Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory is preparing for a whirlwind weekend, with the return of the 15th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival from April 27 to 29.
At the heart of the event is a set of five plays that will be given staged readings: "Warrior Class," "You Are Here," "I And You," "The Few" and "Smokefall."
"As in any given year, they're the five best plays across our doorway over the past year or so," said SCR Associate Artistic Director John Glore, also co-director of the Festival.
"We spend the entire year looking for plays to put in each year's Festival. There's a lot of variety in them, from realistic dramas to a very fantastic family story in 'Smokefall.' "
The Festival also opens and closes with the debuts of new shows: Steven Drukman's "The Prince of Atlantis," running through April 29, and Adam Gwon and Octavio Solis' musical "Cloudlands," which runs April 15 to May 6.
"I encourage people to take in as much of the Festival as they can," Glore said, as it is an opportunity to view seven new pieces of theater in the span of 48 hours. "While it sounds daunting, I expect, to the most casual theatergoers, once you get into it, it becomes so exciting."
Glore described terraces and lobbies filled with avid theatergoers and representatives from theater companies across the country, hoping to find a new play to take back home with them.
"All this happens in a whirlwind of activity," he said. "Companies coming here get sunshine and warm weather as part of the draw, and finding a play they can debut is another part of it. The Pacific Playwrights Festival, I think it's fair to say, is out there leading the way, just based on the number of people who come here from out of town. It's our busiest time of year to be sure."
'Something to be discovered'
The Festival culminates with the staging of a new production, "Cloudlands."
"It's a brand new musical; it's the first time South Coast Repertory has ever commissioned a whole musical," said Glore, who in addition to his other duties is the dramaturge for "Cloudlands."
Glore added that the process of bringing it to life has been a year and a half in the making, and has been both intense and expensive. With creators scattered in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, scheduling has posed its difficulties, he said.
"We've done musicals periodically over the years," Glore said, but they have always been already established ones.
"There's a special quality to a musical that all of us enjoy, but it's expensive [to mount one]," he added. "We got a grant a few years ago from the Mellon Foundation to commission modestly sized musicals that are really geared toward nonprofit productions. The impetus behind them is an artistic impetus rather than a commercial one. The hope has always been that one of those productions would come into fruition."
"Cloudlands" is the first full-fledged musical to come from that grant.
"It was easy to recognize [the show's promise] in its very first workshop," Glore said. "It was kind of a wild and wooly mess at that point, but some of the songs were gorgeous. It had kind of an emotional impact that we all responded to when we heard that first presentation."
Glore said the full plot is "one of those things that the audience should really discover for itself," but shared the beginning of the show.
It centers around a troubled 18-year-old San Francisco woman who may have attempted to take her own life by taking pills; she maintains it was an accident, but her parents are concerned. After meeting her boyfriend in a park, she sees her mother by coincidence in a part of town that she never goes to, meeting a man who is not her father.
"It's clearly a tryst," Glore said. "They kiss and they go into a hotel together. The rest of it is something to be discovered."
Glore said he had lost count of the number of workshops the production has seen (either four or five).
"We have had three public presentations of it," he said. "It appeared as a reading in last year's Festival, and we learned a whole lot from that. In January we did a two-week workshop with two more public presentations to take the temperature of the audience. In the three months we have had a lot of changes."
The show had its first preview earlier this week, and received a fairly enthusiastic standing ovation by about half the audience, Glore said.
"There's still work to be done," he said, following three more previews this week. "The authors will take advantage of the time to do some final tweaking to maximize the piece's potential… It's been quite a ride."
If You Go
What: Pacific Playwrights Festival and "Cloudlands"
When: Through May 6
Where: South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa