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New bridges between Aspen and Florida

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” It would not be enough to use the singular with regard to Aspen’s newest festival. It’s the New Bridges Fest, and there is a reason to refer to these “bridges” as multiples.

The festival is meant to link the communities of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Aspen, theater organizations in the two towns, and playwrights with directors and actors. And in perhaps its ultimate goal, it hopefully will provide a bridge for emerging talent to cross over to the theater establishment.

New Bridges is a collaboration between Theater Masters, an 8-year-old Aspen-based group that has focused on supporting young playwrights, and Palm Beach Dramaworks, a Florida theater company in its ninth year. The curtain opens on the festival with staged readings in Aspen of four new works ” including one by Aspen product Naomi Jones ” and, after intensive dialogue between the playwrights and directors and actors, further readings in West Palm Beach.

The festival is meant to give playwrights, mainly those who have recently graduated from college or are in master’s programs, “that first leap into the professional arena,” said Aspenite Julia Hansen, the artistic director of Theater Masters.

The work began on Friday, when a group of four playwrights, six actors ” including local thespian Peggy Mundinger ” and two directors assembled in Aspen. Over the weekend, the group developed productions of the four plays, which range in length from 10 to 90 minutes. The Aspen leg of the inaugural festival continued with two nights of staged readings at Aspen High School’s Black Box Theatre. (The second of those two nights is at 7:30 tonight and includes Jones’ 20-minute piece, “Threadbare Sex.”)

Over the next two weeks, the playwrights ” Jennifer Fawcett, Josh Tobiesson and Jason Tremblay, in addition to Jones ” will take notes from the directors (Pesha Rudnick, associate artistic director of Theater Masters, and J. Barry Lewis, who directed an acclaimed recent production of Ionesco’s “The Chairs” for Palm Beach Dramaworks). The action then moves to Florida, where each play, in polished-up form, will have two staged readings apiece at Dramaworks’ 84-seat theater in downtown West Palm Beach.

“Often, throughout the country, there are initiatives for young playwrights in high school, or for established playwrights. There’s grant money available,” said Bill Hayes, the producing artistic director of Palm Beach Dramaworks, who met Hansen through the press agent who represents them both. “But there’s a void for playwrights out of college, pursuing a career, who need organizations to foster them.”

Hansen and Hayes have no specific long-term plans for the first round of plays to come out of the New Bridges Fest ” just sincere hopes that the work will advance the writers’ careers. But they do have some long-term goals for the festival: They would like it to become a significant resource for emerging playwrights, and a model for collaboration that other theater organizations can follow. Finally, they want their work to help elevate the level of new theater in Aspen, West Palm Beach, and the country.

“Palm Beach Dramaworks’ slogan is ‘Theater to Think About,'” Hayes noted. “And that’s what Theater Masters wants everyone to feel as well.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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