Instead of its classic production of timeless theater hits, The Hippodrome Theatre has its eyes on operating room romance and fast food joints this weekend.
Both of these themes will take the stage as The Hippodrome brings back its annual New Works Festival Nov. 4 and 5, which aims to showcase both experimental and unconventional plays written by a diverse pool of Florida playwrights. The festival will feature three plays — one premiere Friday and a double premiere Saturday.
Selecting only three plays out of the 45 submissions for this year’s festival was difficult, producer Michelle Bellaver said. A team of six employees, including two new artistic interns, painstakingly read each script and labored over which shows would be workshopped professionally and shared with the community.
In the end, it came down to unrivaled writing and far-out narratives.
“These three plays really have an eye for storytelling that is unique,” Bellaver said. “The stories feel like stories we’ve never heard before.”
The three plays featured at this year’s New Works Festival include “The Ultimate Cheeseburger” by Jena Rashid, “Evie & Loren” by Bethany Dickens Assaf and “Suture Bowl” by Irene L. Pynn.
While the exclusive lineup of women was coincidental, Bellaver said it feels really special. She’s excited for the Hippodrome to offer a bigger platform to these powerful emerging playwrights, she said.
In addition to highlighting local playwrights, the New Works Festival invites spectators to immerse themselves in each writer’s creative process. Audience members will not only witness staged readings of each play but also have the opportunity to share their reactions with the playwrights and production team during a post-show talkback.
Premiering Friday at 8 p.m. is Orlando-based writer Jena Rashid’s “The Ultimate Cheeseburger.” At only 23 years old, Rashid’s memories of working a minimum wage restaurant job are fresh and haunting for her. She used that distaste to create a play with striking commentary on the working class, she said.
Centered around the fictional restaurant Chicken & Roots, Co., “The Ultimate Cheeseburger” analyzes the way current social, political and cultural climates join forces to impact a group of fast food employees.
Rashid wants her play to be an ode to any server who has approached a booth with puffy red eyes and still smiled at their customers, she said. She hopes her play will usher attention to the perils of service industry work — especially for those who haven’t experienced it.
“My hope is that the people who are a part of the problem will see this and go ‘Oh, is that accurate?’” Rashid said.
Saturday’s lineup is more comedic, but both plays still have serious undertones revolving around the theme of love.
The first premiere Saturday night will be a play titled “Evie & Loren” by Bethany Dickens Assaf. In this romantic comedy, Evie and Loren look like a perfect match on Tinder — until they discover she’s his former mother-in-law. The shocking plot is the perfect vehicle to both entertain audiences and offer commentary about timing and circumstances in relationships.
The final premiere at this year’s New Works Festival will be “Suture Bowl” by Orlando-based playwright Irene L. Pynn, which features a Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired romance amid a surgical reality show competition.
Though the situation is admittedly absurd, Pynn thought it was the perfect opportunity to examine how attention and expectations can alter a person’s true form, she said.
“Many times, people end up performing the selves that we’re expected to be,” Pynn said. “It’s almost as if our true selves — or what we really want to become — have been taken away from us in order to please the masses.”
With an idea so laughable yet deeply elaborate, Pynn was thrilled to get the email announcing her acceptance into the festival. She knew her play would excel with the help of the Hippodrome’s directors, actors and producers, she said.
Bellaver is just as elated to have “Suture Bowl,” along with the other two plays, on The Hippodrome stage this year. They were chosen on their ability to simultaneously entertain and perplex the audience, she said.
“The Ultimate Cheeseburger,” “Evie & Loren” and “Suture Bowl” are groundbreaking ways to tell stories that will always be relevant, Bellaver said, and the community shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to attend these intimate showings.
“When the lights go down in the theater and there are human beings on the stage saying words, and you’re like ‘Oh, they understand what it is to be me’ — it helps alleviate the feeling of being alone,” she said.
Interested attendees can purchase tickets on The Hippodrome’s website. Guests can choose between single-day tickets or a weekend-long festival pass.
Contact Averi at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @averijkremposky.
Averi Kremposky is a senior journalism major at the University of Florida. When she’s not covering music, art and culture beats for The Avenue, you can find her going to a concert, finishing another book in one sitting or submitting to the latest Taylor Swift album theory.