Playwright Yussef El Guindi, left, and LAUNCH PAD founder/artistic director Risa Brainin, second from left, who also directs the production, meet with the cast of “The Talented Ones.” (David Bazemore photo)

LAUNCH PAD, a program of UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance, is an innovative program offering professional playwrights the opportunity to collaborate with faculty members and students to fully produce a new original work. LAUNCH PAD gives UCSB theater students the invaluable opportunity to work with the writer on the very first production of his or her play.

Nationally acclaimed playwrights Lila Rose Kaplan, Barbara Lebow, Sarah Ruhl, James Still, Alison Tatlock, John Walch, Beau Willimon and Sheri Wilner have participated in LAUNCH PAD since its inception. This year, LAUNCH PAD celebrates its 10th birthday with The Talented Ones by Yussef El Guindi.

Award-winning playwright El Guindi is best known for Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, which received the Steinberg/American Theater Critics Association’s 2012 New Play Award and the Seattle Times’ Footlight Award for best world premiere play. His most recent play, Threesome, originally produced at Portland Stage Company, is moving to Off-Broadway this spring.

Led by founding Artistic Director Risa Brainin, chair of the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance, LAUNCH PAD midwifes a new play each year, culminating in a fully-staged “preview production.” Cast with student and professional actors, LAUNCH PAD yields collaboration and experimentation in theater at its finest, providing the link between workshop and world premiere.

Brainin directs the unique production, in which every performance is a preview, allowing the playwright to continue working on the play during its two-weekend run for audiences. Rewrites and adjustments to the play occur as the actors are in rehearsal, even during the run.

According to Brainin, this provides students with the ability to collaborate directly with the playwright, who may rewrite roles based on work with the actors. Students also gain important skills through the process, including flexibility with the text, as changes are constantly being made. Also they learn to be responsive to the writer when new lines or scenes are attempted. As many new actors start out with work on new plays, this experience prepares them well to move into life in theater after their formal education has concluded.

With choreography by Christina McCarthy and sound direction and original musical composition by Randy Tico, The Talented Ones mixes realism with memory and dance, using black comedy to address themes of immigrants’ thwarted dreams and notions of success. The Talented Ones follows Omar’s struggles in his career and his wife Cindy’s mounting frustration with him as she is having a better time finding her way in a new country. Omar’s American friend, Patrick, is supportive of Cindy and as they become closer, her marriage may be drifting further away.

The challenge to casting was that the play finds these three characters at different stages in their lives. Cindy, younger and older respectively, is played by junior Joré Aaron-Broughton and senior Emily Newsome. Junior Rigoberto Sanchez is Omar at age 22, and senior Roberto Tolentino plays the character at 30. Patrick is played by sophomore James Reisner.

Performances of The Talented Ones are at 8 p.m. this Thursday through Saturday, May 21-23, and 28-30, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 30 in UCSB’s Hatlen Theater. Tickets are $17 for general admission, and $13 for UCSB students, faculty and staff members, alumni and seniors. Contains strong language; for mature audiences only. Click here for more information.

Stay tuned for the screening of a documentary about LAUNCH PAD at UCSB at 8 p.m. June 9. More information about the play and LAUNCH PAD can be found by clicking here.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.