In 2010, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance formalized Launch Pad, a residency and performance program at UCSB that came into being through the efforts of Risa Brainin when she joined the faculty in 2004. She now is department chair and artistic director of this innovative theater “incubator,” which offers professional playwrights the chance to fully produce original works with faculty members and guest artists in a safe environment with deeply engaged students who have a great enthusiasm for learning how new plays are developed.
Prominent writers who have participated in this process at UCSB include Lila Rose Kaplan, Barbara Lebow, Sarah Ruhl, John Walch, Beau Willimon and Sheri Wilner. The only new play development program of its kind, Launch Pad has produced nine new works since 2005.
Last year’s Launch Pad preview production of Appoggiatura, written by award-winning playwright James Still, was the start of something big. After seven preview performances at UCSB, directed by Brainin and starring noted local actors Irwin Appel and Anne Torsiglieri, along with seven UCSB students, Still’s richly textured play went on to be featured in the Perry-Mansfield New Works Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in June, invited by the Denver Center Theatre, which commissioned the play in 2012.
Still is a three-time Pulitzer nominee and has earned many more awards for his work. He and Brainin are also longtime friends who have worked together for more than 15 years.
Appoggiatura is the second play in a trilogy about an American family, in which they both lose and find themselves in the old-world charm of Venice. First came The House that Jack Built (premiered by Indiana Repertory Theatre) and the third is Miranda (commissioned by Illusion Theater in Minneapolis).
Still said of his time in Santa Barbara, “I loved the Launch Pad experience because of the immediacy of production. Rather than seeing the play through a developmental process that begins with numerous readings where we ask audiences to imagine what we're imagining, Launch Pad gave my play a chance to invent, explore and communicate its true intentions with audiences (even as it was changing!) through the language of production and performance.”
“I am thrilled that Appoggiatura is going on to further development with Denver Center,” Brainin said.“The play is an exquisite examination of loss — beautifully rendered by James Still. I have no doubt it will be widely produced around the country in the near future.”
Announcing Launch Pad 2014
Brainin and the Department of Theater and Dance are pleased to announce Alison Tatlock as the 2014 Launch Pad playwright. Her latest work, Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky, will run Feb. 27 through March 8, 2014 at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater.
Tatlock is best known for her work on the Debra Winger storyline of the highly acclaimed HBO series In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne. Her ability to capture the natural flow of spontaneous conversation makes her work immediate and real. She is now writing for the new ABC series Betrayal.
“After writing for television and adapting to the screen as a comfortable barrier, the prospect of live theater is scary,” Tatlock said about the Launch Pad process. “It’s the best kind of fear, the kind that demands creative risk. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to develop a new play through the innovative Launch Pad program and look forward to collaborating with the UCSB theater community.”
Her play, Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky, is about place and family — and the ways we sometimes have to create these for ourselves. The main character of Ruth is a Boston native who settles in Joshua Tree, Calif., with her young adopted son, who is from Ethiopia. A notable artist struggling with loss in her life, Ruth develops an eclectic group of friends as she tends to new work and old wounds.
The play is both sad and funny, as the characters argue about addiction, death, motherhood and violence, as well as the more mundane questions of daily life — such as whether it’s really that bad to put plastic in the dishwasher.
This production features the same dynamic directing and design team as Appoggiatura: Brainin (director), Nayna Ramey (scenic design), Devon Painter (costume design) and Michael Klaers (lighting design). UCSB faculty artist Anne Torsiglieri — returning after a starring role in Appoggiatura — will play Markofsky. Lit Moon’s Victoria Finlayson, a first-time participant with Launch Pad, has the role of Ruth’s friend and mentor, Lois. Four UCSB theater students, to be announced, will also appear.
“I look forward to entering into the rhythms of a new play, an unfamiliar playwright's voice, their way of thinking and constructing a world through language," Finlayson said. "I am also looking forward to being directed by Risa Brainin, whom I expect to be demanding and thoughtful and inspiring. I expect to learn a lot from her, and from Annie Torsiglieri. I also look forward to working with the playwright — a woman-centered working situation, which will be novel for me.”
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.