Theatre Southwest's Festival of Originals Still Swingin' After 19 Years

Mimi Holloway has been producing the Festival of Originals for the past 19 years. The artistic director says that despite the event's nearly two decades of existence, the basic format has remained the same. “We take five original scripts, roughly 20 minutes each, hand them to five separate directors with five separate casts,” says Holloway.

Culled from a pool of more than 700 scripts submitted from around the world (Holloway estimates higher, but admits to “losing count” since she reads every script personally), all five plays are presented at every performance. “[The Festival of Originals'] origins, I believe, first coincided with our movement to the space that we have now. It’s one of our favorite summer activities,” the producer says.

Excited about this year’s sampling, Holloway raves that she was hooked on one script from the title alone. “The one I find most interesting offhand is called The Great All-Dominican Championship Playoff Game. I was just amazed, because the playwright said ‘based on real history,’ but how could this have happened and [no one] have heard of it?” Holloway recounts the story of famous Negro League baseball player Satchel Paige’s legendary trip to the Dominican Republic, upon which the original script is based. “So the Dominican Republic had this dictator, who apparently did a number of good things like building bridges, etc. But this dictator also had quite the little ego; he wanted to be loved and he tended to kill people kinda easily. So he decided he wasn’t being loved enough and that people should love him even more,” says Holloway.

In the script, the dictator decides to feed his country's appetite for baseball by inviting Satchel Paige to form a national team. “The only catch was that the dictator hated anyone black and tended to shoot them,” says Holloway. “So he brought Satchel Paige over [and] had him play on their team, but when Satchel was pitching – just to make sure he was properly motivated – the dictator had a firing squad around him.” It's a morbid theme, with much at stake, proving that Theatre Southwest is still taking chances.

Many of the cast and crew for this year’s festival are veterans of the process. “A lot of the directors for this year’s [production] have worked with us before,” Holloway says. One of those returning directors is Jay Menchaca, whose past originals include Many Miles by Rose-Mary Harrington, Last Ride of the Angels by Steve Stewart, Dinner with Marvin by Donna Spector and Knock Off! by Joe Gulla. On Menchaca, Holloways gives only raves: “He’s so good! He always does the audience favorites, actors love to work with him and he’s got lots and lots of energy.”

“Theatre Southwest is ending its 
59th year,” Holloway proudly announces. “This September, [we] launch into our 60th season.” The 60th go-round for the organization proves its 100-seat playhouse remains unafraid to push the envelope.  Productions are set to include Saturn Returns by Noah Haidle, a 2008 drama by a lovelorn man looking for love over a 60-year span; Bright Ideas by Eric Coble, a dramatic work set in the field of child-care development; and the classic ’62 comedy A Thousand Clowns by Herb Gardner (perhaps best known for its Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Jason Robards, Barbara Harris and Martin Balsam). The season is rounded out by the oft-produced obesity drama titled The Whale by Samuel Hunter, quirky comedy Becky’s New Car by Steven Dietz, and When We Were Young and Unafraid by Sarah Treem, an emotional based-on-a-true story set against the controversial Roe v. Wade decision of the 1970s.

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. July 31. Through August 6 at 8944 Clarkcrest. For information, call 713-661-9505 or visit $16.