Back in the day (like in the 1990s), Orange County was a hotbed of new playwriting. Revolving Door Productions in Fullerton, and Stages in Anaheim, were new play foundries, and a lot of good, and some not-so-good stuff came out of each theater. Playwrighting groups also flourished, with at least three operating at one time.
But most of the writers moved away (Johnna Adams), lost interest (too many to mention), grew up (William Mittler, who teaches theater at several local colleges) , or just settled into writing about theater for alternative weeklies. But at least one of the people heavily involved in those days is still passionate about the craft: Eric Eberwein, who founded the Orange County Playwrights Alliance in 1995.
Eberwein, not a half-shabby playwright in his own right, still runs OCPA, which has begun a series of full-length plays at the Hunger Artists Theatre. He is also one of the two spearheads behind OC-Centric: Orange County's New Play Festival, a festival of new one-act plays from OC writers. Produced by Chapman University professor Tamiko Washington and Eberwein, the festival includes four plays and a roster of fine acting and talent assembled from the county's storefront theater scene, as well as Chapman students and Los Angeles-based actors.
“This is not a cheap show thrown up on two weeks rehearsal,” Eberwein said. Rehearsals began in mid-July, there is a paid production staff and “we are fortunate to draw on some of the awesome resources of Chapman.”
Eberwein said the genesis of an OC-centric festival came from Washington. “She loves new work and she wants to start a new tradition of celebrating it and producing it in OC,” he said.
Plans are to expand the festival next year. “The idea is that it will become a fixture on campus, a perennial part of its theatre offering,” Eberwein said. He's is an astute observer of theater, both locally and nationally, and he thinks this festival is what OC theater urgently needs.
“I don't know about you, but things feel a bit boring on the OC storefront landscape lately, even with the terrific work of the top five storefronts,” he said. “I'm of the opinion that good theatre scenes are made great by an infusion of stunning and memorable new plays, which stretch actors and directors with new challenges. So these efforts will hopefully help to ramp the new work quotient or at least the visibility of new work back up to pre-recession levels.”
All four playwrights in this festival are OCPA members, but Eberwein plans on opening up submissions for 2012 and beyond to any playwrights living or working in the OC. The pieces include: Eberwein's Do Hoosiers go to Heaven, a Midwestern memory play about growing up underclass; Gene Fiskin's In Search of Reason, about a Limbo-trapped group who realize they're part of the same soul; Ken La Salle's The Myth of the Cubicle, about a young worker trying to awaken his absurd office of drones and burnouts; and Joni Ravenna's Sex, Love and the Premature Evacuation, about a 30something romance writer visiting a sex clinic for perfect sperm–the kind detached from the male anatomy.
Chapman University's Moulton Center Studio Theatre, 1 University Dr., Orange. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Aug. 28. $15. www.occentric.weebly.com.