By LAURA HEDLI
When the hotINK reading series for new plays launched in 2002, it was a strictly American affair, and it eventually introduced new work by major Yanks like David Mamet, Itamar Moses, and Rinne Groff.
In its tenth season, however, which runs March 24-28 at the Lark Play Development Center, the focus has shifted. For the first time, every play in the series is by an international playwright.
That's not a total surprise: Global writers have been part of hotINK for years, and Catherine Coray, the festival's curator and director, says their voices are invaluable. "I’ve always believed that travel is one of the most important aspects of an individual's education, whether it’s travel across one's own country or to countries abroad," she explains. "Seeing work from other countries is not a substitute for travel, but it certainly is a window into another culture." (Coray herself frequently teaches in Cuba, Belarus, and Chile.)
The shift to a completely international slate is connected to another major change for the series. For its first nine years, it was presented at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but once the administration decided to eliminate funding, Coray, a professor at Tisch in the Experimental Theatre Wing, was forced to find a new home. Happily, she had a meeting at the Lark the same day she got the bad news.
“That’s when I started to think about what the need was, which is to say that the Lark is already serving a great many American writers, but there are very few opportunities to have open submissions for writers from other countries,” she says. "My feeling was that we all stood to benefit, including the playwrights in New York, from hearing the stories and the voices from people in other places."
This year’s festival will feature nine plays, which were selected from over 300 submissions from 39 countries. All readings are free and open to the public, and the offerings include a Nigerian drama that looks at post-traumatic stress disorder, an Irish historical play about Orson Welles, and a play from India about a man enduring a bizarre job interview.
Toronto's Elmar Maripuu is on the schedule with Forever, a play drawn from his own experience in the Soviet Union. "In the time when I was there in the 1990s, it was a time of political ferment, and theatre was very much a part of getting those ideas moving through Eastern Europe and building up the kind of confidence that the existing system could be challenged and should be challenged," he says. He hopes to inspire political action with his plays and says he's excited to see how an international audience will respond to his reading.
Coray feels that a reading gives a unique introduction to a new play. “Readings are very unique and exciting performances unto themselves because in many cases they’re a first interface with a play and the actors,” she says. “There’s no replacing that initial take.”
Laura Hedli is a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a focus in magazine writing. Along with TDF Stages, she writes for The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer.