April 26 was the last night of the Naked Stage’s season at Guild Hall (it will pick up again in the fall) and the Boots Lamb Education Center was packed with theatergoers, ready to see Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”
Usually the staged readings are performed in the John Drew Theater, but this particular evening the Hampton Ballet Theatre was using the space to rehearse its production of “Cinderella,” so as the crowds rolled in, the cast and crew of the Naked Stage were adding chairs to the education center space until the play started.
After a lively performance by five actors seated on chairs in front of the audience — Naked Stage’s founder, Josh Perl, Rachel Feldman, Kate Mueth, Josh Gladstone, Guild Hall’s artistic director, and Lydia Franco Hodges — there was an equally lively question-and-answer session with the performers. Questions posed by the audience to the performers, and vice versa, ranged from plot lines to objectives and other theatrical conundrums.
And it was all free.
The Naked Stage has morphed into HITFest, which stands for the Hamptons Independent Theatre Festival, but its mission statement remains the same: to provide an incubator and theater laboratory for artists to practice and explore free from the constraints of production schedules and budgets.
Mr. Gladstone was quick to acknowledge the support of Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley, who have sponsored many of the Naked Stage’s readings, and also of Guild Hall itself, which was a venue for Naked Stage readings for the past eight years, since Mr. Perl and Mr. Gladstone worked together on a production of “Macbeth.”
The two got into a discussion about Mr. Perl’s brainchild — “an informal laboratory for playwrights to have their stuff kicked around,” Mr. Gladstone said. “It’s a great opportunity to encourage the local playwrights and acting community.”
Each staged reading by the company assigns a lead artist, said Mr. Gladstone, and that person chooses the play, chooses his or her part in it, casts it, and generally does all the work. “They get the night,” Mr. Gladstone said. “It’s very egalitarian.”
The works chosen run from Broadway hits like “August: Osage County” to lesser-known works by well-known playwrights and even works in progress.
“It’s very much about the playwrights,” said Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Perl agreed: “It’s about finding a mix of really good plays that people know, that people have never heard of, brand-spanking-new plays — that’s a little bit of alchemy,” he said.
Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Perl also expressed their beliefs, in separate interviews, that theater creates community.
“In the off-season,” said Mr. Gladstone, “it creates a meeting place, for free, at a time of year when things are pretty quiet around here.”
“I like to imagine it as a cultural hearth,” Mr. Perl said. “A place where the community can gather. Theater is really about community.”
But most of all, Mr. Gladstone said with a smile, “It’s very fun.”
The next season of the Naked Stage/HITFest at Guild Hall will offer a play within a book from Dava Sobel, a lauded local author. Ms. Sobel’s latest tome, “A More Perfect Heaven,” chronicles Copernicus, and there is a play in it called “The Sun Stood Still,” which Naked Stage will perform in conjunction with a book launch party. There will be about two or three readings a month, all of them free and open to the public.
More information can be found at hitfest.org.