PlayLabs offers 'enhanced' workshops of new work

​This week, four new plays will get "enhanced" workshops for PlayLabs 2011, a part of the Playwrights' Center's 40th-anniversary season.

"This year, we were looking for writers who were telling bigger stories. There are a lot of producing theaters who are afraid to or who don't want to tell these stories," says Jeremy Cohen, the center's producing artistic director. "We support writers who are thinking big with their hearts and visions, and all four pieces definitely do that."

The playwrights are Sarah Gubbins (The Water Play), Winter Miller (The Arrival), Dominic Orlando (All That Is Solid Melts Into Air), and Mat Smart (Tinkers to Evers to Chance). To participate, playwrights need to be affiliated with the center. That means there are about 50 creators who can submit work for the festival.

One of the keys goals ofPlayLabs is to find plays that are at the right stage in development. In these presentations, the playwrights not only work with a director and actors, but also a single designer, so they begin to think about their work in a larger theatrical context.

That aspect comes out in different ways in each piece. For Orlando's play, cinematographer and editor Andrew Welken has worked with the team to examine how to bring the world of the work into focus. "For the playwrights, there are things they can't learn in a room. When this part comes to life, it brings out another language for the play," Cohen says.

For locals, it's a chance to "see something on the ground floor. It helps to demystify the experience. They also take part in theater in a more sustainable way. Subscribers and donors increase when audiences feel like a part of the process," he says.

It's not just local theatergoers that attend the free performances. You'll find the producers of a number of local theaters there as well, along with national artists who travel to Minneapolis for the festival. The goal isn't necessarily to shop the plays, but to connect the writers with these other leaders.

To date, about half of the works presented at PlayLabs have gone onto full productions.

The 2011 PlayLabs festival runs Tuesday through Sunday, with each piece performed multiple times. For a complete schedule, visit the Playwright's Center website.

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