Good theater, if nothing else, is alive.
As Chautauqua Theater Company brings its season to life this summer, it will be aided by many of the same minds who wrote the plays being staged.
All six plays coming to Bratton Theater’s stage this season were written by a living American playwright. The plays vary in setting and tone, but each explores a different aspect of the American experience. Andrew Borba, CTC’s artistic director, said these shows were chosen to embrace communities that are not always heard or listened to, while their playwrights’ contemporary voices offer relevant insight into the issues explored.
“None of these plays are museum pieces because they are written by and in conversation with what is happening today in terms of our artists, our audiences, in terms of the local community, in terms of the national community,” Borba said. “They are involved directly in the conversations.”
Perhaps the two most prominent issues explored this season, Borba said, are race and gender in America.
Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon was chosen to advance a conversation on race that was the forefront of previous seasons’ plays, such as A Raisin in the Sun and Detroit ’67.
Later, George Brant’s Into the Breeches! will depict a group of women fighting for the right to take their place in a society that does not want them to succeed, a struggle for equality that echoes beyond the play’s 1942 setting.
CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said these plays are intended to spark dialogue among Chautauquans from all walks of life.
“Some are going to be deep and hairy conversations and others are going to be laughter that we don’t want to end,” Corporandy said.
Four of this season’s playwrights will visit the grounds this summer, further fueling these conversations. Borba said this proximity will grant both CTC and its audiences a better understanding of the work, while also allowing creators on both sides of the script to ask questions and make changes to the work in order to build a stronger production.
Chelsea Marcantel is no stranger to Chautauqua. Her play Tiny Houses was workshopped during the 2016 CTC season, and this July she will return to the grounds for Airness, a play that dives into the world of competitive air guitar.
Not only does Chautauqua benefit from the contemporary voices of living playwrights, but the playwrights also benefit from the Institution, Borba said.
One way CTC assists playwrights is through the New Play Workshops, which allow the creators to see their plays mid-writing process.
“Just far enough away from the judgmental gaze of New York City, playwrights can refine their stories with feedback from audiences and artists alike, Corporandy said. “It’s special at Chautau- qua, where the city’s eyes are not on you and you get to relax and make art,” she said. “Our hope is that the writers will feel that, too.”
This year’s New Play Workshop selections were also chosen with the desire to highlight American voices and communities. Through a St. Petersburg backdrop, Lauren Yee’s Untitled Rus- sia Play comments on the influence of American advertising, while Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump focuses on suicide.
Additionally, Borba said Chautauqua allows playwrights to “cross-pollinate” while on the grounds together, bouncing ideas off each other much like a band of musicians. Although Jessica Dickey will not visit this summer, her work, The Amish Project, will end the season with a story of powerful forgiveness after an act of gun violence, relating a community’s struggle to come to terms with a school shooting to the nation’s struggle to do the same.
Chautauquans can expect Marcantel, Yee, Simpson and Brant to edit their plays based on the conversations held this summer.
The plays, like their playwrights, are alive and changing with the world they live in.