Audiences will wend their way along a tree-canopied boardwalk to the Dunwoody Nature Center’s newest addition, the North Woods Pavilion. Set on a knoll and surrounded by a lush deciduous forest, the spacious, glass-windowed building feels like a treehouse. They will be on their way, not to hike, bird watch or picnic by the stream, but to a reading of an original play by a nationally recognized playwright, read by professional local actors.
In the Dunwoody Nature Center, Atlanta-based Found Stages found the venue for its six-month Wine & Reading Playwright Series to bring original plays out of traditional theaters and into real-world places within the community, from nature centers and parks to inns and even back yards. May 12 marks the start of the second annual edition.
Co-founders Nicole Palmietto, artistic director, and Neeley Gosset, resident playwright, made their vision a reality in 2014. It was an idea that had been percolating in Palmietto’s mind since her college days about a decade ago.
“Our mission is to build a sense of community among audiences as well as with the writers and actors,” she said. Non-traditional spaces and small gatherings give everyone a comfort level, she added. Palmietto and Gosset also hope to help people see that theater is accessible as a part of everyday life, rather than a special occasion.
For the Wine & Reading Series, the playwrights are curated, but the choice of the play is up to each individual, says Palmietto, who directs the readings. Local actors known to Found Stages are invited to read a particular role for the play. The play’s set is whatever venue is chosen. There are no props, and actors wear everyday attire.
The series readings are the second Sunday of each month, beginning May 12 through October 13. The audience, the director, the playwright and actors mingle over wine and hors d’ oeuvres before the reading, and for open discussion following the presentation. For more information, see dunwoodynature.org or foundstages.org.
A play reading is a step in the development process of a new play. It’s one most audiences don’t get to see.
The Reporter caught up with two busy playwrights to talk about their work in the theater arts, their support for bringing theater to unexpected places and about the readings. Both have a lengthy list of impressive credentials, awards and experience and are known nationally for their work.
Lee Osorio, actor, teacher and playwright, opens the 2019 reading series with his one-act play “Faith” on May 12; and Edith Freni, playwright and teacher, will introduce her play “The Hystericals” for its first public reading on June 9.
Both Osorio and Freni agree that a reading is vital to the playwright. At their respective readings, they will be sitting in the back of the room taking in audience reactions: where they laugh – or not, gasp or seem to be puzzled. The writers will also be making notes about the pacing of the play, its pitch and volume.
“I love to watch the audience’s response and reaction. It tells you so much,” said Osorio.
He and Freni said they will likely make changes in the play based on their own reactions as well as audience reaction and post-reading comments.
“The plays are still evolving,” commented Osorio.
PLAYWRIGHT Q&A: LEE OSORIO
Just ending a three-week run in the leading role of “Hamlet” at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, Osorio will don his playwright hat at the reading of his play. Four actors will read “Faith.” For more information about Osorio, see leeosorio.com.
Q: What are your connections to Atlanta?
A: I grew up in the metro area. My family moved to Marietta when I was nine. I came back to live in Atlanta three years ago after undergrad and grad school at Brown University and Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island.
Q: As a playwright, what inspires your work?
A: Life! There are stories everywhere. I was inspired to write “Faith” by an indie bluegrass song I heard on the radio when I was in Toronto a couple years ago. I was quoted in a press release that I like to investigate characters that want to live and love well, but are really unsure how. My hope is that my work makes someone feel seen, that emboldens someone to be more honest about their struggles, and it encourages us to reach out.
Q: What are the benefits you see in bringing performances to venues outside traditional theaters?
A: I love the model of truly immersive theater. It can attract new audiences; create more support for the theater arts; and give people something different to do.
I think the readings give audiences a chance to use their imaginations and respond to the play itself. They are not bound by set, costumes and staging. They can think about what a full production might be like.
Q: What is your view on Atlanta as an opportunity for theater arts?
A: I think Atlanta is a place with great potential, diversity and space for more arts including theater arts – for actors, playwrights, producers and directors. I have found [Atlanta] to be one of the kindest, most generous, welcoming and supportive places I have worked.
There’s room to improve. We need to push ourselves to grow. I advocate that Atlanta must try to become more representational of its diverse communities and I ask of the city and its leaders to make art more accessible to all.
PLAYWRIGHT Q&A: EDITH FRENI
On June 9, playwright and teacher Edith Freni brings her play “The Hystericals” to the Wine & Reading Series for its first public airing. Five actors will deliver the reading. For more information about Freni, see edithfreni.com.
Q: You currently live in Nashville. What are your ties to Atlanta?
A: I was the inaugural Emory University Playwright Fellow for two years, 2014 to 2016. It really established me as a playwright. I have had commissions from Actor’s Express, Theatre Emory and Georgia State. I also received a New Territories Playwriting Residency at Serenbe Playhouse. I have worked with Kennesaw University and was the co-lead teacher for the New South Young Playwrights Contest and Festival for Horizon Theatre in 2015 to 2017.
Q: When did you get interested in play-writing?
A: I have written ever since I learned to read and write. I grew up in New York where my dad was an actor, so I was immersed in theater all my life. I kept a journal of my writing samples, essays, stories and scripts for him. I remember rewriting the end of “Hamlet.”
Q: What inspires your plays?
A: I focus on women and their stories, and in the last five or six years, I have usually had a female protagonist. “The Hystericals” grew out of my own experience with an auto-immune condition and the fact that women are not always taken seriously by the medical profession. I also discovered how people may overly identify with an illness. I met personalities –all women – in online chat rooms and I wanted to write a play about my and their experiences.
Q: Do you have more than one play under development at any given time?
A: I have been writing “The Hystericals” over the last year-and-a-half. It’s possible to have two in the works. The theater arts are very competitive, so like many playwrights, I have side gigs going, in my case, teaching. I have taught playwriting, playmaking, play analysis and theater history at various universities.
Q: Do you have current works in development?
A: Actually, I am entering a whole new world: writing for television productions. I recently sent out my first original script. TV offers a lot of writing opportunities for writers. It’s a life-changing move from my 10 years in academia and writing plays for theater.