As the Alley Theatre's All New Festival continues this week, Saturday's event offers audiences a chance to hear from Kemp Powers, an Oscar nominee for One Night in Miami ... and the writer brought in to make Disney/Pixar's Soul work, who became its co-director.
You wouldn't think someone of his stature would want to go through the reading and workshop process but that's exactly what Powers will be doing, there amid all those up and coming playwrights hoping for some fine tuning work that will gain them a production on stage. Nineteen of the 31 plays that have gone through the Alley All New process since 2016 have gone on to be produced to world premieres — eight of them at the Alley and another 11 on other stages.
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday Powers will be there with his play Christa McAuliffe's Eyes Were Blue which tells the story of biracial twins, one who presents as white, the other as Black. One becomes a successful attorney; the other is not doing as well with his dreams of being an astronaut. The inspiration for his dreams had been the Space Shuttle Challenger, but its 1986 mission ended in disaster with the deaths of teacher McAuliffe and the other astronauts on board.
Speaking from his Los Angeles home (his dog Boz occasionally barking in the background) Powers says he wrote the play which begins in the 1980s and ends in a courtroom in 2006 a few years ago. "I've never actually written anything that speaks to the time of my own childhood before. I wanted an exploration of the idea of nature versus nurture. The way that it manifests itself in this play is the story of these two brothers. Even though they are twins and they are brothers, they have a very different experience growing up and going to the same school."
"I set this in the 1980s in the days leading up to the Challenger disaster. I'm Generation X and for my generation that was really a pivotal moment in our youth when everyone knows where they were the Challenger exploded. And I thought in itself the Challenger disaster was very interesting metaphor for the journey of one of the characters in the play."
The play has been workshopped before. "Workshopping is a big part of the creative process," Powers says. "It always changes my work and it always improves it because I make discoveries about it. There are certain discoveries, no matter how much time I spend at my computer writing, that I just can't make until I hear it performed by actors and I work with a director and I see the reaction to a work from an audience. The audience always helps for sure."
So, if you'd like a chance to help Powers as well as the other playwrights at the All New Festival, here are the times and the plays you'll be able to attend:
By Monet Hurst-Mendoza
Workshop director Katherine M. Carter
Artistic consultant Tatiana Pandiani
Bullfighting in Yucatán, Mexico is a world nearly exclusive to men—yet for Elena Ramírez, it is her life's ambition. With the help of her best friend, a matador's son, Elena begins secretly training to compete with the greatest. But when she discovers that her seemingly inherent talent can beat even the most accomplished toreros, this young woman must choose between accepting society's limits or breaking boundaries. A world premiere play written by a stunning new voice in the American theatre, Torera tells a poignant story about becoming your truest self by proudly stepping into the ring. (Production announced for the 2022-23 season, directed by Tatiana Pandiani)
Workshop Performances: June 24 (4 p.m.) and June 26 (2:30 p.m.)
Completed by Kirk Lynn
Directed by Rob Melrose
Kirk Lynn, Artistic Director of Austin’s Rude Mechs theatre collective, collaborates with the late Thornton Wilder, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Matchmaker, on Wilder’s last, lost, full-length play. In the era of the great department stores, a young man from an orphanage is adopted by a farmer but runs away to the big city only to discover… all this is only a metaphor, and maybe life is really an elaborate job interview to determine if we even qualify to apply for our own existence.
Workshop Performances: June 25 (2:30 p.m.) and June 26 (7:30 p.m.)
Christa McAuliffe's Eyes Were Blue
By Kemp Powers
Bernard and Steven Gentry are twins living starkly different lives. One passes as white and the other lives as a Black man. Steven spent his childhood trying to fit in and is now a successful attorney. Bernard was a star student who dreamed of being an astronaut, but his prospects now are as dismal as the Space Shuttle Challenger that once inspired him. From their childhood in 1980’s New York City to a Minnesota courtroom in 2006, Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue tells a tale of two brothers which shines a unique light on the nature of privilege in America. A bold new play by Oscar-nominee Kemp Powers, best known for his play and film One Night in Miami and Disney/Pixar’s Soul.
Reading: June 25 (11:30 a.m.)
The World is Not Silent
By Don X. Nguyen
Directed by Marya Mazor
Don is a good son. He learns American Sign Language when his father, Dau, starts to lose his hearing. He moves back home to Nebraska to care for him, only to find the communication gap between them wider than ever. Dau has been learning Vietnamese Sign Language — not ASL. And Don doesn’t even speak Vietnamese! Luckily, a surprise Thanksgiving guest, bearing Dau’s beloved honey ham, may be just the bridge they need. But the closer Don gets to signing with his father, the further he seems from understanding him. After all, learning a language means little if you're not willing to speak from the heart. With Dau’s hearing fading fast, can father and son find a way to communicate? From the author of The Supreme Leader (Alley All New Festival 2019), The World is Not Silent is a multilingual play that explores how language simultaneously divides and unites us.
Reading: June 26 (10 a.m.)
Early Draft Preview
Join us for excerpts and an early glimpse of an Alley Theatre commission developed at the Alley at Ucross Residency by Houston playwright ShaWanna Renee Rivon. Her new play follows Arnett Cobb, the internationally acclaimed “wild man of the tenor sax,” a jazz musician who grew up in Houston and influenced some of the most world-renowned entertainers and musicians as he helped carve a jazz sound that was uniquely from Texas.
Event: June 25 (10 a.m.)
For more information, visit alleytheatre.org/allnew.