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Network series invaluable to playwrights

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Network series invaluable to playwrights

A play on paper is the sound of one hand clapping. Without actors, without an audience, the play has no life. Ideally, every theater would nurture playwrights, but few do. Theaters don't make money developing playwrights and only those committed to the full creative potential of its resources bother to invest the time, energy and, yes, money required to put new plays on a stage.

The Performance Network in Ann Arbor is decidedly dedicated to the struggling playwright. Last season’s experimental "Works in Progress" series is now an established feature of the Network, as .. will be made clear by the new series beginning Thursday.

The series will open with a full-scale production of two of the plays ; read last season. They are Lyn Coffin's "The Atomic Weight of Potassium" and Tony McReynold’s "Slow Monday." two one-acts on a double bill. They will run Thursday. Friday. Saturday and Monday, Feb. 7 at 8p.m.

Coffin, best known for her poetry, has published two books of po-

"The Poetry of Wickedness." Choice Magazine called it "life affirming and brilliant." One of her short stories appeared in "Best American Short Stories 1979,” edit-id by Joyce Carol Oates. She done three ...

tor. Jim Moran, Ottmar stands in as general manager, executor and all-purpose counselor for the series. Moran, himself a playwright, is former coordinator of the Attic Theatre’s playwright's forum. He is among the founders of both the Attic Theatre in Detroit and of the Performance Network. He is also known in Ann Arbor for his work with Young People's Theatre.

The “Works in Progress" series will continue on Monday nights. 7 p.m.. through February and March. Plays are followed by discussions with the audience, and some of the audience comments are invaluable to the playwright who suddenly finds a nagging problem set in helpful perspective. “Works in Progress” has developed a growing following within the community. Some may assume that the Network's following is predominantly students. Not at all.

"Works in Progress” has so far drawn a strikingly non-academic population. Among the regulars are people with no formal background in theater, just avid interest. and a thirst for the social and intellectual adventure that these evenings provide.

THE COMING series is more ambitious than last. It will begin and end with full-scale productions

of plays developed at the Network. Eight plays will be read in various stages of readiness, both in terms of script development and elaborateness of staging. Al Sjoerdsma will present two one-act plays which follow close on the heels of "Murphy's Cat,” one of the most polished scripts seen last season. As a student. Sjoerdsma won a Hopwood for a trilogy of one-act plays. Last season he was seen in the title role of "Jason,” one of the works in progress. His plays have been produced at the Canterbury Loft and in the old Arena Theatre.

Davi Napoleon will offer a concrete illustration of the adage that plays are not written, they’re rewritten. She has radically altered last season's "A Matter of Wife and Death,” and the new version will open the Monday readings on Feb. 14. Napoleon, a two-time Hopwood winner who studied with Kenneth Rowe, saw her first script staged in Trueblood Auditorium in 1964 and her last one in New York at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in 1974 She directed "Jason" last season, and is a member of the Critics’ Institute of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

Virginia Koste's "Airlooms." which was recently read in New York with Celeste Holme in the j

lead, is an affirmation of life at the feet of death. Its characters are a theatrical family whose memories offer a glimpse of the theater world from the eyes of an insider. Koste is a professor of theatre at Eastern Michigan University and did, herself, grow up in a theatrical family.

CAROL SHELDON'S “Hostage,” a one-act play for two teenagers, is a tense tug of war for affection. Sheldon's work has been seen before in Ann Arbor. Her "Sandcastles" was produced by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, then went on to a professional production with Betsy Palmer in the lead. Sheldon acted for years with Civic Theatre, and has taught school in Ann Arbor long enough to have earned her the sabbatical that took her to New York this year. There, she wrote several scripts, including "Hostage.” One of her early plays. “Zookeeper,” won honorable mention at the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Conference.

Young Ricky Sperling, a member of YPT’s repertory company, has written a one-act play called

"Good Guy. or how I learned to love my presidential candidate." It’s a spoof on political advertising, and a precocious piece of writing by a budding theater force. Sperling has acted with Civic Theatre and University Players, and will soon be seen In Civic’s production of “On Golden Pond."

Alan Shaw's "Ghost Dancers" is a play in verse, a saga of American Indians in the form of a Greek tragedy. It is an ambitious piece, complete with chorus. Two plays by R. Urist (yours truly) will run as well. The first, a one-act, is called “Going Up’:’ later, “Just Friends." which was read last season, will close the spring series in a full production.

The Performance Network is at 408 W. Washington, just west of Ashley. It is a renovated warehouse - not a glamorous setting but it is a place where the magic of theater takes place. People at the Network call it "the space," an echo of Peter Brook who, in his book "The Empty Space," wrote: "I can take any empty space and

a student - won University of Michigan Hopwood Awards in drama, fiction, poetry and non-fiction.

MCREYNOLDS is as a member of the trio. Apartment 3, a comedy troupe that appeared for eight months on Ann Arbor Cablevision's "Ann Arbor Tonight." He is as serious a writer as he is a comedian, and has won three Hopwoods, including the 1980 award in the drama division for "Slow Monday." In 1979 one of bis short stories took first place nationally in the Scholastic Writing Awards and was published in an anthology called "Shadows in the Light."

"Atomic Weight" demonstrates Coffin's sleight of hand with language and raises questions about the nature of love and sanity. Directed by Ron Miller, it will feature Timothy Grimm and Sandra Stor-rer. "Slow Monday” is a cross between the recent all-American movie "Diner” and Synge's "Playboy of the Western World . ” It is directed by Judith Ottmar.

Ottmar figures largely in the "Works fn Progress'1 series. Working closely with the series’ origina-


call it a stage." Those of us privi-
leged to use the space to
hear our work progress
great deal. PLAYWRIGHTING can only be

learned by learning how theater works. What, for instance, is the nature of relationships in theater? Between actors and director? Between director and playwright? Between playwright and actors? Between actors and audiences There is a certain reverence in which each holds the other, an awe that can create a somewhat comical round robin of deference and delicacy.

The schedule of readings is as follows (subject to change) Feb. 14: Napoleon: Feb. 21: Sjoerdsma and Urist: Mar. 7: Shaw: Mar. 14: Sperling and Sjoerdsma: Mar. 21: Sheldon: and Mar. 28: Koste. The full productions will be the first weekend in February for Coffin and McReyn-olds, and the last two weekends in April for Urist.

Where will our plays go from here? Who knows? Plays are like foster children forever looking for a home. For the time being, at least, they have shelter in Ann Arbor