BRATTLEBORO -- The little group of creative types Bob Jude Ferrante assembled a year and a half ago is called the Performance Writers Lab, and there is something of the mad scientist and his chemistry set about it. Working with New England Youth Theatre Founder Stephen Stearns, Ferrante established the lab as a place for local playwrights and actors to get together and explore new work. It was part of NEYT's efforts to expand its programming for adults, and Ferrante was sure there was a need for it. But he wasn't sure who would come out.
"It started out very humbly. They threw us in the Luna Room (at NEYT), and I thought 'Great. That's just the room we want for lunatics," said Ferrante.
It wasn't long before the Performance Writers Lab was regularly pulling in 40 people to its sessions, mirroring the experience Ferrante had in New York City, where the weekly meetings of four playwrights in his living room grew to gatherings of 100.
"Brattleboro never ceases to surprise me," Ferrante said. "I didn't have grandiose plans."
The first fruits of the Performance Writers Lab will be presented to the public May 1-4 at the New England Youth Theatre, in a program titled "Sweet Cantatas," a spring collection of new work by award-winning, internationally produced Vermont writers, including Suzanne DeCoursey, Bob Jude Ferrante and Daniel Kornguth, with a special contribution by NYC playwright Ruth Margraff.
Presented by Sanctuary: Playwright's Theater, "Sweet Cantatas" previews on Thursday, May 1, at 8 p.m.; performances run Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3, at 8 p.m., with a Sunday, May 4, matinee at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10, $6 for students/seniors. For reservations, call 802-251-6081 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The evening features the talents of a dozen local actors and performers in works that are bold, outrageous, edge-crushing and funny. Science fiction, politics and "trailer trash" are just a few of the themes covered. In all, nine pieces will be presented. Note a few scenes have somewhat more "adult" language and situations, so the show is not recommended for children under 12.
"For the name 'Sweet Cantatas,' I thought 'What a great expression of the quirky, strange impulses in the show," Ferrante said. "The show ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. ... The people who come will definitely laugh."
Sanctuary's goal in mounting this production is to prove the point of Brattleboro's emergence as a center for mature new voices in American theater.
Ferrante said "we're always looking for innovative ways to bring strong contemporary work to receptive audiences. Theater-goers in this town have high expectations and a deep appreciation for the extraordinary, which is why it is such a thrill to produce here."
The show also features rocking live music before, during and after.
Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre is a producing theater founded and run by playwrights from New York City and Vermont. Sanctuary is dedicated to presenting new plays and offering writers for the stage a haven for artistic development.
In the past four years, Sanctuary has produced several new plays, all sold-out events. In "Six Nights," playwrights Caridad Svich, Jason Grote, Sheila Callaghan, Kia Corthron, Sung Rno and Lisa D'Amour were each asked to select public locations all over New York City and create site-specific work for them; the works were performed in multiple spaces all over each location.
Immediately following, Sanctuary produced "Food for Fish" by Adam Szymkowicz and garnered acclaim in the New York Times, the New Yorker, NYTheatre.com and the Brooklyn Rail. This summer Sanctuary will present a world premiere in New York of Bob Jude Ferrante's "A New Theory of Vision." More information is available at www.sanctuarytheatre.org.
Ferrante is a playwright/producer and director who has produced more than 30 projects in New York since 1992. His play, "Twinges," played New York to kudos from BackStage and OOBR. "Tragedy, A Comedy" recently played at Show World, and "subCity" premiered as part of New York Play Development's 4Play 2000 Festival. "Hemlock, a Greek Diner Tragedy" premiered in Dallas to critical raves from the Dallas Observer.
He recently completed "The New Life" as a commission for Praxis Theatre Project. Ferrante's work is regularly anthologized in Smith and Kraus' "Best Stage Scenes and Best Monologues" series, and his short plays have been much produced in theater festivals in New York, Boston, Nyack, N.Y., Ann Arbor, Mich., New Jersey and Ontario, Canada. He also serves on the New England Youth Theatre faculty, having designed their teen-adult play writing and directing programs, and runs the Performance Writers Lab for NEYT. Visit jude.home.pipeline.com.