Heartland Theatre began its life as a home for new works. Although that mission has changed over the years, Heartland still makes a place for brand-new plays, with a festival for 10-minute plays in June and a program of one-act plays in July. Both projects solicit scripts from playwrights and then select the cream of the crop for staging. The 10-Minute Play Festival, which just finished up its 13th year, accepts submissions from all over the world, with eight winning plays fully staged and performed on Heartland's stage. The New Plays from the Heartland, on the other hand, celebrate new work written by Midwestern authors. And Midwestern authors only!
When the New Plays from the Heartland have been sorted through, discussed and considered, only three winners emerge. This year, with the theme Escape, two winners hail from Illinois and one from Wisconsin, but their work covers a range of issues. There's a look at what represents escape and what represents a trap for a woman in the 1950, a philosophical musing on the nature of theatre, and a filmic piece about how a boy's life can be changed in the space of a summer when he leaves home to stay with his aunt. The plays are:
AN ESCAPE PLAN FOR WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE
by Lori Matthews, Stoughton WI
It's 1950, and Harriet is smart, accomplished and committed to her future. The question is what that future should hold. Marriage, wealth, privilege? Or perhaps her life should be a bowl of cherries.
by Michael Leathers, Chatham IL
When two very different men come to the theater, they think they'll just take their seats and settle in for a show. But this is no ordinary theater...
by Pamela Lovell, Bloomington IL
For Josh, "escape" might be spending the summer with his aunt. For Aunt Julie, it might be living alone in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. For both of them, it might be finding a way to talk, to grow, to ride out the storm.
As a play development project, the plays are presented as staged readings, with actors performing with scripts in hand along with some props, costumes and set pieces. Director Don LaCasse has an acting troupe of eight that includes some of the area's best actors, with Colleen Longo, Katie McCarty, Danny Rice and Ann B. White appearing in Escape Plan, Nathan Bottorff and Rick Jensen in Merely Players, and Harrison Gordon and Cristen Monson in Alchemy.
Kathleen Kirk served as dramaturg for the project, shepherding the scripts from entry to performance, and she also worked with Scott Klavan, the New York playwright, director and actor who acted as the final judge this year. Klavan will meet with the three winning playwrights in a special workshop designed just for them, and he will also conduct a forum on playwriting at the theater on Thursday, July 17, at 7:30 pm. That forum is free and open to the public.
Performances of the New Plays from the Heartland will take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Heartland Theatre, with a 7:30 pm curtain on Friday and Saturday and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday. Since this is a special project and not a part of Heartland's subscription season, Flex Passes are not accepted, but tickets are priced at only $5 to make the project accessible to everyone. Reservations are a very good idea as some performances fill up quickly.