History

History


Based in N.C. and formed in 1990 by Steve Umberger to develop and produce work for stage and film on a project basis, Playworks is made up of a team of professional artists and others who share a common vision and a means of working in collaboration. Among the company's projects are world premieres of new scripts, regional premieres of significant national work, script development events, and arts and education film-video projects. Productions and events have included:

Kith and Kin by Oliver Hailey
It began with this deliciously dark comedy about a delightfully dysfunctional Texas family, written by one of theatre and television's unique voices. Hailey wrote many plays, and was one of the minds behind the TV cult classic Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A friend, Hailey sent us Kith and Kin after its West Coast debut.

More early history
Heathen Valley by Romulus Linney
Some Things That Can Go Wrong at 35,000 Feet by John Orlock (Premiere)
Finding Donis Anne by Hal Corley
Bridge by Angus Maclachlan
Counter Girls by Michael Russell (Premiere)
Husbandry by Patrick Tovatt
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally

John Orlock, Hal Corley, and Michael Russell joined us from N.Y. for productions of their plays, reflecting the ideal of having playwrights involved in the process. Husbandry, first seen at Actor's Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival, was also made into a film short after its Playworks production, receiving an ASC Emerging Artist Grant. Playworks also produced a development film short based on Christopher Kyle's award-winning play Boca.

Playworks has initiated many collaborations including Shirley Valentine, Willy Russell's Broadway and film hit. Over an eight year period, Shirley traveled to many theatres including Twin City Stage, Appalachian Summer Festival, Pack Place and Florida's Riverside Theatre. The company co-produced the SummerStage series with Spirit Square, which included Michael McKeever's Open Season, and a festival of new scripts in staged readings. These included Judy Simpson Cook's Starstruck, McKeever's The Garden of Hannah List, and Hal Corley's Brush the Summer By, with all three writers present to join the rehearsal process. Shortly after the festival two of the plays received their world premieres, Starstruck at Flat Rock Playhouse, and Brush the Summer By at Adirondack Theatre Festival.  


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Thinking in Pictures was a collaboration with The Light Factory, one of only four museums of film and photography in the U.S. Thinking in Pictures offered the unusual format of film scripts in staged readings. The titles included Dairy Queen Days, adapted by Bob Inman from his novel, and Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins by Brian Christopher Williams, as well as Jeff Stacy's Gospel Hill, soon after made into a feature starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett.
 

Acknowledging the essential part audiences play in the process, Playworks has made the audience/artist relationship a cornerstone of new script activities, through discussions and workshops. Also on the education/outreach side, the production of Open Season included a work/study partnership between Playworks and Davidson College with theatre majors working alongside professionals both onstage and backstage. Cirque du Soleil performer Karl Baumann, an international teacher of movement, conducted community workshops in self-awareness through physicality. And the Playworks production of The Christians offered a unique opportunity to collaborate with faith organizations. Many of Playworks' projects are expanded through outreach and events inspired by the content of the project.


Recent projects have included Lunch at the Piccadilly (2015), a new musical by Clyde Edgerton and Mike Craver, and The Christians (2017) by Lucas Hnath. Based on Edgerton's best selling novel, and with songs by Drama Desk Award winner Craver, Piccadilly was developed in three productions and a concert version at the York Theatre Company in New York. The Christians featured a diverse onstage choir of 23 singers from the community working alongside the professtional cast.


Recently, Playworks has developed a new format for live performance: theatre-and-video documentaries. These projects are developed over extended periods of time with director and crew working with groups of people whose lives trace the history of their eras. Acting Our Age: A Century of America in Seven Voices, co-produced with Aldersgate ccrc and performed in 2019 after 15 months of development, featured seven people ages 73 to 95 who have seen 100 years of American life. Their experience spans The Great Depression, the Civil Rights era, and four wars, and paints a vivid picture of life "then and now." A blend of live theatre and documentary film, Acting Our Age shows how things have - and haven't - changed through the years.



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