Summertime Brings Flurry of Festivals

Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

It's June, and--to paraphrase the famous paean to the month from "Carousel"--new plays are bustin' out all over.

This particular June brings an extraordinary confluence of festivals and series devoted to the development of new plays and other theater projects.

The most prominent of June's Southern California festivals is a newcomer: On Thursday, South Coast Repertory launches its first Pacific Playwrights Festival, a two-week affair that will present six workshop performances of two plays and staged readings of five others. It's expected to attract an impressively credentialed group of directors and dramaturges, as well as writers and actors, to SCR's Costa Mesa site.

But it's hardly the only such event:

* The Common Ground Festival of the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre Projects will present free, in-progress versions of eight productions at UCLA, June 23-28.

* The Mark Taper Forum's "The Wing: New Theatre Taking Off" at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, which has been operating on Mondays and Tuesdays since March, expands next weekend, as the Blacksmyths workshop's fourth annual Juneteenth presents six free readings in three days, to be followed by the fifth summer Chautauqua of the Other Voices workshop on June 27.

* Cypress College is presenting free readings of four plays in a series ending July 2, including this year's PEN West prize-winning drama, Naomi Iizuka's "Polaroid Stories," on June 25.

* Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' free Reader's Theatre begins Monday and continues each Monday through July 13.

* Blank Theatre Company's Young Playwrights Festival is at the Falcon every Wednesday and Thursday during June.

* Interact Theatre's fifth annual Interactivity festival includes 13 separate programs of new plays (including William Mastrosimone's "Benedict Arnold") and revivals, from this weekend through July 11.

The phenomenon isn't just local--the most recent winner of the resident theater Tony Award, Denver Center Theatre Company, concluded its own four-day festival of readings Friday. All of this is in addition to the ongoing, nonseasonal series, such as the PKE series at the Coronet Theatre, where Lee Blessing will read his new "Chesapeake" Monday.

Jerry Patch, who's directing SCR's festival, noted practical reasons why June is a good month for such festivals, especially in the Southland: It's in between the TV pilot season and the beginning of production on most TV series. Actors and directors who look for more lucrative work on the small screen can take time off for short-term stage commitments in June. Also, the festival is at the end of SCR's own September-June cycle, so facilities such as the Second Stage, which will be used for the two workshops, are available.

Patch hopes that the atmosphere at SCR during the next two weeks will be like a "theater camp." Out-of-town talent will stay at nearby hotels. Festival participants will share alfresco meals around the fountain in front of the theater. They'll see one another's work. While there may be official post-performance discussions if the playwrights want them, "some of the best comments are made one on one in a social situation," Patch said.

Unlike many of the other series, SCR's must pay for air fares, hotel bills and Actors' Equity wages. Though the festival is supported by $100,000 over the next two years from the Mellon Foundation, members of the public will be charged admission--$18 for workshops, $8 for the readings.

The SCR workshops include Anthony Clarvoe's "Walking Off the Roof," staged by Cornerstone Theater artistic director Bill Rauch, Thursday, Saturday and June 24 and 27; and Cusi Cram's "Landlocked," staged by Juliette Carroll, director of the theater's Hispanic Playwrights Project, Friday and June 21, 26 and 28.

The readings include Howard Korder's 52-character "The Hollow Lands," directed by David Chambers, Friday and June 28; Karen Zacarias' "The Sins of Sor Juana," staged by Lisa Portes, June 25; Chris Van Groningen's "The Mechanics," directed by the Matrix Theater's Andrew J. Robinson, June 26; John Glore's "On the Jump," which is already slated for a premiere at SCR next April, directed for the reading (though not for the production) by Lee Shallat-Chemel, June 26; and Jessica Hagedorn's Philippines-set "Dogeaters," directed on June 27 by La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Michael Greif, who will stage the play's premiere at his own theater (which commissioned it) in September.

SCR information: (714) 708-5555. Consult listings for other events.

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