Cody Nickell is a professional actor and director, and serves as Gulfshore Playhouse’s Artistic Associate. This upcoming season, Cody will be directing Gulfshore Playhouse’s productions of THE MOUNTAINTOP and BODY AWARENESS and starring in JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. Catch Cody’s perspective this season with weekly blogs being posted every Tuesday.
I have the honor and privilege of writing the first blog for our coming season, and there is so much to be excited and bloggy about, I better just jump right in!
Our 2nd Annual New Works Festival is here! Playwrights and actors arriving today and tomorrow from all over the country, scripts being printed out, music stands being gathered, pencils being sharpened and highlighters being…well, what does one do to a highlighter in preparation, uncap it? YEAH! Highlighters being uncapped, y’all! And all of this is in preparation for a fun-filled, busy week of new play making.
This week is one of my favorites of the year. And to be clear, much of my year as a Gulfshore Playhouse employee is spent gearing up for this. We opened submissions for this festival last November and over 100 plays came streaming in, virtually overnight. Then came the task of reading all of these submissions and trying to find the best four plays, the plays that we felt we could help the most, the plays that stood out and said, “Me! I am that play! I am that perfect group of characters and that compelling set of circumstances that sets me apart!”
Over the next several months, that was my task. I needed to come up with a shortlist from these submissions to pass onto Kristen Coury, which we would then whittle down to 10 semifinalists, and then down to four finalists. This process is a fascinating one. Reading over 100 plays is not an easy task. But I want to make it perfectly clear that I am well aware that reading 100 plays, no matter how challenging, fun, difficult, tiring, inspiring, or time consuming that is, is nowhere near as Herculean a task as actually writing a play.
Pardon me for the digression, but I need to expand upon that last thought a little bit. When I say Herculean, I mean it. Wrestling out of from the depths of one’s mind and soul a set of characters, living breathing beings, that exist only on the page so far, and putting them in circumstances that push them and pull them, test them, change them, and all so an audience can laugh, or dream, or cry, or gain a new perspective…that is something. And then to have the bravery and belief in that piece that you are willing to send it out into the world, have people read it and judge it. And then to entrust it to a group of artists to take it to the next step, and bring it to life in front of an audience…that takes a lot of gumption. I would posit that new works, new plays, are the most important thing for theatres in America to work on. Fostering new talent, finding diverse voices, exploring form and content, I cannot overstate the importance of these things as we try to take the lively and unique art of theatre forward to future generations. There are so many ways that I can and do bring myself to that challenge. I love new works and bring my whole actor-self to them in ways that have proven to be helpful to playwrights. But I am no playwright. I cannot create that content. So my hat goes off to the playwrights out there, all of them, who undertake what at times must feel like a Sisyphean task of creating new works of art.
Sorry, back on track. So we picked the plays. And then there are all the logistics that the Playhouse has to put in place…housing and travel, casts, schedules, contracts…but all of that leads up to this week. Soon all parties will be here. We will gather around a table and the playwright will hear that play read aloud, and they and the rest of the team that has been assembled will put their hearts and souls into bringing it to life. This week will fly by, but it will be so much fun. This kind of work, the work that gets done around that table, and at bars at night after the rehearsal, and in the playwrights’ hotel rooms, that work will bring these plays further towards the light of completion. And then we will share these plays with our wonderful audience here at Gulfshore Playhouse. And they will get a glimpse into what magical worlds these playwrights have crafted. And that special moment when play meets audience, when characters start to breathe in the same room with spectators, that is what this is all about.
But the work isn’t done then my friends. Oh no. The work is barely beginning. Then we send these playwrights back into the world, script in hand, and we have to help them to find a home for these plays: A theatre that wants to take the next step and bring these plays and ideas and stories and characters to full life. Production! (Imagine that last word sung like the opening number from Fiddler On The Roof…)
And that is just this week. We have a helluva season ahead of us here at Gulfshore Playhouse. We are well into preproduction for the first few shows this season. We have assembled some massively talented casts, and the design teams are creating beautiful worlds for these plays to take place in. And you can read about all of those things right here in this blog. We will have all kinds of guest artists writing about the process of making theatre, as well as weekly posts from our fearless leader Kristen Coury, our new and already ass-kicking Director of Education, Leah Shaeffer, and myself.
So stay tuned. Come see some theatre. If you are near us, come see these amazing new plays this week. Our playwrights, Stephen Spotswood, Jennifer Lane, Scott C.Sickles, and Bianca Sams will not disappoint. I guarantee it. And if you aren’t near us, go see some theatre where you are. Regional theatre seasons are getting underway all over this country. Find some new plays, titles you haven’t heard of, playwrights that might be new to you. Support these new voices. In my humble opinion, if you love theatre, supporting new voices is the best way to ensure the survival of this art form.