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Heights and Gallery players stage works by emerging playwrights and directors

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Nine months of the year the Heights and Gallery Players perform well-known plays by well-established playwrights. But in June they turn their stages over to emerging directors and playwrights.

This year, the Gallery Players’ Black Box Series includes two full-length plays and 10 one-acts, as well as four Saturday afternoon readings of works-in-progress - all by emerging playwrights. The Heights Players’ Directors’ Workshops series presents two weekends of dance, comedy and drama, all of which give directors and performers the opportunity to explore and expand their creativity.

The Black Box Series fulfills the Gallery Players’ commitment to providing playwrights with the artistic support they need to develop their skills. Beginning in February, playwrights are paired with experienced directors, and their plays are read, re-written, discussed and re-read in preparation for their world premieres.

This year, executive producer Sidney Fortner says she brought on Yvonne Opffer Conybeare, Heather Siobahn Curran and David Keller, three associate producers who will each serve as dramaturges for one week in the four-week series. Fortner is the dramaturge for the first week.

"Dramaturges work with the playwrights as extensions of the audience’s consciousn­ess," Fortner told GO Brooklyn. "They view the play as the audience would and give the playwrights feedback. They point out whatever might keep the audience from getting the point of the play."

Fortner emphasizes that these productions are "a process not a product," in the spirit of collaboration. Although directors have full control of all aspects of production, playwrights are invited to participate in casting decisions and may attend as many rehearsals as they would like.

"It’s very gratifying to see playwrights benefit from the process," she says. "Things actually happen We take people from wherever they are, and they target their own weaknesses."

Fortner is particularly pleased to see playwrights who started with one-acts progress to full-length plays. Staci Swedeen, who wrote "AM/FM in the First Degree" (June 20­23), and David Keller, author of "Otherwise Engaged in a House Half Full" (May 30-June 2) are two such examples.

In the past three years, Swedeen has written monologues and plays for works-in-progress readings. Keller’s "The Messiah," a one-act about the encounter of a reporter and a reluctant superhero, premiered in the Black Box Series last year.

Keller says "Otherwise Engaged in a House Half Full" takes place backstage at a community theater and is loosely based on his experiences as an actor and director in Brooklyn theater. In fact, some of the people he has worked with are acting in his play.

"Otherwise Engaged in a House Half Full" is, says the playwright, "fundamentally a comedy with darker, more serious issues." Keller, who works as an admissions counselor at CUNY’s Baruch College, says he is "very interested in why people take certain roads," which is the subject of both his plays.

Joe Lauinger has had plays in the Black Box Series ever since its inception five years ago.

"Every year he gets better and better," says Fortner. "He’s a great writer." This year Lauinger has two plays in Box 2.

"Red Weather" is about a woman who is an animal behaviorist studying Bengal tigers in India and a man who is making a documentary about her adventures. The play, which takes place in a hidden platform in a tree in a jungle by the tigers’ water hole, reveals their different perceptions about what is happening.

"Half in Love" is about a man and woman who meet in a cemetery as the woman is dropping jellybeans on a grave. As the play progresses, they get to know each other and share their attempts to deal with the loss of a loved one.

Traci Parks, who lives in Carroll Gardens, is working with the Gallery Players for the first time this year. Her one-act, "Dr. Wills," is about a married couple contemplating having a baby, the husband’s lover, and the wife’s doctor, who is also a love interest.

The Heights Players’ Directors’ Workshops feature the works of two choreographers - Rina Spielberg’s "Return of the Sun" (June 7 and 8), a piece that is named after her Park Slope dance company, and James Martinelli’s "Wake Dream" (June 14 and 15).

On the dramatic side, Susan Montez directs a one-act, "A Matter of Respect" (June 14 and 15), which was written by her father.

Comedy also plays an important part in this year’s workshops.

Jonathan Siregar is directing "Poison Ives" (June 6 and 8), three 10-minute comedies, and Steve Velardi ("Jake’s Women") is directing "Skitwo" (last year he directed "Skidoo").

Velardi says Skitwo is a "renaissance of vaudeville," with music, comedy, parody and beer.

"It’s the last show [it’s preceded by ’Poison Ives’ on June 6 and ’Poison Ives’ and ’A Matter of Respect’ on June 7]. After sitting through the other show, the party begins," Velardi explains.

For those who believe the theater season comes to an end in May, the good news is that the Heights and Gallery Players have found a way to extend the season with thought-provoking, original entertainment.

 

The Heights Players’ Directors’ Workshops begin at 8 pm on June 6, 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 26 Willow Place at State Street in Brooklyn Heights. There is a $5 suggested donation. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.

Gallery Players’ Black Box Series begins May 30. Box 1 presents "Otherwise Engaged in a House Half Full" and runs May 30 to June 2. Box 2 includes "Good News," "Half in Love," "Red Weather" and "Odd Man Out," and runs June 6-8. Box 3 includes "Name," "Mastitis," "Oh Happy Day," "Still Life," "Dr. Wills" and "Table for Two" and runs June 13-16. Box 4 presents "AM/FM in the First Degree" and runs June 20-23.

All Gallery Players performances begin at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 3 pm on Sundays. There is a dialogue with the playwrights after each Sunday matinee. Tickets are $15, $12 children under 12 and seniors.

Works-in-progress dialogues are at 4 pm on June 1, 8, 15 and 22. Admission is free. The Gallery Players’ theater is located at 199 14th St. at Fourth Avenue in Park Slope. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.

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