South Philly-based theater company Theatre Exile will highlight the works of three local playwrights through its play development program, Studio X-hibition.
The program will include virtual readings over Zoom of each script by professional actors for a live audience consisting of the playwrights’ peers and other theater fans. The playwrights will then receive feedback from the community on their work after the readings.
“Personally, I’m a bit of a dork about it because I get really excited about Studio X-hibition,” said Brey Ann Barrett, Theatre Exile’s interim associate artistic director.
Established in 2010 as a way to invest in new plays and fresh voices, Studio X-hibition has helped in the development of nearly 30 plays, over half of which were later produced for both regional and national audiences.
Barrett said providing up-and-coming playwrights with a platform to further progress their work is central to the program’s overall goal.
“We’ve got really great talent and really amazing voices in Philadelphia,” Barrett said. “Let’s support the development of those voices and the work that they’re doing and share it with our audiences and build those relationships that can be fostered into production later on.”
The plays that will be featured this year are Abandon, by Philly-based playwright James Ijames with direction by Brett Ashley Robinson, abSolution by Philly native Brendan Dahl and directed by Angela Bey, and Saturday Mourning Cartoons by Iraisa Ann Reilly with directing by Tamanya Garza.
Having previously sent a script to Studio X-hibition in the past, Reilly was contacted by Barrett to pitch something she’d potentially like to work on as part of the program. Reilly decided to submit Saturday Mourning Cartoons, a play she had written for a grad school class at NYU, and it was immediately selected for the program. Since then, Reilly has spent the better part of the last year working with Theatre Exile continuing to refine the script.
Reilly said she’s especially eager to hear her script read by professional actors, as she has been able to hold only informal readings with friends to this point.
“I think actors are crazy smart,” Reilly said. “They’ll come in and understand something that I’m not seeing. I’m excited to see how they ask questions and bring that to light and help me keep working on the script.”
In addition, Reilly hopes that the play, which revolves around a Latinx family deciding to put their grandmother in a nursing home just before the outbreak of a pandemic, provides audiences with a timely piece about love, mourning and the Latinx experience.
“I hope to bring in an audience that connects to it and sees themselves reflected in it,” Reilly said. “I hope that continuing to write bilingual plays about this experience gets more Latinx folks to get engaged with theater.”
Above all, Barrett wants the playwrights to not only have a positive experience with the program, but come out of it with a better understanding of their work in the hope that it may eventually get produced.
“I hope that each playwright feels like they’ve developed the script into a place that they feel really comfortable with,” Barrett said. “That’s what each development process should be: creating enough clarity for what the playwright wants the story to be saying.”
Abandon will be the first play read on Jan. 31, followed by abSolution on March 14 and Saturday Mourning Cartoons on April 4. All readings start at 8 p.m.