You can always find live theater in South Florida … well, almost always. Major companies tend to follow Broadway’s show calendar, ending their season, at best, in late spring and starting up again in October. Florida summers often showcased smaller venues with obscure or newly hatched productions except for, it would seem, the month of September. When the kids are back at school and parents and grandparents have returned from vacations as well. Where do we go for our live theater fix then?
Two highly active and community-oriented companies have decided, thankfully, that this month’s theater doldrums present the perfect opportunity for educating, engaging, and getting to know their off-season audience on a more personal level. They’ve designed specialized smaller and more intimate programming for theater enthusiasts who may be curious about how writers think and scripts begin to form, maybe try their hand at playwriting or acting in a supportive atmosphere and, perhaps best of all, get to know their favorite company’s members while making new, like-minded friends. Proving one’s never to old to learn something new, these “fun classes for adults” will deepen your appreciation of the dramatic arts, not to mention exercise that original, creative-thinking muscle we are all born with but too often neglect in the daily hustle of our busy lives.
NEW CITY PLAYERS (NCP)
Under the sure-handed and always upbeat guidance of New City Players’ NCP Lab Director Krystal Millie Valdes (you might have just caught Krystal starring in NCP’s “Little Montgomery” or Theatre Lab’s “Refuge”), we have the company’s monthly NCPLab. This popular community event has been happening for years, hardly skipping a beat for the pandemic when it transferred to Zoom. But for the past year, live Lab sessions have returned with a vengeance, held at various independent cafes and breweries throughout central Broward.
As the name implies, “Lab” is a working laboratory where new, old and aspiring playwrights come to be inspired and supported in their journey, feel free to take creative risks and then share their work with professional peers and the public for honest feedback. It’s also a great way to discover and support unique independent eateries in our area. A win-win-win for the theater company, its audience, and local businesses. There’s even a contest where playwrights can enter their scripts and the winners see their work staged in a full production. But I must say that even just watching these incredibly varied short scripts being “acted” during readings provides some of the most original and all-out entertaining theatrical experiences around.
Sorry, if I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m so excited about this program where even yours truly had a few short scripts beautifully read by participating actors. I’ll now give you a rundown of their latest “prompt” suggestion (they are always real clever) and how NCPLab actually works.
You can check their website, newcityplayers.org, or Facebook page for the latest info on the next lab and how to sign up for free as writer, actor (or both) or simply participant (where you can join the group to watch, at most, ten-minute plays well and/or professionally read and offer feedback if you wish). If you sign up for their mailing list, you’ll also always get an email reminder in advance letting you know about the latest meeting date, location, selection of your participation level, that month’s prompt and, if you’re interested, details and deadline for submitting your original short play.
NCPLab participants enjoy a lovely evening out, brimming with creativity, camaraderie,
and drinks! at the Lab’s latest local watering hole: Prison Pals Taproom in Oakland Park.
Here’s their most recent lab announcement: NCPLab/Create & Connect August 29, 7 pm at Prison Pals Brewery in Oakland Park. Followed by a big yellow button that says REGISTER FOR LAB. Beneath you’ll find more details like the month’s prompt – this one is: Start your play with someone entering an Uber or taxi and saying “follow that car,” but don’t let them stay in the car for more than 2 pages.
It’s free to all participants and spectators and everyone is encouraged to join at whatever level. As the registration site states: “This group is for all of us to practice our craft, try new things, stretch ourselves artistically, and connect as people.” In addition there are instructions for playwrights to email their play to Krystal and have the front page include character breakdowns/descriptions and any content warnings. The submission deadline (Wed. 8/23, 11:59 pm) is next listed in bold followed by typical feedback question suggestions if the playwright chooses that option. These include: 1. What stood out for you in the play? 2. How would you describe this play to a friend? 3. What was very clear in the story? Was anything confusing about the story?
My advice is to always arrive at least half an hour early to enjoy the venue’s specialties and drinks. Getting there early also gives you a chance to connect socially with NCP’s always cool and friendly staff and fellow theater enthusiasts.
THINKING CAP THEATRE (TCT)
If your back to school fantasy includes heading back to university and reinvigorating your mind, Thinking Cap Theatre (just the name says it all!) – notable for innovative, thought-provoking plays that often highlight great but lesser-known female playwrights through the ages – is presenting a fascinating three-part seminar at probably the most lovely ladies’ lunch-type location in all of South Florida. Led by none other than TCT’s Founder/Producing Artistic Director Nicole Stodard who’s flush from her latest feminist venture success where she partnered with Ronnie Larsen and POW (Plays of Wilton) for his newest division called WOW (Women of Wilton) showcasing live entertainment by women, for women and about women.
Stodard was the ideal choice to direct WOW’s debut performance – Jane Chamber’s award-winning, 1980 landmark dramatic comedy that, for the first time, featured lesbians as fully realized human beings. “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” ran at The Foundry from July 27 – Aug 20 to nightly standing ovations, sold-out performances and rave reviews by audiences of all gender identifications. The cast included TCT’s Managing Director Bree-Anna Obst (who will be joining Nicole in presenting the seminar), along with seven distinguished TCT company members and local stars. I really hope you got to see it, but don’t despair if you didn’t. Based on the enthusiastic response, I foresee plenty more exciting, Stodard-helmed WOW productions in their future.
Or maybe, in 2022, you were one of the lucky ones to attend Stodard’s unforgettable interactive presentation of Obie-winner Maria Irene Fornes’ trailblazing immersive play “Fefu & Her Friends.” A production which in-and-of itself became a landmark in South Florida theater history. It’s no secret that Stodard is a dedicated Fornes fan and this Adjunct Professor at Barry and Nova Southeastern Universities is an excellent teacher when it comes to delving into the history, meanings and nuances of even the most challenging scripts. I’ve taken a couple of her play-reading courses in the past, and in addition to being highly entertaining, she always managed to stretch my mind and world view with fascinating new insights into both the playwright’s writing and their/our world.
This summer’s course can be heavy or light (depending on how much reading you want to do – that’s up to you)! Whatever your choice, it’s guaranteed to be intriguing as it involves the close relationship of three celebrity females who were also supremely talented and controversial writers of their time. Head to thinkingcaptheatre.org or the company’s Facebook page to see a lovely, mid-20th-century photo of these women under the program title: A LOVE TRIANGLE OF A BYGONE ERA. Subhead: A Non-Fiction Reading Series Spotlighting the intertwined Lives of Susan Sontag, Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, and Maria Irene Fornes.
I can’t do better than offer Prof. Stodard’s course description, below, except to confirm that it’s worth arriving early to the seminar site at Ann’s Florist and Coffee Bar on Las Olas Blvd. to, if anything, stop and smell the roses. You might also want to check out the delicious light fare menu at their website beforehand.
Ann’s Florist & Coffee Bar on E. Las Olas Blvd. provides the perfect elegant, Old-
World-style venue for Thinking Cap Theatre’s latest study group sessions led by
educator par excellence, Producing Artistic Director Nicole Stodard. Attending “A Love
Triangle of a Bygone Era” at TCT’s specially reserved table promises to be a unique
treat — visually, mentally, and gastronomically.
“Join Thinking Cap Theatre (TCT) for a lively discussion of the intersecting love lives of Harriet Sohmers Zwerling (1928-2019), Susan Sontag (1933-2004), and Maria Irene Fornes (1930-2018) as documented in the diaries and journals of Zwerling and Sontag.”
“During two in-person gatherings at Ann’s Florist and Coffee Bar, TCT’s Artistic Director, Nicole Stodard, will help guide the group’s conversation about the creative and romantic journeys of these three fascinating women during the 1950s and early 1960s. Zwerling was a nude model and writer; Sontag was a critic, essayist, and novelist; Fornes was a master playwright of more than 40 plays and is now celebrated as the mother of the OffOff Broadway theatre movement.”
TCT reserved a lovely large table that seats 12 in addition to some surrounding areas in the fully air conditioned indoor cafe. Once you register for one or both classes at a tiny nominal fee, you receive links to purchase the books from Amazon, though pre-reading is not required. I would recommend it, however, if you want that full, “back to college” experience.
Everyone is invited to a complimentary half-hour introductory Zoom session where participants can meet each other and ask questions. It’s held on Aug 22 from 6:30 – 7 pm. Session 1 is Sept 5, 6:30 – 8:00 pm. Discussion text is “Abroad: An Expatriate’s Diaries 1950 -1959 by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling. Session 2 is Sept 26, 6:30 – 8:00 pm. featuring Sontag’s diaries, journals, and notebooks, edited by her son David Rieff. Texts are “Reborn: Early Diaries1947-1963” and “As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-1980.” Amazon links to all books are provided at registration.
Thinking Cap Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director and WOW’s director Nicole Stodard
(blonde hair, center back) with the company’s Managing Director Bree-Anna Obst (dark
hair to her right) and POW and WOW’s dynamic driving force Ronnie Larsen (the only
man, front left) gather for a final cast photo of Women of Wilton’s highly successful
debut run of “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove.”