As Winona prepares for another exciting season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival to celebrate the timeless works of The Bard himself, the theater community will also welcome playwrights hoping to share their own works set for the stage.
On Monday, June 30, Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) will present its new series, “New Play Monday,” which gives the public the opportunity to witness the raw beginnings of a play as well as a chance to be part of that process — all at no charge. “The Night Out There” by Richard Zinober will be first in the series — that TdM hopes to be a success — for both playwrights wanting to hear their play for the first time, as well as for theater buffs eager for a chance to hear a new play.
“One of our things at TdM is to find new playwrights and new plays,” explained TdM’s Dan Munson. “It’s so important for playwrights to hear their play out loud. It’s the very next step after writing. For audience members, it’s a chance to be part of something so new that nobody has had the opportunity to hear it yet. It’s also a chance to maybe even help create it or foster something in it, to make that suggestion that really changes the direction or helps propel the work to become phenomenal.”
The show is a stripped down version of the play itself, with no props or costumes — just actors (and even a few willing audience members) with a script in hand, reading the play in its entirety. Afterward, TdM will host a talk on the play. “We’ll open it up for discussion at the end — what worked for [audience members] and what didn’t work,” Munson said. “Hopefully the playwright can take some of that [feedback] and work with it. Writing is the easy part — re-writing is always the hard part, and hopefully this is another step for helping the playwright [polish the play].”
While Zinober, whose play “Heretics” won a spot in TdM’s Original Shorts a few years ago, has had the first scene from “The Night Out There” performed in New York City, this will be the first time he will hear his play complete in its current, up-to-date form. “It’s a great opportunity,” he explained. “Unlike other types of literature like a poem or novel, where the experience is of readers sitting quietly in their living room reading it and what is on the page is that product, in theater, that product is what is actually presented to an audience.”
“The Night Out There” is a dramedy, or combination drama and comedy, about a young woman struggling with a mental disorder. The story alternates between the present and the woman’s attempt to live with her anxiety, and the history of her life that led to her disorder. “The protagonist is a woman at a halfway house. She’s someone who has emotional problems and has been hospitalized and is now trying to get back into the outer world,” Zinober said of his play, which he will see performed in full for the first time at Monday’s reading.
The idea first came to him when Zinober, who also teaches at Minnesota State University at Moorhead, had a student in his class who was a psychology major and would share stories with him about her experiences as a counselor at a halfway house. “She talked about how she would play Scrabble with this girl, and how the girl used to beat her all the time — just little anecdotes like that,” Zinober remembered.
As for TdM’s next New Play Monday, there will be a reading of Winona’s own Emilio DeGrazia’s new play in July, while September will feature a reading of the newest work by Scott Dixon of Lanesboro.
“[It's] just really neat that they do what they do, and there are some very talented people involved with that theater,” Zinober said of TdM. “These readings are important.”
For Zinobar, a reading of his play “Heretics” at TdM’s Original Shorts was the encouragement and constructive criticism he needed to finish it. He was able to figure out where the dramatic tension staggered or lapsed, and with that feedback in mind he rewrote the play and sent the newer version around, where it caught the attention of a theater in New York City. “The Barrow Group will present a reading of ['Heretics'] on the 19th of next month,” he said. “[I think] that really illustrates how important TdM is and the process they engage in, in terms of developing a play.”
You can see and participate in Richard Zinober’s “The Night Out There” on Monday, June 30, at 7 p.m. at the historic Masonic Theatre located at 255 Main Street. If you would like to submit an original script, please send a hard copy of your manuscript to Theatre du Mississippi, P.O. Box 184, Winona, Minn., 55987; or email your script to firstname.lastname@example.org.