Wednesday, January 16, 2013

PlayFest is Featured in "The Independent"

PlayFest Begins

A New Festival of Theatrical World Premieres

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Once upon a time, they did it in New Haven. No, I am not talking about drinking cups at Mory’s, or even about poor little lambs losing their way and going “baa, baa, baa.” At the height of Broadway’s prestige as the location for serious drama, big plays like A Streetcar Named Desire had their world premieres not in New York, but in New Haven. There the presumably more forgiving audience could participate in the excitement of witnessing a potential classic in its penultimate draft, while the director, playwright, and producers could continue to tinker and tweak the production in anticipation of a later Broadway debut.
This opportunity to develop new plays — and the thrill of discovery that comes with it — is what a new partnership between a group of experienced television and film producers and Santa Barbara City College intends to provide this weekend when they initiate a program called PlayFest Santa Barbara. The events of the first PlayFest begin on Friday night and run throughout the day on Saturday, and they include staged readings in the recently remodeled Garvin Theatre, workshops on acting and on commedia dell’arte, and opportunities for attendees to interact directly with the talent, which includes not only playwrights Catherine Butterfield, EM Lewis, and Barbara Epstein but also an impressive roster of top Hollywood actors and Santa Barbara professionals such as Joseph Bottoms, Mitchell Thomas, Ken Gilbert, and E. Bonnie Lewis. In an extraordinarily generous and confident gesture, Jeff Meek, Michael Gros, and the other producers of the inaugural PlayFest are offering the entire program at no cost to the public, with the simple proviso that reservations be established in advance online at
Last week I spoke with two of the driving forces behind PlayFest, R. Michael Gros, cochair of the SBCC Theatre Arts program, and Jeffrey Meek, a successful film and television actor.
How did this idea for PlayFest come about?
Michael Gros: Jeff and I were old school friends, and when we realized that we were living in the same community again, we began to share that original excitement that we had once felt for the word as it is revealed onstage. We talked about the need for support on a national level for the development of new plays, and from there we turned to the idea of doing this kind of work in a community such as Santa Barbara, where talent and resources are so abundant. As the new cochair of the theater program at Santa Barbara City College, and as someone with a beautiful new theater complex to program, I naturally went to Jeff and said, “We need some software for the hardware.”
Jeffrey Meek: I was talking to one of the city’s top philanthropists at a performing arts benefit, and as we were reflecting on the extraordinary development over the last few years of the city’s theater capacity, we agreed on one thing — people don’t go to buildings; they go to shows. Our ambition with PlayFest is to have a few weeks a year in which the film, theater, and television industries all come together in Santa Barbara to intertwine. We’ve seen what Roger Durling has been able to accomplish with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in just a few short years, and we’d like to achieve the same kind of impact not only on the city but also on the theater community at large. Eventually we would like to see PlayFest evolve into a highly competitive international submission-based festival, but for this first year, we knew we would have to work with people that we already knew.
Is it true that the entire festival will be free this year?
MG: The entire weekend is free to the public. We consider ourselves to be “venture culturalists” — we are willing to speculate with our time and resources on the intelligence and taste of the Santa Barbara theater audience. All the shows will include a question-and-answer session following the performance, and there will be a special brunch fundraiser on Sunday for those who feel strongly that they like what they have seen.
How do you see PlayFest changing as it develops?
JM: It’s our intention to take this to the next level very soon, primarily by offering significant support to contemporary playwrights in the form of residencies here in Santa Barbara and including teaching components at Santa Barbara City College.SBCC has really been the key player to make this whole thing possible — not only because of the Garvin Theatre facility but also because of the tremendous support that PlayFest has received from SBCC faculty.
MG: Absolutely, my colleagues really believe in this. It took a lot of meetings to make it happen, but in the end, Jack Friedlander, the executive vice president of SBCC, became our most active advocate and passionate supporter. It’s our hope that this PlayFest will become a regular stop for playwrights, actors, agents, and producers who are excited about the future of theater in America.


PlayFest Santa Barbara runs Friday-Saturday, January 18-19, atSBCC’s Garvin Theatre. For a complete schedule of the plays and events, visit
This article is featured in The Independent.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Playwriting Fun (and Fundamentals) Workshop

Saturday, January 19th at 2:00PM

Join award-winning playwright EM Lewis for a playwriting workshop that will help you reach inside yourself and find what you (and your characters) are most passionate about. Bring paper and pen or laptop, and be ready to write! Exercises and prompts will be provided to shake up your imagination. The perfect place for new writers, or anyone who wants to shake it up a little and find some bright, shiny new inspiration! Saturday, January 19th at 2:00pm. Tickets are free, but spaces are limited. Register on our website:

Friday, January 4, 2013

PlayFest Santa Barbara is Launched!

We are so excited about our inaugural festival! 

Tickets are Free, but limited so reserve them today!

Our featured full-length plays are:

It Has To Be You” It’s never too late to fall in love – at least that’s what Frank and Mindy realize when they try to convince their elderly mother it’s time for a rest home, and discover she has taken a 48 year old lover!  A brand new comedy by award-winning playwright, Catherine Butterfield about finding love in all the wrong places – and one or two right ones. Friday, January 18, at 8:ooPM in the Garvin Theatre, followed by a brief talkback with audience, playwright and actors. Go to the Tickets! page on our website to reserve your seats today!
“If I Did This” A New Mystery Drama by award-winning E.M. Lewis about a grieving mystery writer — Hal Walker — who is hired to ghost-write the story of high-profile acquitted murderer Donnie Lawrence whom everyone believes is guilty.  Saturday, January 19, at 8:00PM in the Garvin Theatre, followed by a brief talkback with audience, playwright and actors. Go to the Tickets! page on our website to reserve your seats today!

We will also host 3 workshops on Saturday, January 19th:

“A-5678!”  This session lead by Barbara Epstein (creator/ director/ choreographer) of the musical review, A -5678!, will focus on the development process of a theatre musical. She will share the creative road taken to bring the show to its current form. At the heart of this lecture demonstration is the workshop presentation of the production combined with discussion regarding what was cut, changed, or added during the development process to bring the production to its current iteration. All ages welcome! Saturday, January 19th at 4:00PM in the Garvin Theatre Complex. Go to the Tickets! page on our website to reserve your seats today!
Commedia dell’Arte”  Master teacher, John Achorn shares a lecture demo on the history and impact of the commedia dell’Arte on Western theatre including a full demonstration of some of the techniques required and the major stock characters: Pantalone, Dottore, The Lovers, Capitano, Brighella and Arlecchino & Columbina  in this workshop at 1:00PM on Saturday, January 19 in the Garvin Theatre Complex. Go to the Tickets! page on our website to reserve your seats today!
“Bringing Words to Life in a Body-Centered Way” Play in DramaDogs’ creative process of integrating spine, gesture, and emotion.  Embody your body through Breath, Movement & Sound, letting character be revealed through body-centered Imagery and Action. Find your personal style of: expressivity, bold creative choices and releasing fear of judgment. This workshop is lead by Ken Gilbert and E. Bonnie Lewis, Co-Artistic Directors of DramaDogs on Saturday, January 19 10:00AM in the Garvin Theatre Complex. Go to the Tickets! page to reserve your seats today!

Tickets are Free, but limited so reserve them today!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taste of PlayFest Launch Party!

Our first play reading. "Apple Season" by EM Lewis, performed by Rebecca Staab and John Walcutt and directed by PlayFest's co-artistic director, Jeffrey Meek.
For more pictures from the party, visit our facebook page!

Friday, August 31, 2012

PlayFest Santa Barbara Venue

Check out our new venue video!

We're so happy to be in Santa Barbara. See you January 17 -- 20, 2013!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

We're very excited about our new Honorary Players Board.
Check it out HERE or go to our official website at and select our Honorary Players Board Page.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best

Art and music are key to student development.

"Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence," sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.
Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion. And strong arts programming in schools helps close a gap that has left many a child behind: From Mozart for babies to tutus for toddlers to family trips to the museum, the children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Low-income children, often, do not. "Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences,'' says Eric Cooper, president and founder of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education.
It has become a mantra in education that No Child Left Behind, with its pressure to raise test scores, has reduced classroom time devoted to the arts (and science, social studies, and everything else besides reading and math). Evidence supports this contention -- we'll get to the statistics in a minute -- but the reality is more complex. Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.
This erosion chipped away at the constituencies that might have defended the arts in the era of NCLB -- children who had no music and art classes in the 1970s and 1980s may not appreciate their value now. "We have a whole generation of teachers and parents who have not had the advantage of arts in their own education,'' says Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a national coalition of arts, business, education, philanthropic, and government organizations.

The Connection Between Arts Education and Academic Achievement

Yet against this backdrop, a new picture is emerging. Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts. Many of these models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development, and they embrace a variety of approaches: using the arts as a learning tool (for example, musical notes to teach fractions); incorporating arts into other core classes (writing and performing a play about, say, slavery); creating a school environment rich in arts and culture (Mozart in the hallways every day) and hands-on arts instruction. Although most of these initiatives are in the early stages, some are beginning to rack up impressive results. This trend may send a message to schools focused maniacally, and perhaps counterproductively, on reading and math.
"If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less," says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction. "There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests."
Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts. Forty-seven states have arts-education mandates, forty-eight have arts-education standards, and forty have arts requirements for high school graduation, according to the 2007-08 AEP state policy database. The Goals 2000 Educate America Act, passed in 1994 to set the school-reform agenda of the Clinton and Bush administrations, declared art to be part of what all schools should teach. NCLB, enacted in 2001, included art as one of the ten core academic subjects of public education, a designation that qualified arts programs for an assortment of federal grants.
In a 2003 report, "The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in American's Schools," a study group from the National Association of State Boards of Education noted that a substantial body of research highlights the benefits of arts in curriculum and called for stronger emphasis on the arts and foreign languages. As chairman of the Education Commission of the States from 2004 to 2006, Mike Huckabee, then governor of Arkansas, launched an initiative designed, according to commission literature, to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn about, enjoy, and participate directly in the arts.
Top-down mandates are one thing, of course, and implementation in the classroom is another. Whatever NCLB says about the arts, it measures achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills. It's no surprise, then, that many districts have zeroed in on the tests. A 2006 national survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy organization in Washington, DC, found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, 44 percent of districts had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects. A follow-up analysis, released in February 2008, showed that 16 percent of districts had reduced elementary school class time for music and art -- and had done so by an average of 35 percent, or fifty-seven minutes a week.
Some states report even bleaker numbers. In California, for example, participation in music courses dropped 46 percent from 1999-2000 through 2000-04, while total school enrollment grew nearly 6 percent, according to a study by the Music for All Foundation. The number of music teachers, meanwhile, declined 26.7 percent. In 2001, the California Board of Education set standards at each grade level for what students should know and be able to do in music, visual arts, theater, and dance, but a statewide study in 2006, by SRI International, found that 89 percent of K-12 schools failed to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines. Sixty-one percent of schools didn't even have a full-time arts specialist.
Nor does support for the arts by top administrators necessarily translate into instruction for kids. For example, a 2005 report in Illinois found almost no opposition to arts education among principals and district superintendents, yet there were large disparities in school offerings around the state.

Reviving Arts Education

In many districts, the arts have suffered so long that it will take years, and massive investment, to turn things around. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made arts education a priority in his school reform plans, and the city has launched sweeping initiatives to connect more students with the city's vast cultural resources. Nearly every school now offers at least some arts instruction and cultural programming, yet in 2007-08, only 45 percent of elementary schools and 33 percent of middle schools provided education in all four required art forms, according to an analysis by the New York City Department of Education, and only 34 percent of high schools offered students the opportunity to exceed the minimum graduation requirement.
Yet some districts have made great strides toward not only revitalizing the arts but also using them to reinvent schools. The work takes leadership, innovation, broad partnerships, and a dogged insistence that the arts are central to what we want students to learn.
In Dallas, for example, a coalition of arts advocates, philanthropists, educators, and business leaders have worked for years to get arts into all schools, and to get students out into the city's thriving arts community. Today, for the first time in thirty years, every elementary student in the Dallas Independent School Districtreceives forty-five minutes a week of art and music instruction. In a February 2007 op-ed piece in theDallas Morning News, Gigi Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought, the nonprofit partnership working with the district, the Wallace Foundation, and more than sixty local arts and cultural institutions, explained the rationale behind what was then called the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative: "DALI was created on one unabashedly idealistic, yet meticulously researched, premise -- that students flourish when creativity drives learning."
The Minneapolis and Chicago communities, too, are forging partnerships with their vibrant arts and cultural resources to infuse the schools with rich comprehensive, sustainable programs -- not add-ons that come and go with this year's budget or administrator.
In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state superintendant of public instruction, made it his goal to provide high-quality, comprehensive arts education to all K-12 students. Horne, a classically trained pianist and founder of the Phoenix Baroque Ensemble, hasn't yet achieved his objective, but he has made progress: He pushed through higher standards for arts education, appointed an arts specialist in the state Department of Education, and steered $4 million in federal funds under NCLB to support arts integration in schools throughout the state. Some have restored art and music after a decade without them.
"When you think about the purposes of education, there are three," Horne says. "We're preparing kids for jobs. We're preparing them to be citizens. And we're teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two."

Fran Smith is a contributing editor for Edutopia

This article originally published on 1/28/2009