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Icicle Creek Festival presents readings at ACT
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Icicle Creek Festival presents readings at ACT

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Readings of Him and The Jewel in the Manuscript
August 17-18
ACT Theatre


A special intensive playwriting/acting workshop has taken place in Leavenworth for the last two years. The Icicle Creek Theatre Festival was developed by Allen Fitzpatrick, a well-known and respected actor in Seattle, when he visited Leavenworth and "noticed that there was no professional theatre in the area. I knew some individuals there who strongly advocate for advancement of the arts in that part of the state," Fitzpatrick explains. He proposed the idea that professional actors and directors from the Seattle area join two playwrights whose plays, close to completion, would be intensively workshopped for a week, and then presented as staged readings to both Leavenworth and Seattle. After feedback sessions, the plays would be fine-tuned and presented around the country for debut productions.

Fitzpatrick reports, "In 2008, we received 315 plays, and this year we received 233 plays." They found playwrights through their website (www. www.iciclecreekact.com) and contacts at regional theaters throughout the U.S., and literary agents. Also, members of the Playwrights Center (Minneapolis) and New Dramatists (NY) solicit their members to send manuscripts. The plays are then distributed to a team of readers. Eventually, the top 25 or 30 are scrutinized and two plays are chosen. The playwrights are brought in, actors are cast and, as Fitzpatrick explains, "Once in Leavenworth [August 8, this year], our two playwrights hunker down with the acting company, the directors and the dramaturge for seven days in a row, rehearsing several hours each day." The playwrights do rewriting and give changes to the actors the next day.

Four readings will be done in Leavenworth on August 15 and 16, and two readings at ACT, here in Seattle, on August 17 and 18. This year, for the first time, a public audience is invited and tickets are being sold. The two plays are Him by Daisy Foote (daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote, and a produced playwright), in which three siblings struggle to keep the family business afloat in a rapidly changing world that threatens to leave them behind, and The Jewel in the Manuscript by Rosemary Zibart (a journalist, screenplay writer, and children's book writer turned playwright), which examines events in the life of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Forced to complete a new novel in a month, the ill and despairing writer hires a young stenographer, and as they work together she brings sympathy and order into his life.

The last two seasons' plays have moved into the next levels of production. 2007's play Atomic Farmgirl by C. Denby Swanson was produced Off-Broadway by the Drilling Company shortly after its appearance at ICTF. 2007's Dov and Ali by Anna Ziegler received a successful London production last year and opened this summer Off-Broadway. 2008's Charm by Kathleen Cahill won the Connecticut Commission on the Arts' highest award for playwriting, and will receive a full production in 2010 by the Salt Lake Acting Company. 2008's Kingdom of Dust by Stephanie Timm, now retitled On The Nature of Dust, has received offers for production from two theatre companies.

What kind of experience is it, being there in Leavenworth for that week? Fitzpatrick enthuses, "It's almost indescribably fantastic. Every participant has come back from the nine days there having been emotionally and spiritually affected by the experience. We are surrounded by beautiful wilderness; the entire company is saturated in the work and in communion with each other, 24 hours a day for nine days, sharing meals and cabins."

A new program this year is a Theatre Conservatory for Youth that will be conducted on the same grounds as the new plays festival, one week earlier. "We have 22 students signed up, half from the Leavenworth area, and half from Seattle and environs," Fitzpatrick details. When asked if Leavenworth youth might be at some disadvantage with theater experience, Fitzpatrick reports, "Some of our Seattle students may never have had any theatre experience, and some of our Leavenworth kids might have been in numerous shows, so I can't generalize."

It's a "sleep-away" camp, as Fitzpatrick puts it, and pretty expensive. "The program is $925 for sleepover students and $650 for day students. But scholarships were available; we gave out many to the students," Fitzpatrick is pleased to say.

ACT Theatre provides use of their space, promotion and marketing (and some staff support). 99.99% of ICTF funding comes from the Icicle Fund in Leavenworth. The Icicle Fund is committed to supporting the arts in the Wenatchee Valley through innovative collaboration.

All six playwrights, over three years, have been women, a somewhat startling statistic. Fitzpatrick reports, "It's been entirely coincidental." Fitzpatrick gives an opinion about the readings this year compared to last. "The plays last year were both somewhat 'whimsical,' and this year's are very different - much more kitchen-sink realism." ACT's Box Office is handling tickets for the Seattle showings: 206-292-7676.

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