The best of off-Broadway could be found just off Broadway in Astoria Friday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 31-18 37th St., home to "First Night," an evening of staged readings of new plays in progress.
"First Night" has blossomed into an increasingly popular annual tradition of the Trinity Players theatre troupe since its founding in 1995. The "First Night" format is simple: there is none. The Trinity Players simply take to the stage, scripts in hand and, read through the first act of two or more featured works, with each actor assuming one or more spoken roles as presented on the page. The aim: to allow for an aspiring playwright to hear his or her words roadtested in front of an audience, often for the first time.
"This is truthfully the best way for a playwright to work. We need to hear our words spoken aloud. We need to see what works and what doesn't," said Margaret E. Cabrera, a founding member of Trinity and co-creator of "The Mythic Hero," one of the two new works that premiered at last Friday's "First Night." "It definitely inspires me to go forward with this work."
"I've written plenty of plays before this one. They're sitting in drawers at home," said Olivia Corless, co-author of "Hero," the tale of a man obsessed with a childhood memory; his parents' decision to ignore the desperate cries of a woman being stabbed to death. The play, Cabrera attested, was inspired by the infamous stabbing death of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens in the early 60s whose cries for help were ignored by numerous witnesses to her murder.
"'Hero' actually began as a project that Olivia and I were working on," said Cabrera who, along with Corless, is earning a master's degree in theater at Brooklyn College; Cabrera is studying directing, Corless is studying dramaturgy. And while neither woman considers herself a writer first and foremost, their "First Night" opportunity inspired them to turn "Hero" into a full-length play, premiering the first act before a live audience.
"Normally, I'm the one at the other end of the process," said Corless, who works at Manhattan's Abingdon's Theater, helping primarily new writers find and fix the flaws in their work. "It's exciting to be on this side, hearing my lines spoken before an audience.
"Oh, it's a little nerve-wracking, too," said Cabrera with a laugh about her own case of opening night jitters. "But overall, it's an invaluable part of the process which the audience seems to enjoy.
"Not that staged readings aren't a trick proposition for both actors and audience unaided by the usual cues of costumes and set designs. It's a balancing act which requires, ironically, a greater intimacy between actors and audience precisely because a bare bones production asks the audience to meet its cast more than half way. Aiding this process is the closeness at the core of Trinity's cast members, many of whom have worked together since the troupe saw its start in 1995.
"That there is a core group of performers who know each other and work together well undoubtedly helps," said Cabrera. "Each knows each other's strength."
"First Night" would be an inspiration to any writer," said Kevin Hauver, a Trinity cast member and the playwright behind the second work to premiere at Friday's "First Night", "Charlie's Poem" about a promising playwright long haunted by an old love.
"You're hearing your words read aloud before an audience for the first time, so first of all you get the audience response to your work," said Hauver. "Also, there is the response of actors to the piece. They see stuff in your work that you haven't seen - a new way to read a line, a new angle on a key moment. Having their input, and that of the audience, is crucial."
The next Trinity Players production will be a tribute to award-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry, presenting scenes from her best-known works, "A Raisin In the Sun," "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window," "Les Blancs." This production is scheduled for February 4 at 8 p.m. in honor of Black History Month.
For more information about "First Night" or any other Trinity Players productions, call 545-4321.
©1999 Community News Group
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