The Kennedy Center
2700 F St., N.W,
This Labor Day weekend marks 17 years since the debut of Page-to-Stage New Play Festival, the Kennedy Center-sponsored annual event celebrating new works in progress. This year also promises to be its largest to date with about 60 area theatrical companies participating in almost 80 performances.
“There’ll be a lot going on all over the building,” says Diana Ezerins, director of public programming at the Kennedy Center. “Theaters and artists will present open rehearsals, concert readings and workshops of new plays that are often still in the development phase. There will be music, comedy, serious things and shows for young people. It’s very festive. Admission is free. And we’re pretty stoked because we’re trying to make sure the schedule represents the four different quadrants of our city.”
Page-to-Stage was hatched after a number of local companies lobbied for a platform to test new work that might or might not be part of their season lineups. Over the years it’s grown to become an important part of the Kennedy Center’s public programs and community engaging programming activities. It typically proves a terrific platform for risk-taking and experimentation. And it’s practical in that it brings far-flung companies under one centrally located roof. Offerings have grown increasingly diverse in both themes and players.
Because the performances are in the workshop stage, many of the plays feature actors at music stands reading from scripts. Participating theaters include Theater Alliance of Washington, Mosaic Theater Company, The Kennedy Center and Signature Theatre to name a few. Among the vast lineup, many performances are of special interest to LGBT audiences.
Unexpected Stage Company is presenting “Tell Me Something Good” (Saturday at 4 p.m. Chinese Lounge), a collection of shorts, written and directed by D.C. playwright Audrey Cefaly. The collection includes “Consider the Ficus,” the story of D.C. couple Garrison, an environmental lawyer, and Nate, an editor, whose relationship blows up the very day the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage.
Cefaly is probably best known for her play “The Gulf,” winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the category of LGBT drama. Set on a tiny fishing boat in the Alabama delta, this intriguing two hander explores the tumultuous relationship of lesbian couple Betty and Kendra. The play premiered in 2016 at Signature Theatre with a compelling production directed by out director Joe Calarco and has since been produced in England and Australia.
Though not gay herself, Cefaly’s lesbian working-class characters ring exceptionally true — them, their situations and their plainspoken yet gloriously lyrical dialogue. While writing the play, Cefaly ran some things by lesbian friends. She wanted to make sure she got it right.
“I don’t set out to write gay or lesbian characters,” she says. “I hear the voices as they come. Sometimes the characters reveal themselves as same-sex couples like with ‘The Gulf.’ The first image in my head was two women in a boat fighting. It reveals itself to me and try to do right by that.”
She adds that while all people need to see themselves reflected on stage, she looks forward to the day when identifying a play as gay won’t be particularly noteworthy.
“One day, you’ll see a play and it’s just another beautiful love story and the qualifier ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ won’t be necessary,” she says. “I hope by adding my pieces to the queer canon it will help a little.”
The African-American Collective Theater (ACT), a longtime Page-to-Stage participant, continues its exploration of LGBT life in the black community with “Unprotected Sex” (Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Terrace Gallery). Penned and directed by out playwright Alan Sharpe, the work is described as “an edgy collection of short plays reflecting the serious, sexy, and sometimes silly challenges encountered while navigating the path through self-awareness and self-acceptance.”
“Despite the title, the collection of shorts isn’t about HIV/AIDS,” Sharpe says. “It’s more about the way in which LGBTQ people’s sexuality has not been recognized as particularly valid or valuable. When I was growing up in ‘60s, there was no one you could go to. No Internet. Very little in sense of protection. Couldn’t go to a pastor, counselor, family or friends. You felt very alone. And that’s the jumping-off piece for the project.”
Sharpe says the festival has multiple benefits.
“The raison d’etre of Page-to-Stage is to show works in progress and give an idea of what your work does,” he says. “Some are finished, some aren’t. People who turn up for these performances are a cross section in a way that we don’t experience at ACT, so this is a nice way to sound out material and get diverse response. If you preach to the choir you become insulated.”
For a complete list of shows, dates and times go here.