Steppenwolf’s First Look series announces lineup and change of format

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Steppenwolf Theatre has announced the lineup for its 10th annual First Look series, the program dedicated to new play development that will run in rotating repertory Aug. 11 – 16 in the Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted.

Designed to provide an early look at works-in-progress, First Look develops new plays for future production at Steppenwolf and other theaters across the country. Since its inception in 2005, it has developed 14 plays that have received subsequent world premiere productions at other theaters, including “Sex with Strangers,” the Laura Eason play that premiered on the Steppenwolf stage and has enjoyed great success in New York.

This year’s format will be somewhat different, featuring six staged readings rather than the traditional three developmental productions so that a greater emphasis will be on the development process. The lineup of admired playwrights includes Philip Dawkins, Sarah Gancher, David Mitchell Robinson, Erika Sheffer, Jason Wells and Sharr White. Philip Dawkins’s new play was commissioned by Steppenwolf for Young Adults, and Erika Sheffer’s and Sharr White’s new works were commissioned by Steppenwolf. Ensemble members Randall Arney and Amy Morton are among the First Look 2015 directors.

In a prepared statement, Aaron Carter, Steppenwolf’s Director of New Play Development noted: “As we enter our 10th year of First Look, we are paring down to the essentials. By focusing on staged readings, we ensure that playwrights can experiment boldly in rewrites without the limitations imposed by production deadlines. We also avoid the perception—created by full design elements and published reviews—that the plays have received a Steppenwolf world premiere. Our goal is to position plays for future production at Steppenwolf and other theaters across the country.”

Once again there will be a Professionals Weekend, Aug. 14 – 16, 2015, with readings, conversation and socializing for theater industry professionals. The weekend includes access to the six readings, a late-night “Writers’ Jam,” a Friday night ticket to Steppenwolf’s production of “Grand Concourse,” panel discussions, dinners and receptions. Tickets to Professionals Weekend are $75. To sign up, e-mail firstlookinfo@steppenwolf.org or call (312) 654-5610 to reserve a spot.

Steppenwolf also is continuing its First Look 101 program which offers behind-the-scenes access to the new play development process. More details and sign-up information will be available at a later date.

Tickets to the First Look readings ($5) are on sale now. Call (312) 335-1650 or visit http://www.steppenwolf.org.

following is a closer look at the six plays to be featured in First Look:

+ “The Imaginary Music Critic Who Doesn’t Exist,” by David Mitchell Robinson, with director TBA: Lacey is a tattooed rock journalist who runs an influential summer music festival. When a major act drops out, Lacey saves the fest by booking the gifted but controversial MC #Frankie. But Lacey’s coworkers take issue with #Frankie’s misogynist lyrics, threatening to unravel everything she’s built.

Playwright David Mitchell Robinson.

Playwright David Mitchell Robinson.

+ “The Fundamentals,” by Erika Sheffer (“Russian Transport”), directed by Joanie Schultz: Millie is a housekeeper at the hottest luxury hotel in New York City. When a company shakeup creates a job opening, Millie must decide how far she’s willing to go to climb the corporate ladder. A story about work, marriage, love and ambition, “The Fundamentals” explores what we have to give up in order to get ahead.

Playwright Erika Sheffer.

Playwright Erika Sheffer.

+ “I’ll Get You Back Again,” by Sarah Gancher, directed by Rachel Chavkin: Struggling stand-up comedian Chloe is sitting in for her late father as the bassist for his 60s psychedelic rock band. As rehearsals progress, Chloe navigates increasingly emotional terrain as old conflicts flare up and old age looms ever nearer. By turns scathing and tender, the play celebrates the search for transcendence in music and comedy.

Playwright Sarah Gancher.

Playwright Sarah Gancher.

+ “Stupid Kid,” by Sharr White, directed by ensemble member Randall Arney: After 14 years in prison for a crime he swears he didn’t commit, Chick returns home to find his flat-broke family under the thumb of his dangerous Uncle Mike. A darkly comic glimpse of a family isolated by shame, “Stupid Kid” explores power, guilt and the limits of maternal love.

sharr_white_head_shot_683x1024.jpg

Playwright Sharr White.

+ “The Engine of Our Ruin,” by Jason Wells (“Men of Tortuga”), directed by ensemble member Amy Morton: In a luxury hotel in the Middle East, diplomat Charles Manning-Jourdain negotiates a trade agreement with an unfriendly nation. But this routine mission quickly becomes an international incident thanks to an interpreter with a hidden agenda; a belligerent official hinting at war; and Charles’s own staffers, whose after-hours party might just topple a foreign government.

Playwright Jason Wells.

Playwright Jason Wells.

+ “The Burn,” by Philip Dawkins (“Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Effect of Living”), directed by Devon de Mayo: Mercedes is an outsider. Tara makes sure she knows it. When a high school production of “The Crucible” forces them together, tensions escalate into anonymous acts of bullying –both online and IRL. “The Burn” raises questions about what we sacrifice when our online identities don’t match our real life identities.

Playwright Philip Dawkins.

Playwright Philip Dawkins.

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