This week, New Dramatists facilitated a workshop of Tammy Ryan’s Seven Cousins for a Horse, commissioned by Thrown Stone Theatre Company with the support of the Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust. The workshop, supported by the Jerry A. Tishman Playwrights Creativity Fund and the Venturous Theater Fund, was instrumental to the development of the new play, which will receive its world premiere with Thrown Stone in Ridgefield this July.
A new play workshop is a developmental process in which a playwright works with a team of theatre professionals to refine and improve a new work for the stage. This allows the playwright to hear how the dialogue sounds when spoken aloud and get feedback from the director and actors. Workshops like these can be an invaluable tool for playwrights as they prepare their work for production.
The subject of the play is the little-known 19th-century limner, Ammi Phillips, now gaining notoriety as the most prolific folk artist in American history. The play opens on Phillips’s return to his hometown in the wake of a personal tragedy. It is 1848, a time of great change. The Seneca Falls Convention is about to call for universal suffrage, chattel slavery has finally ended in Connecticut, and there is already talk of a war between the states. The workshop explored many of the play’s themes and questions.
Directed by Thrown Stone Co-Artistic Director, Jonathan Winn, the cast — Shannon Helene Barnes, Will Jeffries, Emmanuelle Nadeau, Aidan Meachem, Jason Peck, Marissa Ruben, and Bridget Ann White — worked closely with Ryan, stage manager Alex Moon, and the renowned dramaturg Anne Cattaneo in a series of rehearsals and readings. The feedback provided by the creative team, New Dramatists’ staff — Playwrights Lab Associate Director Tyler Christie, Playwrights Lab Director John Steber, and Artistic Director Emily Morse — and invited guests helped Ryan identify opportunities for further development of the text.
In a discussion led by Cattaneo, participants reflected on the themes of generational conflict, struggle and perseverance, the role of the artist, self-determination, sacrifice, the restorative power of family, and much more. Questions about relationships, historical context, and geography were discussed. The workshop led to a number of meaningful changes, and a detailed roadmap for the next revision of the script.
Ryan is a third-year resident at New Dramatists, one of the country’s leading playwright centers and new play laboratories. New Dramatists provides playwrights with seven-year residencies, during which they receive financial support, artistic resources, and a community of peers to help them develop their work.