'Fresh Ink 2011' offers a look at new shows

Kim Schultz and Amikaeyla Gaston from <i>No Place Called Home</i>.

Kim Schultz and Amikaeyla Gaston from No Place Called Home.

​Sure, the state parks may be closed, but there's still a way to see something as fresh as a cool, summer breeze. The annual Fresh Ink festival starts Thursday and runs through the end of the month at the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis. It offers staged readings and limited productions of a quartet of brand-new works.

Fresh Ink offers Illusion "a chance for all of the new works that we do to have an initial development," says Michael Robins, the theater's executive producing director. "The focus is on the playwrights. We are trying to figure out what's there, what works, and to see if it will work in front of an audience."


Having audiences made up of everyday theater goers provides a different vibe than a lot of workshops, in which work is often only seen by professionals. 

"Every show gets an audience, and there's a discussion after each performance. That tends to be very helpful," Robins says.

One recent example of a show taking off from its Fresh Ink debut was My Antonia, which was adapted by Allison Moore. "We weren't really sure at all about it and it wasn't until Fresh Ink that we really had an idea about how to tell the story in a way that was faithful to the source material and resonated with the theater audience," Robins says.

Resonate it did. The show went on to be a commercial and critical hit for the company, earning a pair of 2010 Ivey Awards.

The first three shows in the series will get weekend runs. The final, an adaptation by Marion McClinton of Toni Morrison's Jazz, will get a single reading at the end of the month. For the show, this will be the last stop before it is produced in Baltimore at the end of the year. 

The series also includes What's the Word For, a new play by prolific local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher; No Place Called Home, a one-performer show created by Kim Schultz, who traveled to Iraq to hear the stories of refugees; and Dating Your Mom, a new piece based on the writings of Ian Fraizer.

Not only does all of this allow the playwrights a chance to test their creations on the fly--changes and revisions are expected in situations like this--but for the audience, they get to see plays where the ink is still drying performed by plenty of top talents in the Twin Cities.

"Audiences will get to see the way actors work, and see something immediate and personal. There are people who like to be there when something is happening for the first time," Robbins says.