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Culture Watch

You Pick the Winning Play

One of the neat things about talking with Bill Taylor, founding artistic director of Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Myers, is that chances run high you’ll hear some fresh and exciting ideas. That’s exactly what happened recently, when I called to discuss his annual New Play Contest, which is presenting its 13th production this month.

Taylor devised the play competition in the late 1990s, when the New Arts Festival was running in Fort Myers. Noticing that it had no theater component, he pitched the idea of Theatre Conspiracy presenting a never-before-seen play.

"It was the best thing I ever did," he told me, "just because of the relationships with the playwrights and the access to new work."

Audiences liked the idea, too—enough so that Taylor continued the contest long after New Arts faded. As he worked with the playwrights, however, he found that second and third productions of plays were harder for the writers to secure than world premieres. That led to the first change in the competition: It now accepts entries that have had as many as three previous productions. All, however, have been new experiences for Southwest Florida.

The second change arrived this year, when Taylor allowed the audience to help determine the winner. In July, his company presented readings of a portion of the top three contenders. The audience selected Cynthia’s Lament, a comedy by Paul J. Lawrence about a male romance writer who’s been passing himself off as a female.

But wait! There’s more. Taylor’s also gotten involved with SOS (Square One Series), a collaborative venture between a half-dozen theater companies in the country, dedicated to developing new plays through a series of workshops and ultimately a full production. Theatre Conspiracy has nominated its second-place finisher, Elsewhere by Adam Szymkowicz, for the process—and committed to staging a full production of it if it’s selected.

"And we have an in with a producer in New York, so it’s looking like [Elsewhere] might go from here to New York City for a run," Taylor said.

The new play contest now regularly attracts entries from throughout the country, Canada and Europe. But Taylor is committed to assisting local playwrights, too. He’s started a workshop group with four area writers. Members meet once a week to read each other’s work and offer constructive criticism. "Next summer, we’re going to put those works on stage for an audience," Taylor promised. "It may be just as readings, but we will present them somehow to the public."

Add to all that the fact that the rest of Theatre Conspiracy’s 2010-2011 season consists of two Southwest Florida premieres (Dead Man’s Cell Phone and Shipwrecked! An Entertainment), a Florida premiere (Frank Lloyd Wright) and a classic (Medea), and it’s clear that Taylor’s desire to bring new theater to this region runs strong. How exciting! I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next!

Theatre Conspiracy presents

Cynthia’s Lament Oct. 8–9, 14–17 and 21–23, at Foulds Theatre, Lee County Alliance for the Arts. For tickets and information, call (239) 936-3239 or visit www.theatreconspiracy.org.
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