Hurricane Season continues Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 2 pm; through Aug. 23. Each grouping of shows receives two weekends. Eclectic Company Theatre on Laurel Canyon Blvd.Â Tickets: $15; student and senior discounts available.Â For reservations call 818.508.3003 or go to eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Plays have different value on the page and on the stage.Â At this year’s Hurricane Season, Eclectic Company Theatre is honoring both story-telling mediums.
This playwriting festival has been a staple of Eclectic for 6 years, deriving its name from the flurry of activity it brings to the theatre each summer, says Hurricane Season’s executive producer Rebecca Bonebrake.
But this year the formatting has changed.
“Instead of having the audience vote on the playwriting award, we have a panel of professionals judging the six finalists,” says Bonebrake.
Members of the festival’s reading committee, who are also company members, blindly read all of the submissions (which numbered over 100) and then narrowed the pool to six semi-finalists.
These scripts were then passed on to a panel comprised of professional directors, producers and playwrights who awarded three finalists with cash prizes ranging from $100 to $500.
Michael Van Duzer, Antonia Grace Glenn, Robert R. Scales, and Steve SobelÂ headed this first professional panel. After the finalists were chosen, the Eclectic reading committee chose six other plays that would be featured in the festival.
“We decided the remaining plays based on producability, marketability and general company interest,” says Bonebrake.
Festival finalist and non-company member Mira Gibson sees Hurricane’s new judging system as an affirmation of the playwright’s necessary role in the theatre. “Theater is what we see, not what we read. And yet, when all is said and done, plays that get produced are produced because the lit manager at the theater read it and liked it and passed it on to the artistic director to read,” says Gibson.
Chelsea Sutton, Hurricane director and playwright of Chasing Angels, agrees that a professional panel ensures the integrity of the competition as a playwriting festival. “It makes Hurricane Season more of a playwriting contest, having the writing itself judged on its own merit rather than just looking at it as a produced play,” says Sutton.
Sutton remembers the competitive tension that hung over the festival in the past when the audience cast the supreme vote.Â With Hurricane’s new structure, tensions have thinned says Sutton, and playwrights can relax knowing they will be judged for what they wrote, not for how others interpreted it.
Previously, audience members would attend the festival and vote to award the top three playwrights cash awards. “People would say they were voting on the actual script but you know they would probably vote for their friends, or for a show where they liked the directing or whatnot; it just happens that way,” says Bonebrake.
In the new system, bias is weeded out; however, the audience still gets to partake in the fun of voting. This year audiences vote throughout the festival to award non-cash prizes for best playwright, actor, director and overall production.
The decision to keep the audience involved despite the introduction of the professional panel is a testament to Eclectic’s commitment to theatre as a community effort.
Since its inception 20 years ago as a company of about 40 directors, producers, designers, actors and playwrights, Eclectic Theatre has maintained a group spirit in all its endeavors.
“It’s really all about the company,” says Bonebrake.
While Bonebreak discussed her role as executive producer of Hurricane Season, she put it in quotes claiming it is little more than a title. “This job is way too big for one person to do all of these shows,” she says.Â “It’s like I’m the head of a committee of producers, I delegate and everyone helps out.”
As a company member, Sutton takes this mentality with her into rehearsals in her two roles as director and playwright.
She acknowledges the basic struggle over artistic license between a director and playwright but has learned from her experience in Hurricane Season that these conflicting sides must seek reconciliation at some point. “It’s too narrow to think your one vision is the best way to do it,” says Sutton.Â “You have to be able to trust your collaborator.”
Gibson didn’t feel the usual pangs of nervousness with Eclectic president Kerr Seth Lordygan directing her play Master of None. Instead, she was excited to see what had happened while she was away. “It’s awesome to roll in and watch a show of your work not having any idea what it will be like,” says Gibson.
This sense of trust and emphasis on team work is contagious at Eclectic and makes them stand out as an ensemble in Los Angeles.
“What’s really special is there are a lot of projects that are really personal to people,” says Bonebrake.Â “People respect each other and honor that.”
Feature Image of Zach Tewalthomas, Rendon Ramsey, Gwedolyne Druyor, and Vanessa Rice by Rebecca Bonebrake.
Story Image of Mira Gibson by Jeff Holladay
Story Image of Rebecca Bonebrake by Jen Maurice
Story Image of Chelsea Sutton courtesy of Chelsea Sutton