“It was like going on a first date and finding yourself engaged to the Prince of England,” says Leslie A. Kobylinski, artistic director of First Draft. “We never dreamed that we, this fast, would be matchmaking audiences to a theater and a theater to a playwright and a play to audiences.”
Launched last summer, First Draft is the play-nurturing wing of Charter Theatre, which has stopped doing full productions and devotes its stretched resources to developing new work through readings; it then tries to forge links between theaters and playwrights. Charter Artistic Director Keith Bridges put Kobylinski, herself a playwright and director, in charge of First Draft. They’ve held 16 readings of 10 new scripts this season, all free to the public. With “Jack and the Bean-Stalk,” they got their first nibble.
At last September’s Page-to-Stage festival at the Kennedy Center, Mark Krikstan, artistic director of 1stStage, attended a reading of “Jack.” He says, “I just thought it was wonderful. . . . We jumped at the chance.” So 1stStage, a small theater devoted to giving fledgling theater artists their first professional experience, is mounting the show, with Charter/First Draft covering some of the development costs. Kobylinski is directing, and Baldessari will play the cranky narrator. The play will run through June 19.
Baldessari says he’s not a fan of plays that stick to the stage and observe the fourth wall. Hence his narrator, Pricklebumm, grumps at kids in the audience and threatens never to tell the story. “I like the theater experience to start as soon as you walk in the door, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen,” says the playwright.
Krikstan added “Jack and the Bean-Stalk” to the 1stStage schedule after his season was underway, so it will run between performances of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “By Jeeves.” Some Saturdays will involve two “Jacks” and two “Jeeveses” in alternating succession.
“That’ll be pretty exciting,” Krikstan says. “I hope we’re all standing at the end of this.”
Skyping the part
Neither Artistic Director Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre Company nor actor Steven Culp in Los Angeles had time to meet for an audition. So, in a technological leap forward for Kahn, they convened via Skype in the New York office of casting director Laura Stanczyk in March. Kahn needed to see whether Culp was right for the role of Deeley in Harold Pinter’s three-character play “Old Times,” running through July 3 at the Lansburgh Theatre.
Kahn wasn’t comfortable using Skype alone, so Stanczyk set up the computer/video connection between Kahn and Culp. As anyone who’s used Skype knows, such confabs don’t always go smoothly. “He kept freezing and going, and freezing and going,” says Kahn of Culp’s reading of a monologue from the play. “It looked a little bit like somebody doing break-dancing . . . but it seemed, in the middle of all of that, that he was doing a good job.”