By Leslie Scott-Jones
Charlottesville has always looked at itself as a place where art can flourish, and the theater scene is no different. From Four County Players to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to Live Arts, our area has enough live theater to go around. On any given night there is an opportunity to see live performances of all shapes and sizes, to fit all kinds of tastes. But it doesn’t become available without a great deal of work, intention and collaboration.
The Charlottesville Playwrights Collective, formed more than a year ago, can tell you exactly how much work it takes. The group’s second show, Stolen Moon, by Alex Citron, opens March 2 at the Belmont Arts Collaborative. With a cast of nine, and a full set to be constructed (compared to the inaugural show Moving, which had a cast of two and a set of empty boxes), Stolen Moon is more than a few steps up. It is “A whimsical journey through the adventures of a young girl as she learns about the moon and what its magical powers are; an adult look at a traditional children’s story,” says Citron.
The new organization is still working through the kinks and procedures of being a formal 501(c)(3), but has found its niche by presenting original full-length works from local playwrights, and the risk taken by the collective is starting to pay off. “If it’s a theater producing just new work, I don’t think it could work,” says Citron. “But people will come out three times a year to a 60-seat theater to see new work.”
With all the live theater happening in town, it may seem risky to start a company dedicated to completely unknown plays. But as playwright and CPC member Kate Monaghan puts it, “The impetus for the formation of this group is all due to Sean,” speaking of Sean McCord, who is a local playwright, MFA student at Hollins University and founding member of the collective. (Moving, written by McCord, was produced in September of last year).
“Our original thought was let’s do a show and see how it goes,” says McCord. However, after several conversations with local playwrights and theater professionals, the group decided to form with a season of shows it could promote to build an audience. The third production, The Crying Tree by Peter Gunter, will open in June.
Community theater is tricky to navigate. Successful organizations with a building and staff depend largely on volunteers for tech crew, actors, musicians and the people who take tickets. The collective is set up a little differently. “The important thing that we stress to playwrights is that this is not a submission opportunity,” McCord says. “If a playwright is selected, they have to produce their own show.” It is also expected that if your show is chosen, you will work in some way on another show during the season. Creating this collaborative culture from the beginning gives stability and sustainability that most brick-and-mortar theaters can’t rely on.
The CPC welcomes participation and submissions that have been workshopped and are ready to stand on their own. “That’s the [type of] play to come into the collective,” says Monaghan, positioning the collective as a place to work out the kinks, “if it won’t improve until it goes through the rehearsal process with actors and a director.” The organization is truly committed and has a vested interest in producing work by local writers, because they are writers. And while it may be new work, it’s nice work if you can get it.