A scene from Gründlehämmer at Baltimore Rock Opera Society.
A scene from Gründlehämmer at Baltimore Rock Opera Society.
(© Heather Keating)
It was back in the summer of 2000 when Arena Stage held a conference entitled, "Who Needs New Plays," designed to get the theater community talking about the importance of new works. It was met with such positivity that many in the D.C. theater community wanted to keep the enthusiasm behind new writing going, so a group of theaters approached the Kennedy Center about the idea of holding a festival that celebrated this concept.

Coincidentally, the Kennedy Center was in the midst of focusing its efforts on highlighting local artists and this idea corresponded with this initiative and the Page-to-Stage festival was born.

Fast forward a dozen years and the Kennedy Center will host its 12th annual Page-to-Stage new play festival from Saturday, Aug. 31 to Monday, Sept. 2, featuring more than 40 theaters from the D.C. metropolitan area, all who share a mission to produce and support new work.

"It's grown in terms of audience enthusiasm and audience support," says Gregg Henry, curator of the event, who has been inviting theaters to present new work at the Kennedy Center festival since its inception. "The volume of work that we host is pretty much level. Some companies slip away for a year, giving us the chance to invite younger, hipper, progressive theater companies, a lot generated out of fringe."

The three-day, Center-wide event offers a series of free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals being developed by local, regional, and national playwrights, librettists, and composers.

"It's always an interesting mix," Henry says. "We've made a concerted effort to look at nontraditional company-generated devised pieces and find new ways to give them room and say, ‘Have at it.'"

According to Henry, some theater companies use the festival as a means to see if they would want to produce a new play or use it to take the temperature and see what needs to be done on a play they are about to produce. Others simply look for audience feedback before they go too far down the road of a production.

dog and pony dc is one of the newcomers to the event and the theater ensemble will be engaging the audience in a session where attendees can be involved in the final look of its work, Toast Incubator Salon.

Another newcomer is the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, which is testing out its new show, Gründlehämmer, with a reading featuring the original music and songs.

"It's time for D.C. to get exposed to some excessive rock theater," says Jared Margulies, one of the founders of BROS. "The event is great because it is time for the people of D.C. to get their faces melted off. And that's what we do; we melt faces with awesome music, singing, dancing, and spectacle."

Theatre J is a regular at the festival and this year offers the world premiere of Our Suburb by Darrah Cloud, which will be directed by Tony Award-winning actress Judith Ivey.

Artwork for <i>Our Suburb</i> at Theatre J.
Artwork for Our Suburb at Theatre J.
(© Gregory Ferrand)
"We are committed to producing the play in the winter and have had one public reading two years ago and one private reading in Judith's apartment in New York, and now we have this chance to seeing new reactions before we start rehearsals this November," says Ari Roth, artistic director for Theatre J. "Page-to-Stage is a very important part of our new play development trajectory. It helps us see what's working and provides a fresh voice."

Other notable performances include MetroStage's Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song, Synetic Theater's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the family musical One More Night, presented by 1st Stage Theatre.

Although no Tony Awards or Pulitzers have been presented in the festival…yet, through the years, major successes have included Ken Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein also did a workshop of Welcome to My Rash and Third, that Theatre J produced; it is now performed quite often around the country.

"I know people like to see a well-produced spectacular event but it's been my experience in D.C. that we get a smarter, sharper, more curious breed of audience here," Henry says. "I think they like to see it in the germinal stage. There's something attractive about seeing really strong actors, a really engaging playwright and a committed theater company making this kind of presentation in the midst of 45 others."

For a complete list of performance descriptions and participating theaters, and for a schedule of events, click here.