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INTERVIEW: Scott Schwartz Discusses Title Wave At Bay Street, The Inspiring New Works Festival Lineup, And More

Anastasia Lennon

A preview New Works Festival production. (Photo: Michael Heller)

This May, Bay Street Theater presents its fifth annual New Works Festival under a new name: Title Wave. Each year, plays and musicals still in their developmental phase are selected by the theater for a live reading with professional actors. The stripped-down presentation of these "new works" gives the audience a unique opportunity to experience the performing arts in a different way. In this symbiotic setting, the audience takes on a more active role and in turn, the writers, directors, and producers stand to gain valuable insight and feedback from attendees.

Hamptons.com spoke with the theater's Artistic Director (and a festival participant) Scott Schwartz to learn more about this annual event.

How does this year's New Works Festival differ from those of previous years?

SS: This year continues the growth and expansion of this festival, newly renamed "Title Wave"! The New Works Festival has grown so popular with audiences over the past four years that we had even more wonderful scripts to choose from and more resources to devote to the readings. One specific difference is that we will perform a folk-rock musical adaption of the classic tale "Medea" with a full rock band - this is the first time we've done a musical with more than just very simple musical accompaniment in the festival.

How was the idea for the New Works Festival conceived?

SS: When I first joined Bay Street as Artistic Director five years ago, I wanted to build on our great history of producing world premieres for the theater and make Bay Street a center for new work on the East End. One of the main ways I sought to do that was to create a forum in which we could develop new plays and musicals and give our audience the chance to see works-in-progress and respond to them. Thus the Bay Street New Works Festival was born.

In the festival, we present staged readings with professional actors. The plays and musicals are read in their entirety, and there is minimal staging. There is very limited rehearsal for each reading, so it is a visceral, instinctive experience of the play for the actors and the audience. It was also very important to us that the experience of New Works be accessible to all, so all the readings in Title Wave are free!

How has it evolved since its inception?

SS: Five years ago, we started the Festival in a very bare bones way, with three readings of three new plays. We were hoping at least a handful people would show up to see them! That first year, the turnout was far higher than we had even hoped for, and it clearly demonstrated that there was a thirst for new works in our community. Since that first year, the festival has grown a lot - we now do four projects each year - and we always present at least one new musical. And many of the readings sell out. Tile Wave has become a lively, buzzing hive of art and creativity in Sag Harbor for one spring weekend each year.

In one word, describe the process of selecting this year's lineup of plays/musicals.

SS: Inspiring! (Can I also say "humbling"?) It was so humbling to get to choose between so many excellent new works and to see what wonderful plays and musicals are being created around the country and by local writers on the East End.

As artistic director and "curator," of the festival, what were you and your colleagues looking to feature for 2018? What was this year's selection process like?

SS: We looked to program a festival that is as broad and diverse as possible, one that gives our audience the chance to experience four very distinct, fresh voices in the theater. It was a great process selecting the shows. Associate Artistic Director Will Pomerantz and I were so happy with how many strong and exciting works we got to evaluate. We also had a new addition to our selection process this year. Bay Street has a wonderful group called the Patron's Council, and they helped read and evaluate scripts for the festival and participated in a meeting in March where we discussed all the works and made final selections. I'm so grateful to the Patron's Council for all their help this year.

What is your favorite part of the festival?

SS: Wow, that's sort of like being asked what my favorite child is - I love it all!

How far along are the productions in their development?

SS: These are all works-in-progress. The reason we include them in the festival is to give the writers the chance to learn from the experience of watching their work in front of the Bay Street audience. There are talk-backs after every reading, where the audience gets the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback on the plays. The authors will then hopefully continue to work on and refine their scripts based on what they learn.

One thing we have learned over the years is that some plays and musicals are more ready for production then we expect, and some are less. It's so amazing to see plays read live in front of an audience - plays and musicals are meant to be heard and watched, not read, so we always are surprised by how audiences responds. The surprise is part of the fun!

You're directing "The Prompter." What are you hoping to get from screening this play/any particular feedback you're anticipating from the audience?

SS: When I read this play, I immediately fell in love with it. It is a funny, edgy, insiders' view of creating a Broadway play, and focuses on the relationship between a young "prompter" and a fiery older star. I'm very excited to be able to share that the legendary actress, Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons, will be starring in this reading. It's going to be so great work with her!

As for what I'm looking for, I'm open to whatever happens. I don't know that expecting or hoping for any particular feedback, I'm just looking to learn as much as I can from the process of the rehearsing this reading with Estelle and then hearing how the audience responds.

The festival opens on Friday, May 4 at 8 p.m. with "Medea: A Rock Musical" written by The Kilbanes and directed by Reggie D. White. The second reading is Saturday, May 5 at 2 p.m. with "A Seagull in the Harbor" written by Emily Mann and directed by Stephen Hamilton. This will be followed at 5 p.m. by "The Prompter" written by Wade Dooley and directed by Mr. Schwartz. The last reading, "Eight Nights," is on Sunday, May 6 at 3 p.m. It is written by Jennifer Maisel and directed by Will Pomerantz.

All of the readings are free, but tickets must be bought in advance and are likely to sell out. The theater emphasizes that tickets will be deemed invalid if presented 10 minutes prior to each reading.

Bay Street Theater is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Advance reservations can be made online or by calling the box office at 631-725-9500. For a detailed description of each new work, please visit www.baystreet.org.

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