Lauren VanSpeybroeck and Micah Bernas in (a work in progress) at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre -- January 11 through 20.

Friday, January 11, through Sunday, January 20

Playcrafters Barn Theatre, 4950 35th Avenue, Moline IL

The first show of the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's 2019 season, running January 11 through 20, is writer/director Alexander Richardson's (a work in progress) – a backstage/front-of-stage comedy Richardson originally wrote in 2015 and drastically re-wrote for its area debut. And the play serves as a fitting introduction to what may be the venerable venue's most ambitious season yet, with 11 wildly varied productions scheduled for the next 11 months. One might call it (an experiment in progress).

Having previously served on Playcrafters' Board of Directors for three years, Richardson also serves as lead producer for Playcrafters' Barn Owl Series devoted to one-weekend runs of recently written, challenging, and oftentimes controversional productions. He says that the idea for the theatre's ambitious season “came up kind of recently. We started the Barn Owls back in 2017 and we really liked the response we got. Not necessarily audience-wise,” he adds with a laugh, “because the turnout wasn't usually terrific. But each show has been getting better and better audience turnout and reception, and we did like the response we got from artists in doing these newer works that hadn't been done in the area before. And, frankly, we were kind of struggling a little bit ticket-wise. It felt a little like, 'Oh, Playcrafters – they've been there forever. We don't really need to go see shows there.'

“So we just kind of decided to so something drastically different than what we'd done in the past – to just go all in and pick these great, crazy shows that everyone wanted to be part of.”

One of them, to Richardson's delight, was (a work in progress), which its writer/director says “was first put up at the University of Illinois in May of 2016 through one of the local student-led theatre companies. I guess the easy way to describe it is that it's a comedy about a failing theatre company that's really on its last leg. They have no money left, they have nothing going for them, so they decide to put all their efforts into one last-ditch-effort show … and it's just a total disaster. Everything that could go wrong does. Phones going off on-stage. Sound cues missing. Light cues not going right. Actors being dismissed during tech week. It's all there.”

After the comedy's initial 2016 staging, says Richardson, “I was like, 'All right, that was good,' and I didn't think I'd ever come back to it. But I really liked the idea of the script and started thinking about how I could improve on it, and ended up re-writing most of it – I basically kept the character names and changed most everything else. So I presented it to the Playcrafters Board, not even knowing if they wanted to do something from a local writer. And they were like, 'We don't care that it's original – we just think it's funny. Do you want to do it?' And I was like, 'Uh … sure. Let's do it!'”

Jesse Mohr in (a work in progress)

Running January 12 through 20, (a work in progress) features Micah Bernas, Victoria House, Zach Hunter, Elizabeth Melville, Jesse Mohr, Dave Moreland, Lauren VanSpeybroeck, Jo Vasquez, and Nicholas Waldbusser, and promises to start Playcrafters' 2019 on a funny and energetic note. But the theatre's new season is nothing if not eclectic, offering everything from the intense drama of Arthur Miller's The Crucible to the Dungeons-and-Dragons battles of Qui Nguyen's She Kills Monsters to the singing and sexually active puppets of Avenue Q – titles that, Richardson admits, may not be to everyone's personal taste.

“We're absolutely going to get complaints about Avenue Q,” says Richardson with a laugh. “Even when we did Clybourne Park last year, which isn't really that offensive in the grand scheme of things, we still got complaints about the language. So I'd imagine Avenue Q isn't going to go over too great with most of our base.

“But Avenue Q has a warm message,” Richardson adds. “Yeah, there's a lot of really naughty words, but you leave the show feeling good. And we're hoping that shows like this get a lot of new people to try us out. Like, we knew it was going to be a 'statement' to do Crucible now. But (director) Patti Flaherty has a great cast, and she's really amped to do it and get that show out there. She Kills Monsters is completely different from anything we've done before – it's like its own little genre of show. So we're really excited to be trying out new things like this.

“And the biggest thing I'm excited about is that this year our Barn Owl Series is entirely directed by women, and we're doing plays that feature strong female roles, which is something, unfortunately, you don't really see much in the Quad Cities. Playcrafters is guilty of it, too – I think we did three two-man shows this past year. But we're really trying to push back against that, giving a platform to women directors to tell women's stories.”
Between the five plays in the Barn Owl Series (with titles including Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, 4000 Miles, and the Chekhov satire Stupid F---ing Bird – a potential cause for complaint right there) and the two-weekend runs of six additional productions, plenty of stories will be told at Playcrafters in 2019. Though not a full dozen of them … maybe.

“We say we're not doing one in December,” Richardson says with a laugh. “But we're already talking about something we might do in the way of a holiday show. But nothing is confirmed or official. We're taking December off. In theory.”

(a work in progress) runs January 9 through 20 at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $7-13, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-0330 or visiting Playcrafters.com.

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