As Producing Artistic Director of Premiere Stages, John Wooten has stayed true to his commitment to support emerging playwrights by bringing new works to the audiences at Kean University. Staged readings can eventually become fully produced shows for Play Festival winners such as Kathryn Grant, the author behind HANDICAPPED PEOPLE IN THEIR FORMAL ATTIRE.
About the play: Set in 1968, Premiere Stages 2012 Play Festival winner takes place at a black tie fundraiser for people with disabilities. The evening's honoree is Agnes Sheehan, a woman with cerebral palsy, who is escorted by her non-disabled sister, Theresa. The siblings make the most of the celebration until unforeseen events force them to examine how fragile the bond is between them. Infused with humor, this moving story explores the true meaning of sacrifice.
In the middle of a busy rehearsal period, the director and cast took time to answer a few questions for BWW.
What made Premiere Stages choose this piece when it was in the play festival?
John Wooten: The play fits the mission of the Festival. Like previous Festival winners, the play addresses important issues that challenge an audience to think about what affects and shapes us as a culture. I am intrigued by characters who refuse to yield to labels and limitations, those who have the courage to make a difference. Kathryn's work resonates with our audience. We produced her play The Good Counselor in 2010 which played to full houses and critical acclaim. The reading of the play in March was extremely well received.
The Play Festival and new play development is the heart of Premiere Stages. I am exceptionally proud of our writers. The past three plays produced through the Play Festival process have all been honored by the American Theatre Critics Association, including Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, which just won the Primus Prize.
There are both actors with and without disabilities in the cast. Was there a conscience decision to use actors with disabilities in the show prior to auditions?
John Wooten: I was really hoping to and am pleased that we have actors with disabilities in the cast who I think serve the piece and Kathryn's message exceptionally well.
Lori Hammel (Theresa) you have worked on Broadway (Mamma Mia) National Tours, Regional Theatre and television. Has working on this particular show caused you to look at disabilities in a different way?
Lori Hammel: I definitely feel like I have learned a lot by being in the cast and getting a different point of view on what it is to be an actor with a disability. As actors, we all have roles that we would like to be seen for by the casting community. I feel as though I have a sense of how actors with disabilities have an even harder time in having casting look beyond what may seem like an easy way to be typecast. I have a lot of respect for the actors in our show who are finding ways to be seen from different points of view on what they can bring to productions.
How has your overall experience been working with Premiere Stages?
Lori Hammel: Working with Premiere Stages has been wonderful. I had heard that the program is dedicated to the playwright and it is really exciting to see how supportive the production team is on bringing Kathryn's play to light. Everyone has been so professional and supportive and it feels very collaborative. I am so enjoying having the opportunity to work with our director, John Wooten. He is definitely an actor's director in that he is open to what the actor brings to the role. It has been a great experience.
John McGinty (Raymond) - you have appeared in the Drama Desk nominated Fetes de la Nuit in New York as well as National tours and regional theaters. Can you talk about how the time period of this piece (the 60s) affect the actors working on the show when it was not such a 'PC' time in our history?