• Tasi Alabastro

The Room Where It Happens. What is new play development?

MONTALVO ARTS CENTER. One might miss the turn if they weren't paying attention. The entry point to the grounds is modest. I like it. One doesn't need a bright and shiny marquee to signify its legitness. Especially if it's as sprawlingly serene and inviting as Montalvo. But they do have one, employed as an almost tongue-in-cheek break from nature. My eyes did that dance where everything was new and interesting. It's mostly nature with the occasional man-made post and fence. Mostly they serve as reminders to not be a total spaz and drive into a ditch, or a happy tree, of which there are many. It's California so the trees here are still boasting that kind of green that seems overly boastful of just how great the soil is, and how even better the sunshine beams are. It's hitting all those travel notes for me. I've been embracing my homebody-ness in the last few years, but the occasional outing with my partner is always a delight.

Tasi standing next to a marquee with the words, "Here I am. What were your other two wishes" on it.
We had to. Photo by Sam Ricci

I'm here for work. And work looks like a whole lotta play in the next couple of days. I find myself as a fortunate nugget to be part of a creative team brought on to assist with a play in development. Our playwright is Andrew Saito. I've lost count of how many times I've been told by my colleagues, "Do you know Andrew Saito? You should know him.", "Are you familiar with Andrew Saito's work?", "Oh there's this monologue you should look at, it's from a piece that Andrew Saito wrote.". And with every mention, the excitement of getting a chance to meet with Mr. Saito grew. I've always been a firm believer that, while I commit to making sure I work hard enough to get myself into rooms where I'm seen, genuine relationships eclipse the "when it happens, it happens" sphere wherein you can't force or rush those things.

What is new play development? Similar to Halo-halo, or jump rope, new play development is exactly that--developing a new play. Writing can be solitary work, and a play stands as a form of literature that needs, nay, yearns to be read out loud to fully express their ideas and themes. But one simply does not write a play that is immediately ready to stage for a paying audience. Though I wager there are writers who would beg to differ. They probably have their own blog. The internet is expansive after all. But I digress. New play development can look many different ways, sometimes they're conducted in the warmth of the playwright's living quarters, complete with finger foods and wine. Always wine. Unless it's summer, then I wager there's some lighter imbibement. Do drink the kool-aid, it's art. A collection of actor-y friends coming together and reading the piece out loud then subsequently exploring it through guided feedback. One would hope. On the other side of that, there are organizations that exist solely to curate, cultivate, and support new narratives and create a pipeline for writers to birth their art babies. Playwright's Foundation in San Francisco is one such organization. I was involved in their previous season in Sam Hamashima's SUPPOSED HOME wherein I played *Tanuki, a Japanese spirit trapped in a WWII internment camp alongside a human companion. Listen, I love this stuff!

*See photo of silliness


Montalvo Arts Center's first paragraph in its mission is this:

Montalvo Arts Center’s mission is to engage the public in the creative process, acting as a catalyst for exploring the arts, unleashing creativity, and advancing different cultural and cross-cultural perspectives. We achieve our mission by creating and presenting arts of all types, nurturing artists, and using our historic property in innovative ways.

One such program that support this is the LUCAS ARTISTS RESIDENCY PROGRAM. That one goes something like this:

Housed within Montalvo Arts Center, a 175 acre public park in the Santa Cruz foothills, and in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program (LAP) is a creative incubator dedicated to supporting the creative process for artists from all creative disciplines and geographical locations. The LAP encourages the creation of new and adventurous works, supports risk taking, collaboration and cross-disciplinary investigation of contemporary issues. It's also a cultural producer and presenter, continually seeking new ways to engage the public in the artistic process and works of its Artist Fellows.
A photo taken of the studio space. It's one side of a few. There's a tall desk pushed up against a wall of windows. There's beautiful sunlight illuminating the room.
A glance in one direction of a studio space. A standing desk is sunbathing by the glorious wall of windows.

Our team led by veteran actor/director, Elizabeth Carter, met a few days ago over video conference in preparation of our in-person meeting and we read through an early draft of JAZZ CANARY, MEET SAMURAI CROW (working title) and my brain did that thing where I heard all the voices of 'Meet-so-and-so' past float through my conscience. Hey, voices, I'm here now and happy to do it all, unexpectedly so.


A month or so ago, maybe two months, who really knows when it's COVID times, Kelly Sicat, the lovely director of the Lucas Arts Program reached out to me and urged me to submit an audition monologue. I did. My name had come around via her partner, Chris Sicat, who I had the pleasure of meeting almost five or six months ago when I received an email encouraging me to audition for CAUGHT, a play by Christopher Chen. It's a doozy of a play! I bore witness to it years ago when it premiered at Shotgun Players. I remember being dizzy from wonderment and awe and hanging back, sunken into the pews (Shotgun's venue has old church pews repurposed as theatre seating), trying to digest this piece of theatre I just witnessed. I liked it. I'd like to add that Chris came by way of suggested actors from a fellow theatre professional, Lee Ann Payne, who I had the pleasure of working with when I was working on Peter and the Starcatcher at Hillbarn Theatre! It's a big ol' family, you see.


I was totally not the right person for the role, and I knew it. But in good spirits, I was happy to get a good audition stretch in after spending so much of the early pandemic sequestered away in the solitude of my studio. What's a few minutes to read some lines with another human being, and I found him warm and friendly. Plus, I've been doing this long enough now to know that the important work is always showing up for yourself today, to travel new roads tomorrow.

Sam looking at a stack of birdhouses that are placed carefully on an outdoor table.
Hello, are you in there birdies?

One of the new roads is here. And Sam, my partner, is also here. She's sitting nearby, reading poetry. I even had the great fortune to hear a bit of it between jotting some of these thoughts and rolling around like a maniac on these rolly chairs. She's reading Bonfire Opera by Danusha Lameris, in case you were curious. Later today I get to meet with everyone else in the crew as we tackle this piece together.


I will, without a shadow of a doubt, like it.


A note on the way out: I'd like to think that these posts will do a number of things. If I'm doing it right, which admittedly, I have more misses (in retrospect) than hits; you should leave knowing a little bit more about me. And perhaps a little bit more about what I do. And if we happen to share the same love for the craft and business of acting then I hope you find value in the stories. And I encourage you to sign up to get these entries in your inbox when they go live. Or even share questions, and comments using the comment feature below. I want to hear what interests you, and what resonates.

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