haskell, the repertory company’s artistic director, made the final selections.
Bryce Wissel’s play, “Ephemera,” was one of the three selected. It’s being staged next year in Chicago, so the festival is an opportunity for him to make final revisions to the work.
Wissel, of Los Angeles, admitted to mixed feelings about the prospect of immediate audience feedback: “It’s always a little scary to have people listening to your work. Especially for a comedy, because the best feedback mechanism is laughter, which is immediate and largely involuntary.”
A performer as well as a playwright, Wissel compared his pre-festival feelings to the “excitement and anxiety that I feel before a show, except that the work is already done, so there’s nowhere for all that energy to go except into making me feel a little physically ill.”
“Honestly, I’m grateful for any and all feedback,” Wissel said.
The festival’s casts will come from the repertory company, according to Rasor, who promised “a mix of new and familiar faces.”
Festival audiences “can expect to see funny, cutting-edge work,” Rasor said. “Some of which will be heard by an audience for the first time. They’ll have a chance to talk directly with the directors and playwrights, and not only observe, but participate in a play’s creation.”