One need not travel to the city to see experimental theater that is cutting-edge. Simply a hop skip and a jump away in neighboring Ossining, the aptly named Westchester Collaborative Theater (“WCT”), a new play development company and performing arts center, is an amazing place where new plays are introduced and collaboration reigns supreme. This intimate “black box” theatre in Ossining, previously housing a cabinet-making factory, has been transformed over the last two years into a cool little theatre with an industrial feel.
At WCT, member playwrights, actors, and directors participate in a workshop process where new plays are read, critiqued, and improved upon. Actors receive scripts in advance, come to the readings with an interpretation of character, and do an unrehearsed reading. Feedback is provided to the playwrights and they are welcome to rewrite and return with new material.
Once a month, through WCT’s Play in the Box program, playwrights are afforded an opportunity to present their plays to the public, followed by a talkback session where the audience provides feedback to the playwright.
WCT also produces fully staged readings of selected works throughout the season, typically for a full weekend of public performances. Besides providing a crew, set design, and lighting, a director is assigned to help advance the work.
The third tier of development is a mainstage production, usually spanning a four weekend run, which receives their full cadre of production behind it in terms of set, lighting, costumes and sound. A “dramaturg” is assigned to work with the writer and director before rehearsals to fine-tune the play. This entire process is geared towards getting plays in front of the public, giving writers a chance to have their works seen and improved upon. WCT has been very successful in launching plays to be produced all over the world.
Last month, WCT presented The Legend by Rick Apicella, an original play about a young boxer ranked a 2018 ‘commended new play’ by the BBC in a multi-lingual international playwriting competition.
“We are committed to developing new work and being kind of an incubator for new plays, allowing artists to collaborate together to grow the plays,” explains Founder and Executive Director Alan Lutwin. “We try to create a nurturing atmosphere – not to say we don’t criticize; we do, but it’s in a constructive way to try and further the work.”
Audiences are an integral part of the process. “We have a very loyal following of subscribers,” says Lutwin. “We only do new work so our audience really has to trust us and support our mission. We’ve cultivated that carefully, inviting people who enjoy seeing something new and being involved in the talkback sessions.
The audience is actually a collaborator with us in moving the play forward.”
Engaging the Community
Fostering a strong commitment to being grassroots oriented and giving the community a chance to participate, WCT partners with Ossining, taking advantage of its racial and ethnic diversity, to be a diverse multi-ethnic theater company. They have an ongoing relationship with the school district, working with high school students who want to act or provide technical support in their productions. Partnering with the Ossining Arts Council last year, they presented a series of productions called the Living Art Event, a docent led tour of a gallery where actors appeared and performed plays inspired by works of art displayed at the event.
Further engaging with the community, WCT strives to take every production to senior centers and perform for the residents so they can appreciate the theatre despite being limited in their mobility.
Sustaining the Dream
Without a home base for the first seven years, WCT did plays at the village library theatre, art galleries, and wherever else they could find a home. They are thrilled to have their current space, which accommodates about fifty seats.
Besides developing new works, WCT runs a jazz series twice a month where they bring in notable artists to perform. Since seating and staging in the theater is portable, the space is easily converted from a theatre into a jazz club with lighting and tablecloths. They also run acting programs and classes.
Between ArtsWestchester grants, private donations, member dues, ticket sales, and an annual fall fundraiser, WCT works hard to maintain a revenue stream.
Playwrights will present their work in upcoming Play in the Box programs on June 21st and July 26th. A ten-minute play festival called “Brand New Shorts,” featuring a series of short plays that come out of the workshop process, is scheduled for performances July 19th through July 28th. The plays will be followed by talkback sessions. For a calendar of events, tickets to upcoming shows and jazz performances, and directions, please visit www.wctheater.org