Last November, the Fulton Theatre made a commitment to telling stories by a more diverse set of voices, and began assembling a committee of community volunteers dedicated to bringing inclusion and diversity to the Lancaster stage.
One of the fruits of this effort is “Stories of Diversity,” a festival of new plays that will be presented as three staged readings on the Fulton’s main stage next weekend, July 16-18.
The readings are free to the public.
At the same time, the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) Committee was formed at the theater last fall, the Fulton put out the call for submissions of new plays.
Out of 35 plays submitted from across the country, 29 were deemed to meet the festival’s criteria, says Eric Pugh, the Fulton’s marketing director who is making his debut as a producer with the festival.
“We asked that there not be more than six characters, and that it have something to do with diversity,” Pugh says, be it plays with an LGBTQ story, or themes involving diversity — racial, religious, economic, etc.
“For the most part, they were just fascinating plays,” Pugh says. “They had such a fascinating story to tell.”
A committee of 27 readers, including Fulton staff, IDEA committee members and community members, read the plays and scored them.
Three plays were chosen for staged readings, and one as a “runner-up” for a reading at the Fulton sometime in the future, Pugh says.
The winning play at the festival will be produced in the future at the Fulton.
Pugh says the plays will be presented as true staged readings, with the visiting actors performing from music stands.
“We’re so fortunate to have these actors coming in to read all of the plays,” Pugh says. “There’s two people who are going to go into ‘MJ the Musical,’” a Broadway show set to open next year, featuring the music of Michael Jackson. “Another is going back into ‘Hadestown’ on Broadway.”
Many have never performed at the Fulton before.
Each play will be followed by a talkback featuring the writers, directors and cast members — in part to offer feedback to the playwrights, Pugh says.
The plays to be presented are:
• Friday, July 16, at 6 p.m.: “FOR COLORED BOYZ on the verge of a nervous breakdown/ when freedom ain’t enuff,” by Bryan-Keith Wilson.
The play is a described as series of poems — presented as a choreopoem, with music and dance — that tell the stories of Black men from slavery to the present, and examine what it means to be a man of color in America.
Wilson is a freelance journalist, founding artistic director of The Creative Co-Lab TX|NYC, faculty member of The Black Writers Reunion & Conference and creator of the LIFT EV’RY VOICE International Playwright & Spoken World Virtual Festival.
• Saturday, July 17, at 10 a.m.: “Lev of Leningrad,” by Noah Schoenberg.
Lev, who accidentally becomes a Jewish “refusnik,” is granted an exit visa from the Soviet Union to the United States after 14 years. Lev’s faith and sense of humor carry him through as he and his family assimilate into American culture and his daughter, Karine, challenges his understanding of gender and authority.
Schoenberg is a Philadelphia native who earned degrees in applied mathematics and neuroscience.
• Sunday, July 18, at 10 a.m.: “L’Hotel,” by Marisol Medina .
The play is described as a dark comedy about the conflict between a modern American woman and her religiously conservative, Cuban-born mother. As the two try to bond during a trip to Paris, a terrorist attack traps the women in their hotel room with an Algerian-Parisian hotel employee.
Issues of morality, prejudice and the need to survive will come to light as closely guarded secrets are revealed.
Medina is a first-generation Cuban American who writes plays and nonfiction. She acted in Houston and Seattle before performing comedy with various troupes in Los Angeles.
In conjunction with the festival, Pugh notes, both a panel discussion with the playwrights and a series of monologues written and performed by J.P. McCaskey High School students are available for streaming on Fulton HD, the theater’s streaming platform.
“My hope is that people will watch (them) before they come to the festival,” Pugh says.
He says producing the festival “has been very invigorating in a lot of ways. I’m very passionate about new plays.”
The three plays being read next weekend “are all conversations that should be had in our community, and I hope people come out and support it so we can do more of these things,” Pugh says. “I just think these are really fantastic, insightful shows. I’m very proud of what’s going to be presented on our stage.”