Cocktails and Conversations with Chautauqua Theater Company and Andrew Borba: Featuring Birthday Candles Playwright Noah Haidle and Director Vivienne Benesch

Birthday Candles
Annie Purcell and Kelsey Jenison act out a scene in which their characters share a moment as mother and daughter during a photo call following a performance of the New Play Workshop production “Birthday Candles” Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2017 in Bratton Theater. DAVE MUNCH/DAILY FILE PHOTO

For the first Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations of Chautauqua Theater Company’s season, they’ll be discussing and celebrating a company success: a play that CTC has nurtured from its inception is on its way to Broadway.

Noah Haidle is the playwright behind Birthday Candles, a play that was workshopped at Chautauqua Institution in 2017 as a part of the New Play Workshop program. 

“Noah Haidle has a gift, unlike any other playwright, to look at the world in a timely way, meaning he’s aware of the ticking of mortality,” said Chautauqua Theater Company’s Artistic Director Andrew Borba. “It is life-affirming.”

Originally commissioned by Detroit Public Theater, Birthday Candles came to Chautauqua three years ago as a freshly written work of art, ready to be polished. The story follows a woman, Ernestine, from her 17th birthday through to her 117th birthday, and acts as a commentary on the passage of time, mortality, family and community. The play has been supported from the very beginning by CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy (who also serves DPT as producing artistic director) — and by former CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch, the play’s director from its time as an NPW, to its world debut at DPT in 2018 and, this fall, when it makes its Broadway debut. 

“We are thrilled by the treasured collaboration between Detroit Public Theatre and Chautauqua Theater Company,” Corporandy said in a 2019 CTC press release. “Noah is a vastly talented artist and because our communities are intertwined, as are my roles within the two theaters, we have been able to support this play at every step of the process.”

The NPW program at Chautauqua offers the chance for original plays to be workshopped and developed, and to eventually be performed in Bratton Theater for Chautauqua audiences, often a jumping-off point for partnerships with other theater companies across the country. 

With its spring debut delayed because of COVID-19, Birthday Candles will make its Broadway debut when the industry reopens at the Roundabout Theater Company with Benesch at its helm, starring Debra Messing, an actor best known for her leading role in the NBC sitcom “Will and Grace.” This will be Messing’s second appearance on Broadway, after her appearance in John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar in 2014.

Birthday Candles’ rise through the ranks of prestigious theater will be the topic of discussion for Cocktails, Concerts and Conversations at 5 p.m. EDT, on Wednesday, July 1 on the Virtual Porch

The conversation will be hosted by Borba, and will feature both Haidle and Benesch as guest speakers as they discuss the process of production, all the way from the NPW to Broadway.

Borba is excited for Chautauquans to tune in to the conversation, emphasizing the need for a sense of community at this time. 

“What occurred to me instantly is that this play is the play we all need to see when we come back out of COVID,” Borba said. “It’s about looking at life from a universal perspective.” 

He said he hopes that the audience will be able to feel what he felt when he spoke with Benesch and Haidle to pre-record the event. 

“We have a lot of fun. There’s a lot of love in the room, and I hope that the audience will pick that up,” Borba said. “We are there to literally come into a living room and have a cocktail and have a conversation about theater. We are all missing our sense of community, and I think this brings people together.”

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The author Maggie Angevine

For her first season with The Chautauquan Daily, reporter Maggie Angevine will be covering the theater, youth programs and recreation at Chautauqua. Maggie, hailing from Virginia, is a rising junior at Miami University in Ohio, studying journalism, political science and French. When she isn’t writing for The Miami Student newspaper, Maggie can be found somewhere outside — hiking, camping, climbing or simply exploring.