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New Plays Festival provides opportunity for playwrights and actors to shine

New Plays Festival provides opportunity for playwrights and actors to shine

In his nearly 10 years of directing plays at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, Kevin McGuire has interprete

In his nearly 10 years of directing plays at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, Kevin McGuire has interpreted the greatest storytellers ever — Shaw, Checkhov and Shakespeare, to name just a few. So, who are Reich, Dobies and Navidar?

According to McGuire, they’re three very good contemporary playwrights, and while he may be holding the bar a little lower than usual, McGuire is as enthusiastic as ever about their work and the New Plays Festival coming to Proctors in Schenectady beginning Tuesday and running through April 27.

“I am absolutely thrilled with the three plays we’re working with, and I’m terribly proud to be the artistic director and to be working with Proctors on something like this,” said McGuire, a Hoosick Falls native and Broadway veteran who founded the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in 1999. “This is the first time that Proctors is actually presenting its own work and we’re finding our way, artistically and administratively, and it’s been a great experience.”

‘New Plays Festival’

WHERE: 440 Upstairs at Proctors, State Street, Schenectady

WHEN: Opens 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and runs through April 27

HOW MUCH: $26, $70 for all three shows

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org

The three plays selected — “General Desdemona,” by Egan Reich, “Battles of the Band,” by Kevin Dobies, and “110 Flights,” by Nahal Navidar — were among the more than 100 plays submitted by people living with a 50-mile radius of Proctors.

And then there were 3

“I started working on this about this time last year,” said McGuire, who played Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” on Broadway and the title character in “The Phantom of the Opera” in Toronto. “We received more than 100 plays, I read all of them, and I’m still standing. They just kept on coming in.”

McGuire will direct “General Desdemona”; Jeffrey Mousseau, a director and program curator working out of New York and Hudson, will direct “110 Flights”; and Jonathan Whitton, a Skidmore graduate who has done plenty of work with Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, is directing “Battles of the Band.” A total of nine actors will perform the three plays, six of them with strong ties to the Capital Region.

“There is an enormous amount of talent up here in this area, and the Capital District is a place where the theater is happening,” said McGuire. “One of the reasons I started Hubbard Hall was to provide some training ground for actors and directors, so the cast is a combination of people from up here and three nonlocal actors from New York. But we really wanted to give local people an opportunity to work in these new plays. It’s a wonderful thing for these actors and the playwrights and directors to have this venue to express ourselves.”

The New Plays Festival will be performed in Proctors’ new theater space called 440 Upstairs at Proctors.

“General Desdemona” is set during the winter of 1846 in Corpus Christi, Texas during the War with Mexico. To fight the boredom between battles, a young Lt. Ulysses S. Grant auditions for a spot in the Army’s production of “Othello.”

“Battles of the Band” is the story of Rob Cantwell, a front man for a local rock group called Ace Bandage, and “100 Flights” studies the relationship between a New York City cop and his wife, an Iranian-American grad student, in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy.

Area connections

Reich, a playwright, screenwriter and actor, has spent much of his time recently working in the Chicago area but he also calls Cambridge home, while Navidar is a Guilderland High and University at Albany grad who moved to the Capital Region from Iran when she was 8. Dobies is the only born and bred Capital Region native of the three, having grown up in Niskayuna. He attended Schenectady County Community College and the University at Albany.

Dobies’ work was performed as a stage reading at the University at Albany, while another play he wrote, “Hey Florida,” was performed by the drama department at SCCC.

“I’m not a musician myself, but I have three friends who are, and luckily they were good enough to contribute some songs to the show,” said Dobies. “It’s not really a musical, but because it’s a play about music, the music is an important part of the show. I really didn’t know what to expect when I submitted my play, but I felt confident in it. We did a staged reading at UAlbany a couple of years ago, and I thought that went pretty well.”

Dobies had a meeting with McGuire last year to discuss his play, and then had to simply wait to see if it would be one of the three works chosen for the Proctors’ production.

“I met with Kevin last summer and I thought the meeting went very well, but it was another couple of months before I got a call back from him,” said Dobies. “So, I was beginning to wonder, but I was really excited to hear the news. It felt great.”

Positive feedback

The three plays have been subjected to some minor rewrites, but that’s only normal according to McGuire.

“People are going to be surprised when they see these plays, and it’s my job to make them as good as they can be,” said McGuire. “We were changing a few things all the time because everybody is smart enough to know that when it’s better it’s better. But I don’t want to disimprove a play. They all have a solid structure, and we’re just doing a little internal cutting here and there.”

McGuire hopes to provide a workshop for his playwrights next year.

“I talked to them about it, and I think next year, once this thing gets off the ground this year, we’ll have a workshop so that our playwrights can get some feedback,” said McGuire. “Usually, there aren’t too many other people reading their plays, and they’re looking for feedback. It really can be a big help to them.”

McGuire hopes that Proctors’ New Plays Festival will be an annual event, and he hopes to remain involved. The commitment, however, may change his status at Hubbard Hall.

“This fits in perfectly with what I love to do with my work,” said McGuire. “Usually I’m dealing with the classics, but I love working with the beginnings of things, and the idea of educating and mentoring. I love the creative process and helping young people in the theater try to figure it out. I’d love to do this again next year, so it might be time for someone else to do what I’ve done at Hubbard Hall. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

Making up the local contingent of actors are Yvonne Perry of Loudonville, Brian Massman and Ian Sullivan of Albany, Myleah Misenhimer of Middleburgh, Ben Scurria of Cambridge, and David Rodriguez of Hudson.

The New Plays Festival was created by a grant from former Union College English professor Dr. Sam Ullmann of Schenectady.

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