Our Next New Play: Pearl's in the House
What is it like to take an idea, research it, create a story with words on a page, then bring that story to life on the stage? It depends a bit on whether you are a playwright or an actor—but for either it is an exhilarating, but long, process. Just ask Art Manke, playwright, and Kim Staunton, actor.
Manke is the playwright of Pearl’s in the House, which is being workshopped as part of the Festival’s 2017 Words Cubed new play program. He has been working on the play for over three years. Kim Staunton is the actor playing Pearl Bailey in the workshop reading and in the world premiere production planned for 2018 at the Festival. She has been involved with the new play for a year.
“The process thus far has been amazing,” said Manke. “I saw Bailey perform in Hello, Dolly! when I was a teenager. Then, about three years ago, I knew her story needed to be told. After about six months of serious research, I began writing. About two years ago we did a couple of readings at Pasadena Playhouse without music. . . . Last summer, I brought Steven Cahill [music director] and Kim onboard with music. About a month ago, we did a workshop for two nights. And now this.” This, and soon a world premiere!
“I enjoy working on new plays because the actor is part of the process as the play continues to evolve,” said Staunton. “I love the process of watching the playwright grow. You get to watch the process happen and help support that. It’s a good feeling.”
However, both Manke and Staunton said that the same things that make new play development exciting can make it difficult. Workshops are a great way to hear the words, gauge audience reactions, and watch the interactions between characters. But they are also inevitably followed (sometimes daily, or more) with changes to the script.
“It keeps changing a lot, big things right up until opening sometimes. It’s like a whole other play sometimes,” said Staunton. “But to see people create great work is a pleasure and an honor. I love this process.”
Manke agreed that changes happen almost daily during readings like the ones at the Festival. But he as the playwright has to be careful. “It’s like a woven fabric, and if I tug on one thread or even pull it out, I need to ask what it does to the rest of the play,” he said. “Tiny adjustments have an impact overall.”
Pearl’s in the House will have two more readings at the Festival on August 31 and September 2. Then Manke will take it home, refine it more, and prepare for its world premiere. “I have a lot of changes that I will need to put into the script,” he said. “Hearing the actors’ voices is how I understand how it lives.” Staunton is appearing at several theatres across the country in the coming months, but will keep in touch with Manke and return to Cedar City for rehearsals then for the world-premiere run of Pearl’s in the House August 23 through October 20, 2018.
Tickets are now on sale for both the readings and the 2018 season. Visit bard.org or call the Ticket Office at 800-PLAYTIX.