This month, we chatted with Giovanna Sardelli, the Director of New Works at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, about their upcoming New Works Festival, held annually in Palo Alto. Read more about their festival, which this year coincides with NAMT’s Roundtable on Education & Outreach, being held at TWSV.
Can you tell us a little about the history of TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival and what your goals are for the program?
The Festival began 15 years ago as a way to introduce our audiences to works in development and to get them excited about the process of making theatre. It is our goal to provide the artists we invite to TheatreWorks with a safe environment in which to explore and create – one that supports their vision. As our audiences are an invaluable part of the process, it is our goal to provide them an opportunity to engage with art and artists in a way they might not otherwise be able to do.
How does TWSV select shows for the festival?
Primarily we take submissions from agents. We also reach out to literary managers and artistic directors for suggestions since we all have works we love that we aren’t able to support – in fact I have several right now if anyone wants suggestions! Also we rely upon writers with whom we have a relationship to suggest other artists and shows. They are wonderful advocates for each other.
Your festival has a unique structure for writing teams and audience members. Can you tell us about the process for writers and what developmental work happens over the two weekends?
We surround our artists with incredible support so that they can focus on the story they are telling. Musicals are given two or three public presentations and plays have two. Between each of the presentations there is rehearsal time to integrate what has been learned from the audience – and our audiences are incredible. Between 200 and 400 people turn out for each presentation so the artists have a very strong sense of how their story is playing. It’s invaluable to have that much community support, and to have multiple opportunities to hone a story.
What is the process like for an audience member?
This year the audience will be treated to a Keynote Address by Rajiv Joseph that speaks to the act of creating and that gives the audience an intimate look into his process. I think this will launch the conversation about what it takes to make art and how an audience can be a valuable part of that process. Audience members have a chance to see the work develop from presentation to presentation and to meet the artists at a special event. Throughout the Festival, audience members have the opportunity to offer thoughtful responses to the plays, and to come together to support and celebrate the artists creating the new work. Since we can’t do what we do without our audiences, we want to keep the Festival atmosphere fun and present for them.
How does the New Works Festival tie into TWSV’s overall mission?
TheatreWorks is dedicated to the discovery and development of new voices in the American Theatre, so the New Works Festival is a natural extension of that commitment. The company was founded to produce work that reflects the concerns of the community it serves and that commitment guides us still. Part of our mission is to produce work that celebrates that human spirit and that reveals who we are and explores what we might become. I always keep that part of our mission in mind as I search for new musicals and plays.
Why should people make their way to sunny California to check out these amazing new works this summer?
Because they are indeed amazing! Over the course of ten days, we will have 13 presentations of four new musicals and two new plays. In addition, we will have two special events – a keynote address and a panel to meet the artists. There is truly something for everyone in this Festival. The quality and variety of the art you can experience is dazzling. And it doesn’t hurt that the weather is perfect!