Marking its 30th year of producing in 2020, The Works (Playworks) was formed by Steve Umberger to develop projects for stage and film. The company often focuses on work that  broadens perspective on local and global communities, and how they are connected. Playworks has an evolving team of professional freelance artists and community members who share a common vision and approach. Among past projects are world premieres of new scripts, regional premieres of work from the national scene, project development events, and arts and education film/video projects. Playworks has performed at and collaborated with Spirit Square, Blumenthal Performing Arts, Olli at Duke University, The Forest at Duke, Davidson College, Aldersgate, Riverside Theatre (FL) and others in and outside N.C. Plays and events have included:

Kith and Kin by Oliver Hailey
It began with this dark comedy about a delightfully dysfunctional Texas family, written by one of theatre and television's unique voices - and a friend of ours.

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 (Development series)
Counter Girls by Michael Russell (Premiere)
Husbandry by Patrick Tovatt (Stage and film project)
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 writers present during 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, made possible in part by 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.  


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.

More 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, and the involvement of a dozen senior ministers from area churches of all denominations involved in post-performance TalkBacks between artists and audiences.

Currently Playworks is developing a new format for live performance: stage and film documentaries. These projects are developed over extended periods of time with director and crew working with groups of people whose life stories illuminate the history and the culture of their eras. They offer a way of seeing the future by looking at the past. 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." Integrating the elements of live theatre and documentary film, Acting Our Age shows how things have - and haven't - changed through the years. Call Me By My Name, was developed over the course of 18 months with members of the homeless community. See the Press and Connect pages, as well as individual project pages, for more information and highlights about events and activities. Playworks employs members of professional disciplines including Actors' Equity Association, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, United Scenic Artists and IATSE.

Click the link for more detailed information about how a Playworks project happens.

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Photos: Donna Bise, Jay Thomas, William Guerrant