PORT TOWNSEND — A flock of stories — on love, art, miracles, parenthood, gambling and middle school — are soon to play out here.
Key City Public Theatre opens PlayFest, a feast that stretches over two weekends, tonight with a slate of parties and one-act productions penned by local playwrights.
The festival’s many events are concentrated in two venues: the Key City Playhouse and the Pope Marine Building a few blocks away.
The 22nd annual event highlights locals this weekend; then from March 9 through March 11, nationally known playwrights and their work join the mix.
“We have really diverse scripts this year,” said Denise Winter, Key City’s artistic director, “and these scripts are coming alive,” in many cases for the first time on any stage.
Take “ ‘An’ Means ‘Without,’ ” Christopher Clow’s drama: It’s about two parents-to-be who make a discovery that drives them to figure out what is most important to them.
Then there’s “Triangles,” another one-act coming to the stage tonight. The story follows a group of middle school students as they navigate the transition into adolescence.
PlayFest is unique in the country, Owen Rowe, Port Townsend Arts Commission chairman, said last Friday during a ceremony honoring the winners of the festival’s one-act playwriting competition.
This festival, Rowe said, celebrates local talent and new voices.
The five winners of PlayFest’s one-act playwriting competition, who come from all over Jefferson County, each receive $125.
And while many of this year’s winners are seasoned PlayFest writers, the author of “Triangles” is making her debut. Angela Gyurko, who moved to Port Townsend in 2016, is not only a first-time winner of the competition; she is a first-time playwright.
Life, theater and stepmotherhood inspired her; some years ago Gyurko, a dancer and choreographer, found herself working on a production of Disney’s “High School Musical” — at her stepdaughter’s middle school back in Minnesota.
“It was a blast,” Gyurko remembered.
She continued to work at the school, where she learned — perhaps relearned — what it’s like to be 12, 13 and 14 years old.
In the PlayFest production, the cast is made up of real-life middle-schoolers from Port Townsend. And though the play is billed as theater for young adults, Gyurko figures all ages can relate.
“Everybody survived middle school,” she said.
It’s a time when you’re certain of everything and nothing, all while making choices that will affect your future.
There’s a kind of happy ending here: Gyurko’s stepdaughter Sara Swartz, now 19, is flying out here to see the play.
The two women will have much to choose from in the rest of the festival.
Performances and peeks into the creative process include: full-length plays by noted playwrights Richard Dresser of New York, Jeni Mahoney of Colorado and Mark Rose of Brinnon; nine readings and two open rehearsals of plays in development; a discussion between Dresser and Mahoney about their writing lives, and the staged productions and readings of the four other one-act plays by Jefferson County writers.
As always, PlayFest offers a pair of playwriting workshops. The first, on Saturday, March 10, is free and open to all, so “if you’ve ever thought about writing a play, show up,” Winter said. The free workshop is not a prerequisite for the playwriting intensive on Sunday, March 11.
But go to both if you can, Winter said, and “just drink it all in.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.