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Culture 0

The 2016 Arkansas New Play Festival


Playwright and Arkansas Tech University theatre director David J. Eshelman gravitates toward the early albums from popular bands. Before the groups were famous, he reasons, there’s a raw energy.

He listens “for what it is, and what it could be.”

David J. Eshelman

Similarly, theater goers in Fayetteville and Bentonville will soon have the chance to see works in their nascent days. Except in this case, it will be a slate of American plays in various stages of development.

“We’re developing plays for the American theater,” said Bob Ford, artistic director and playwright in residence for TheatreSquared. “We’re assembling the best in theater, and then tearing apart the plays and putting them back together.”

One of those going through the construction and deconstruction process is a new work by Eshelman. His “A Little War in Little Rock” will see a live public audience for the first time when it comes to T2’s Arkansas New Play Festival for a staged reading on June 26. “A Little War in Little Rock,” a musical written in conjunction with folk musicians Charley Sandage and Charlie T. Crow, focuses on a little-discussed episode in Arkansas politics, the 1874 military-backed standoff between two men who simultaneously claimed to be governor.

Eshelman says the kind of feedback given in staged readings like those taking place from June 17-26 is critical to the development process.

“You’ve got to constantly watch it like you’re not involved. If you change one line, how does it affect what happens five pages later?”

Fayetteville – and the Fayetteville audiences who support playwrighting workshops – have played an important part in developing new plays. TheatreSquared’s new play festival has been operating for seven years, and before it, works were vetted at the Mount Sequoyah New Play Retreat. And one of the works being staged this weekend is being written and developed in Fayetteville. “Romeo and Juliet: Damascus” updates Shakespeare’s work and places it in Syria. It’s being supported by a major grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

There’s a beauty in the discovery of ready-to-blossom works. Many of the works staged at TheatreSquared at previous New Play Festivals have gone on to full-scale productions on prominent stages. One of them, “The Dingdong,” came to last year’s New Play Fest and quickly moved to an off-Broadway production.

Not all of the works coming to Fayetteville or Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges, which will also host shows during the next two weeks, will make such a quick leap. Some likely need two or three more readings before completion.

“We’re really grilling the play to make it the best it can be,” Ford said.

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Kevin Kinder writes about music, art, theater, and more for the Fayetteville Flyer. When he's not checking out live music, he enjoys running, and cheering for the Kansas City Royals.

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