Practically alone in Nashville's new works’ space for the past 10 years, Nashville Rep has actively searched for new plays and playwrights through the The Ingram New Works Project. The Project has nurtured the development of 60 new plays since its inception and not only provides lodging and networking for playwrights, but most importantly, development for their work. Each year’s Project culminates in the Ingram New Works Festival. The 2019 festival is May 8 – 18 featuring five new plays by Dean Poynor, Lindsay Joelle, R. Eric Thomas, Riti Sachdeva and Sarah Ruhl.
The festival unveils the new works by way of premiere staged readings at Nashville Children's Theatre. Poynor is a returning Ingram Lab playwright (he was here in 2013-14 in residence for his play Together We Are Making a Poem). Poynor's brand-new play in this year's festival kicks things off on opening night; its theme is one that will surely resonate with parents. The Second Avenue Subway tells the story of a father trying to teach his son about life, faith and finding good in the world during the course of many years riding the New York City subway together.
DEAN POYNOR TALKS ABOUT THE SECOND AVENUE SUBWAY
Poynor is from Columbia, South Carolina. The son of evangelical Christian missionaries, his childhood years found him living in other places like Chicago, Mississippi and as far away as Indonesia. He and his wife, actress Monica Wyche, have been in New York City for 10 years. A first-time dad to nearly 7-year-old Elrod, Poynor's journey into fatherhood serves as the inspiration for his new play.
"My son has an interest in trains, so we're fortunate that riding the subway is a necessary part of life in the city," Poynor says.
Riding the subway together became a father-son adventure. The two spend weekends on the train just for fun and "to get out of Mommy's hair," Poynor says with a laugh. During their excursions, Poynor developed a connection to the subway and its history. He uses the information he learns as bonding moments while translating his newfound knowledge to Elrod in order to further open his son's experience.
Those subway-riding outings became the inspiration for The Second Avenue Subway, and Poynor's Southern and Christian upbringing are influences in his storytelling as well.
"In the case of this play, I became very aware of how we are raising our son. We try to be good parents, we try to respect his autonomy, we try to teach him to value other people. We live in a very diverse community, and we try to teach him to respect everyone in a world that can be very stark and hard," Poynor says.
A central focus of The Second Avenue Subway is keeping the good and getting rid of the bad within the framework of one's value system and what we pass down to our children.
"In the play, part of the plot involves the character's struggle to put words on his faith. Basically, Mommy goes to church on Sunday, then Dad takes the kid on the train and teaches him things from his perspective, but he doesn't participate in the same way that Mommy participates in church and religion," Poynor says.
The play begins when the son is 5 years old (an adult actor portrays him). The story follows the father and child riding the subway for many years until the child is in his 20s.
"That arc of coming to terms with what he was given is the journey of the play, especially in the last scenes when the child is able to make the arguments that we all dread … the ones against us … the ones we are really scared to hear," says Poynor. "That's when things get most real for me, because we do our best, we say the right things and here's how the world should be. But once it's in their hands, it becomes their responsibility to keep trying, to carry on that tradition or to make their own way," he adds.
Anyone who has grown children is sure to identify with the parental responsibility of instilling values and creating a world in some ways for their children, and then letting go of that world once their kids come of age. "That's really where the play lies," says Poynor.
The subway setting for the play is clever given the context of how some things in life remain constant and familiar in contrast with the ever-growing flurry of change in our culture and society — and how all of it swirls together to influence our respective journeys.
"For audiences that come, I hope they can see something on stage they relate to," says Poynor. "I'm interested in talking about fatherhood and offering alternative stories that are more hopeful, more positive and more possible. That even incudes our definitions of masculinity and intimacy," he adds.
INGRAM NEW WORKS FESTIVAL TICKETS AND INFO
All of the staged readings during the Ingram New Works Festival take place at Nashville Children's Theatre (25 Middleton St., Nashville). Tickets for each play are $10, or you can get an all-access Festival Pass for $35. Click HERE to purchase tickets.
Below are the dates for each play reading along with a description (synopses provided by Nashville Rep).
THE SECOND AVENUE SUBWAY
By Dean Poynor
May 8 & 14 at 7 p.m.
A father tries to teach his son about life and faith as they ride the New York City Subway together over many years — but as the son grows up, they are forced to reckon with the values they once took for granted. Ride along with them and experience their timeless journey to pass on the good and jettison the bad for the next generation.
CRYING ON TELEVISION
By R. Eric Thomas
May 9 & 17 at 7 p.m.
Four strangers; one apartment building; unlimited channels. On the fourth floor, a former reality show contestant tries to start over; on the eighth floor a Miranda Hobbes type waits for transformation; in the lobby an amateur detective solves a mystery. And then there’s Mackenzie, who says she’s just here to watch.
WELCOME TO THE TAJ PALACE (motel)
By Riti Sachdeva
May 10 & 15 at 7 p.m.
On the edge of a highway on the edge of a city, Rajiv runs the Taj Palace (motel). Sita’s got business there. Nina wants to shut it down. Bhagath Singh Thind’s been waiting there for decades. And Jon Wane just might have the key.
By Lindsay Joelle
May 11 & 16 at 7 p.m.
A soldier and a translator blast off on a dangerous mission. A messenger and a refugee strike a deal on an alien planet. A mysterious plague and a love letter gone rogue. A dark comedy about the messages we carry in our bones.
BECKY NURSE OF SALEM
By Sarah Ruhl
May 18 at 7 p.m.
The great-great-great granddaughter of Rebecca Nurse, a slightly deaf witch hanged in 1692 on Gallow's Hill – which is now a Dunkin' Donuts – struggles with her legacy in this remarkable new play by 2019 Ingram New Works Fellow Sarah Ruhl.