Stripped Scripts — no, it’s not a naked theater company, but a unique series of readings of contemporary original plays taking place bimonthly at The Piano Kitchen at 420 Rose Ave. in Santa Barbara, a quirky underground performance space. The next event will begin at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Monday, July 21.
Founded by Allison Threadgold and Matt Tavianini, both actors and directors, the series is now undergoing a transition, as Threadgold is moving back to New York City after Monday night’s reading to pursue opportunities in theater there. Tavianini will continue in his role, and taking the reins from Threadgold will be Kate Bergstrom, also an actor and director.
I was able to get some thoughts from all three of them on this unique endeavor.
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Justine Sutton: Allison, where did you get the idea for Stripped Scripts?
Allison Threadgold: In 2006, after graduating from conservatory in NYC, I stumbled upon a play reading series called Cold Cuts, with people doing readings of original plays in their living room. The concept was so successful that they quickly outgrew the living room and it became a monthly event open to the public in a small theater.
I was inspired by the ease of the format and hosted several readings of my own on the dark nights of a show I was producing in Tribeca. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had hopes of starting up a regular series, and moving to Santa Barbara finally provided the perfect opportunity.
Here I was in a new town, trying to get a handle on a theater scene that while varied and rich, proved to be difficult to fully grasp with all the disparate companies. So I thought the best way to meet people from across all these companies was to host a reading series that even busy actors could participate in as it required no rehearsals and took place on Mondays, which are traditionally "dark nights" for the theater.
JS: What makes this different from other readings, for the actors and the audience?
Matt Tavianini: The informal setting, where you can bring your own libations. The casting is done by people who attend the readings. The event is free and ongoing. We often have the playwright in attendance for a talkback with them.
AT: Before each reading, I have moments of dread that the actors won't find their tracks and the entire piece will derail, but my fears are never realized and I discover again and again the power of actors simply speaking and listening. I think that is what makes Stripped Scripts unlike most play reading events — they are unrehearsed and undirected so it's almost like improv with a script. While the actors have a sense of the mission their character is setting out to accomplish, they don't know how their castmates’ deliveries might alter the tactics they need to succeed.
My hope is that this creates a space for a more accessible style of theater for our audiences — almost like a backstage tour of a play while it's in rehearsal, where everyone in the room plays a part in what the night's experience ultimately will be.
Kate Bergstrom: Stripped Scripts allows for a unique kind of engagement between actor, writer and artistically inclined observer. Every member of the experience engages in the process and product in a flash. It is quick and dirty, fun and fast-paced, but also builds on itself and fosters community. I think the format is a huge part of what makes it so enticing — that everyone is going to be part of the process of feeling out these new works, faces and characters.
JS: What have been the main challenges and joys of producing Stripped Scripts?
AT: Challenges: While it was surprisingly easy to get great script submissions, it's been tough to find enough age diversity in the characters to take advantage of the range of actors we'd like to work with.
Because of this, we have not yet been able to implement one of the concepts of the series that I actually love the most, which is to cast the upcoming readings live at the end of each event out of the pool of actors in attendance.
The great joy for me is to see the readings come to life, and hear audiences members after every reading express how surprised they are that the pieces were never rehearsed and that often some of the actors had never met each other prior to the event. It has also been such a fulfilling way to meet new people both in and out of the industry, while providing a platform for artists and theater companies to share news of their upcoming events.
MT: The main challenges I would say are reading the scripts. The casting has actually been quite easy so I am thankful for that. The joys of producing for me have been getting the chance to bring readings to Santa Barbara as a regular event and having the playwrights participate in the discussion afterward. I also enjoy seeing our local actors in action and not having to pay anything because it is a free event.
JS: Allison, How will Stripped Scripts change when you move to N.Y.?
AT: The plan is for me to begin a N.Y. chapter of Stripped Scripts beginning this fall. We are excited for the artistic potential of doing the same play on two coasts with different casts. We are even researching means of videotaping the readings for people to watch on the other coast.
I'm hoping that expanding the scope of Stripped Scripts to a bi-coastal format will demonstrate that the choices each actor makes organically really bring a unique flavor to the writing, highlighting elements of the character or story that might be a little different than what another actor would bring to the same role, or even then what the writer might have originally imagined. I also am looking forward to getting to share the voices of some of these great playwrights, whose works we have been grateful to experience, across a bigger audience.
JS: Kate, what do you see as your unique contribution to Stripped Scripts?
KB: Coming from a background in directing and acting, I am always hunting for new wonderful playwrights and pieces to develop. I can contribute a savvy intuition for new voices and an excitement about meeting and working with all kinds of new actors and writers. Allison has built a wonderful and unique program for people to connect in a fun and artistically potent way, and I think my joy for meeting new people and artists especially will serve me well in this endeavor. I'm thrilled to be taking it over!
JS: Allison, can you tell us something about tonight’s play?
AT: A Tangled Affair by John Bolen is a charming piece about an eccentric artist and his surprising, equally unusual neighbors. The actors include myself, Meredith McMinn, William York Hyde, Matt Tavianini and Maya Shaw Gayle.
The playwright will be joining us from Irvine and we will have a short Q&A with him and the cast following the reading.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.