“Botanicum Seedlings” Nurtures New Plays

“Botanicum Seedlings: A Development Series for Playwrights” showcases new plays each year under the guiding hand of Program Director Jennie Webb.

If you are interested in new plays, or are an aspiring playwright interested in casting and staging your play, come and see what the buzz is all about at Theatricum Botanicum’s Seedlings where world premieres of new plays performed in staged readings by professional actors and directors and free to the public. It’s also an opportunity to meet the cast and crew who are available to answer questions after the performance.

Each year, new plays, vetted from the first 200 submissions, are presented on the S. Mark Taper Pavilion outdoor stage at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. In July, the Seedlings debuted two plays—Sadie’s Day and The Dog Show—each about “American families confronting their very particular legacies across generations.”

 

SADIE’S DAY

The cast and crew of Sadie’s Day: (Front row from left) actor Annette Davis and actor Aidan Elyse McCollough. (Second row, from left) director Elena Campbell-Martinez; assistant director Quest Sky Zeidler; playwright Danielle DeCrette; actor Bridgette Campbell; program director Jennie Webb; actor Eve Sigall and actor Peter James Smith. Photos by Annemarie Donkin

The first staged reading on July 14 was Sadie’s Day by Danielle DeCrette and beautifully directed by Seedlings Literary Manager Elena Campbell-Martínez.

In this well-written dark comedy, Sadie (Eve Sigall), ancient and tired of life, only wants to end her day with “crab cakes, champagne, and a barbiturate chaser.” Her family isn’t buying it, consumed as they are with their own lives. Sigall plays Sadie to perfection as she deals with her neurotic daughter, Dinah (Bridgette Campbell), who suddenly declares she is pregnant with her dead husband’s frozen sperm. Campbell skillfully laces Dinah’s neuroses with enough humor to make her almost likeable.

Then, in a comedic twist on a twist in this family saga, Dinah’s daughter, Martha (Aidan Elyse McCollough), unexpectedly comes home from college to declare that she is pregnant.

While Sadie, Dinah and Martha confront issues of life, death, pregnancy and assisted-suicide, Rick, Sadie’s devoted but overextended hospice worker (Peter James Smith), must cope with the entire family drama in addition to his own personal tragedy; his husband is dying.

Annette Davis read the stage directions that guided us through the complicated maze of four people coming together at a time when they are each facing life-and-death issues

This is a profound play, brilliantly conceived and peopled with humor and compassion by playwright DeCrette, brought to life by an enlightened cast, and sensitively directed by Campbell-Martinez.

Playwright Danielle DeCretteSadie’s Day playwright, Danielle DeCrette, earned a B.A. from the Gallatin School at N.Y.U. where she concentrated in playwriting and women’s studies. As a playwright, DeCrette attended the Kenyon Playwriting Conference and the Southampton Writer’s Conference, where Sadie’s Day received a laboratory reading under mentor William Carden of New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre; she has studied with playwrights Lucas Hnath and Winter Miller. DeCrette’s writing has been featured in periodicals such as Dance Magazine, the Rockefeller Center magazine and various infertility blogs on the internet.

DeCrette writes about her process and philosophy about the written work for the theatre: “Plays are a special form. Words come out of a character’s mouth that sound like something you’ve heard before or like nothing you’ve ever heard before, but if the words are put together well, really well, you can relate to the character or find the play resonates in your own life,” DeCrette wrote about her process.  

“Plays have the ability to move you in ways that other mediums just don’t. Sadie’s Day is for all the people who need choice in their lives. To live, to create, to die. Mostly to think through living, creating, dying.”

Asked about her next steps, DeCrette did not hesitate to share where she will go with a play she has nurtured for more than ten years.

“The idea of Seedlings is to serve the playwright and the play, and boy, did they ever,” she wrote. “They watered this little seed and helped it grow and I now have quite a bit of work cut out for me for my next draft. I’m currently re-writing Sadie’s Day at a workshop at Primary Stages in New York and, fingers crossed, I will do a backer’s audition at the Dramatist Guild sometime in the winter.”

DeCrette currently lives in Harlem, New York, with her husband and three kids.

 

THE DOG SHOW

The cast and crew of The Dog Show: (From left) assistant director Quest Sky Zeidler; actor Conor Murphy; play director Lisa Stribling; actor Laura Wineland; actor Time Winters; program director Jennie Webb, actor Cathy Carlton, Seedlings intern Garret Botts, and actor Xochitl Romero.

On Sunday morning, July 21, the Seedlings presented a staged reading of The Dog Show by Ivan Faute that was masterfully directed by Laura Stribling.

Secrets plague a deeply troubled family that is seen through a dark but often humorous lens —much as in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child.

Grown son Alex (Conor Murphy) arrives back home to find his father, Commodore (played by the amazing Time Winters), dying from emphysema, and his mother, Pauline (an affecting Cathy Carlton), in a mental institution, presumably for alcoholism.

Alex’s foster sister, Shawna (in a sly performance by Xochitl Romero), holds the family secrets close as the nurse/caretaker, and will only divulge them to Alex through trades and stories. 

Let’s just say that there used to be a full kennel of 18 dogs that the family used to show professionally, but now the dogs are all dead and Momma, who ain’t talking, is considered to be “criminally insane.” It’s now up to Alex to piece together the past and he may or may not find the truth.

Laura Wineland provided the stage directions, and honestly, one forgets that the actors have only had a couple of rehearsals and are still on script. One can credit these professional actors and outstanding directing by Stribling for an effective presentation of a play still in development.

“The play has been significantly strengthened through the work of Seedlings, Jennie Webb, and the professional artists who worked on it,” Faute said.

Playwright Ivan Faute—Based in New York and Virginia, where he teaches writing at Christopher Newport University, playwright Ivan Faute’s upcoming projects include a reading of Lost Sock Laundry at Broadway Bound Theatre Festival in New York and a production of his one-woman show, On Arriving in London.

 “A friend told me about the program several years ago,” wrote Faute about what attracted him to the Botanicum Seedlings program. “With so many family members in the area, I initially thought of it as a great way to visit but as I looked into the history of Seedlings program, I saw that it offered a quality development opportunity. The opportunity to work with professionals in every position to develop a play is a great gift.”

While this was just a one-day staged reading, Faute said he has many future plans for his play.

“I have a few changes to make based on the Seedlings reading,” Faute wrote. “The production process gave me the opportunity to revise during the rehearsals, which was amazing to be able to see the changes immediately. I can be a slow writer, but I’m fast at revisions, so I plan to start looking for a production home for the script this August. It’s always a challenge to get the script in front of the right people, especially as I’m sort of off the beaten path in the theater world.”

The Roots of Seedlings—Since its creation in 2002, Botanicum Seedlings has supported more than 150 new plays, more than 50 of which have gone on to be published, win awards or receive major productions across the country, according to playwright-in-residence and program director Jennie Webb.

“We’ve had to close our submission window after 200 scripts the past few years,” wrote Webb about the process. “It’s crazy the amount of great writing out there and the interest from playwrights literally around the world. This year, we’re narrowing our submission window for 2020 opportunities even more, October 1 to November 1, so that we can get everything in place before the submissions start coming in.” 

Webb feels the best way to have a chance at a staged reading is to follow the Submission Guidelines.

“Seedlings is looking for plays that jump out of the pile. Two hundred plays is quite a pile…although it’s all electronic now so I guess it’s a virtual pile. A play really has to have something to say in a unique way,” Webb continued. “The plays we have supported have been all over the map stylistically and in terms of where they are in the process, developmentally.”

Webb said the Reading Committee consists of more than 20 readers and highly recommends going online to review the Submission Guidelines at Theatricum.com.

“I feel it’s very important that every play we receive gets a shot. Different plays appeal to different readers, so each is read by at least three readers,” Webb wrote regarding a question about criteria. “Since it’s a classical theatre and we’re in Hollywood, we try to give playwrights a sense of what may and may not be suitable.”

For Playwrights—Seedlings offers its one-of-a-kind Dramaturgy Workshop twice a year, where playwrights dig into “finished” first drafts, outdoors, in Topanga, under the guidance of Theatricum playwright-in-residence Jennie Webb. Held over the course of two months on alternating Sundays, the Workshop culminates in developmental “Green Reads” with professional Theatricum actors. Enrollment is limited to four playwrights, by submission only.

The next session begins September 8, 2019 (with a September 1 submission deadline). Private Dramaturgy is also available.

 

For more information on “Seedlings” and the many other programs which act as an adjunct to Theatricum’s Summer Repertory Season, call the business office at (310) 455-2322 or visit www.theatricum.com. Twitter: @botseedlings; Facebook.com/BotanicumSeedlings; and Instagram: @botseedlings.

 

Annemarie Donkin
Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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