Talkin' BroadwayV.J.

The Lark Theatre Company
by Nancy Rosati

The Lark Theatre Company was founded in 1994 to promote the development of new plays. Their annual holiday benefit to support The Lark Artist Fund will be a staged concert of Here's Love on Monday, December 17, 2001 at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. I asked director Donald Brenner to tell me about the Lark and some of their upcoming events.

"The Lark specifically develops new works. We like to think of it as being similar to the idea of the O'Neill Center, but it's a longer term commitment to the playwright. There are various stages a play can go through at the Lark - from a simple table reading to a studio retreat, which is thirteen hours of rehearsal and a staged reading. There's also what we call a BareBones Production, which is just what it sounds like - some sets, some lights, some costumes, and it's under a showcase contract with the actors. We get the best actors we can get through agents. We pay them more than we have to pay them ... that's the point of this benefit, to build up the Lark Artist Fund [so we can afford to pay them more]. We're not just paying transportation and things like that. We try to give them more than that because we value their time.

"We like to think of this benefit as ‘artists raising money for artists.' People are donating their time so that we don't have to ask actors to donate their time on our projects throughout the year. That's a big thing."

Lark has theatre space in their studio on Eighth Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, but they're looking to move, hopefully within a year or so. "A place has been spotted and we're working out deals. It will be a bigger and more flexible space. We like to refer to the space we use now as a ‘theatrically evocative studio.' It's just a room, but it transforms into a more theatrical type of space when we do a BareBones Production and there are lights and risers. We make it a much warmer space to work in."

Although the Lark Theatre specifically works with new, untested plays, they have had some success stories in their short history. "Pera Palas was done Off Broadway a couple of years ago and now it's opening up at the Longworth with hopes of coming into the city on a Broadway contract. That's the big Lark success story right now. The company's only been around for six years, so even having one that has gone that far is a good thing. Jack Heifner, who wrote Vanities developed a play at the Lark called Heartbreak. That was another big thing they did. There's also a play called A Hole in the Dark by Hilly Hicks which is done a lot around the country.

"At the moment I'm directing a play called Rhinebeck. The playwright is David Rambo, who's quite hot right now. He wrote a play called God's Man in Texas, which is one of the most produced plays all over the country. We're developing his new play. We've put it through our whole process, from a table reading to a studio retreat. Now we're going to a BareBones and it will run from the 6th of December through the 10th.

"It's a lovely play and it's short, only 80 minutes long. It's about a young couple who buys an old house in Rhinebeck. A man who feels a very strong connection to the house befriends them and then he finds out they're going to tear the house down and build a new one. It's about what we leave behind and the importance of the past, the present and the future. It's intelligent, witty, and touching. It's a great coup for us to be working on David's newest play because he's so hot right now. The Geffen has commissioned a new play from him and they're doing that this year. He's worked with The Actor's Theatre of Louisville and The Old Globe.

"After Rhinebeck, we'll be doing Bromius Beaujolais. That's the play that came out of Playwright's Week, which we do every year. We work with nine playwrights who are new to us. We often move forward with some of those projects and this is the play that came out of that. It's a lovely play too."

The Lark Theatre has been associated with an impressive list of professionals. Don rattled off names like F. Murray Abraham, Kristin Chenoweth, Mary Testa, Barbara Walsh, Daryl Roth, and Tony Walton. He said, "We're very proud of the people who have worked with us. John Eisner is the Producing Director and he is the most generous man in show business. He has no personal agenda. It's all about doing good work and supporting playwrights. The future of the theatre really depends upon playwrights. They are the main players. They are the key piece. We can't do without them. We can do without directors. There was theatre for thousands of years before there were directors. I'm a director so I can say that, but there was never theatre without playwrights. It's important that we invest in them for the future."

With that in mind, I asked Don how new playwrights can contact the Lark. "We're listed in the Dramatist's Source book and we have information on our website. We have a group called the Literary Wing and we accept new submissions. We're one of the few theatres in the country that accepts open submissions. We read almost a thousand plays a year. Every play is read at least twice so nothing falls between the cracks. From that, we do about 50 table readings throughout the year, so that we can hear the play out loud and so that the playwright can hear it. Then we decide if we want to move forward together."

We then discussed Here's Love and Don began with two changes from the original press release. "Debbie Gravitte is now playing the lead instead of Crista Moore. Now we have two Tony Winners - Debbie and Chuck Cooper. The other change is that the dinner for the $250 ticket holders will not be at Goodfellows. It will be at The Garage in Greenwich Village."

I asked Don to tell me more about the show. "It's the musical version of The Miracle on 34th Street. The big song is ‘It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.' Also, ‘Pinecones and Holly Berries' is another popular Christmas song. We're doing it with an eye towards picking up on the diversity of New York. Chuck Cooper's playing Santa Claus. Ann Harada's in the cast. We have ethnic types across the board, so along with incredible Broadway performers, we also have this mix of people reflecting the diversity of New York as well, which we're very excited about.

"It will be held at what I think of as the foremost Off Broadway theatre, The Lucille Lortel. It's a staged concert. People will be in chairs and they'll move forward to speak or sing. The books will be in hand. We're putting it together in a minute and a half. (laughing) Insects have longer life spans than our rehearsal period! We're doing it pretty much over the weekend, but it will be wonderful. The people that are performing the show are thoroughbreds.

"We're very excited that Arthur Rubin's going to be in it because he was in the original Broadway cast of Here's Love, along with the original cast of The Music Man and Most Happy Fella. He's coming back to do a bigger role ... he's going to play Mr. Macy. It's a neat connection because the last Broadway show that Arthur produced was Ain't Broadway Grand and Debbie Gravitte was in that.

"We're adding a song that was cut out of town. The Musical Director, Robert Lamont, found it on ebay one day. It's called ‘Dear Mr. Santa Claus' and it's a song for the children. There was no song for all of the children to sing in the show, which was rather odd. This song came up and I can't imagine why it was ever cut because it is just adorable. We're opening the second act with it. It's a letter that the children across the country are writing to Santa Claus when he's been put into a mental institution and it's very charming.

"We've done a few tweaks to the book along the way to refresh it. It was a good book. It's Meredith Willson. The score is lovely, the book is charming, and the source material is just stellar. We've got a stellar cast, so the whole evening will just put a glow on everybody's face. My hope is that I won't get a seat - that there will be no seats left and I'll have to stand in the back."

Established in 1994, The Lark's mission is to promote the creation of thoughtful and diverse plays by uniting playwrights with creative teams comprised of directors, actors, dramaturges and audiences to focus on the evolution of the dramatic text and the playwright's vision. The Lark Theatre Company gives playwrights the time and resources they need to succeed. The Lark draws deeply from new voices in the United States and draws widely internationally, working with playwrights who are often celebrated in their own countries but virtually unknown here.

By David Rambo
Directed by Donald Brenner
December 6-8 at 8 pm
December 9 at 2 pm & 7 pm
December 10 at 7 pm
Tickets $15. Call 212-246-2676 to make reservations.
Lark Studio: 939 Eighth Avenue, Room 204

Here's Love
Book, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson
Musical Direction Robert Lamont
Adapted and Directed by Donald Brenner
Featuring Jeff Blumenkrantz, Chuck Cooper, Robert Creighton, Debbie Gravitte, Ann Harada, William Michals, James Stovall, Mary Testa and Arthur Rubin
Monday, December 17, 2001
Gold Circle Dinner at 6 P.M.
Performance at 8 P.M.
The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
All proceeds will Benefit the LARK ARTIST FUND
Call 212-246-2676 to make reservations.

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