Title Wave: New Works Fest at Bay Street

Promising new works for theater, free
A production from last year’s New Works Festival at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor Richard Lewin

A fairy tale pop/rock musical, two history-based plays, and a drama set in a near future beset by climate change will be presented next week in Title Wave at Bay Street, the Sag Harbor theater’s sixth annual New Works Festival. The free readings of new plays in development offer playwrights an opportunity to hear their works in progress, learn from the audience’s responses, and provide the East End community a chance to experience promising works for the theater.

Scott Schwartz, the theater’s artistic director, said, “I’m very proud that a great many works we have presented in the festival have gone on to full productions both at our theater and at other theaters around the country.” “The Prompter,” a comedy by Wade Dooley presented at last year’s festival, will receive its world premiere in a full production starring Tovah Feldshuh and Mr. Dooley this summer at Bay Street.

The festival will launch on Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. with “My Lord, What a Night,” a play by Deborah Brevoort set in 1937 when the legendary African-American singer Marian Anderson gave a concert at Princeton University. When she was denied a room at the Nassau Inn, then a whites-only hotel in what Paul Robeson once called “the northernmost town in the South,” Albert Einstein, who was a resident scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, invited her to stay at his home, initiating a friendship that would last until his death in 1955.

Another meeting of famous people inspired “Delmonico,” Jack Canfora’s play about the August 1964 meeting of Bob Dylan and the Beatles at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City. The play, which will be presented May 4 at 8 p.m., tells the story of the night those two musical forces met and how they influenced each other. Mr. Canfora’s play “Fellow Travelers” had its world premiere last summer at Bay Street.

Amy Berryman’s “Walden” is set in a not-too-distant future when climate change has led to the human colonization of other planets. Cassie, a NASA botanist, returns from her year-long deployment in space to learn that her twin sister, Stella, is engaged to someone who advocates remaining on Earth and making the best of conditions there. Questions of rivalry and love play out as humanity hangs in the balance. “Walden” will be performed on the afternoon of May 4 at 2.

The festival will conclude on May 5 at 3 p.m. with “Bliss,” a pop-rock musical with book, music, and lyrics by Emma Lively and Tyler Beattie. The story of four unconventional princesses who long to break free of their castle, the play is a fractured fairy tale, according to Mr. Schwartz. 

“It takes fairy tale traditions and techniques, turns them on their heads, and explodes them a bit. One of the major reasons we decided to do ‘Bliss’ is that it looks at the fairy tale from a woman’s perspective and makes the princesses the heroes of the story. It takes a modern, fresh sensibility, particularly about gender roles, and applies it to the fairy tale genre.”

Mr. Schwartz explained that because Bay Street has mounted at least one world premiere in each of its last five seasons, it has become known in the national theater community as a place that produces new works. Will Pomerantz, the theater’s associate artistic director, and Mr. Schwartz look at hundreds of plays and musicals submitted by agents, producers, and playwrights over the course of a year.  

“While we look at any new work we get as a possibility for production, we also consider them for the New Works Festival,” said Mr. Schwartz. “When you consider we can only take four for the festival, it’s a pretty high bar that a work has to hit.” He added that the festival is committed to gender parity.

Each play is read in its entirety by professional actors, accompanied by minimal staging, and followed by a talkback. “Over the last five years, the playwrights and directors have been very pleased with the experience, because in the end it gives them a really great opportunity to see their work in front of sophisticated theatergoing audience. That’s how as a playwright you learn what’s working and what isn’t.”

While all tickets are free if purchased in person at the theater’s box office, there is a $5 handling fee for reservations made online or over the phone. Any tickets not picked up 10 minutes prior to each reading will be released to standbys.