By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Strand Project, a unique and original hybrid theater production, will premiere this weekend at Selah Dessert Theatre.
A collaboration between Selah and Lit Youngstown, Strand uses a selection of original dramatic monologues – each revealing something about the speaker, be it inspirations, bad choices, personality quirks, fears, hopes, regrets, dreams or secrets – and weaves it into a dramatic show that is set in a neighborhood bar.
Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the small black-box theater on the second floor of Selah Restaurant, 130 S. Bridge St. Both performances are sold out.
Each performance will be followed by a talk-back session between the audience and the writers, actors and production team.
The Strand Project is the brainchild of Kris Harrington, board member of the writers group Lit Youngstown.
“I love artistic collaborations, and I was looking for something fresh for Lit Youngstown,” said Harrington in explaining how the idea developed. “I’d also just finished working with [Selah theater director] Mary Ruth Lynn and [Selah owner and local theater veteran] Brian Palumbo, and one day Brian asked me to look over a piece he’d written, a dramatic monologue called ‘HIV,’ about the recent death of a friend.
“‘HIV’ was the inspiration behind The Strand Project ... which gathers dramatic monologues of many writers and weaves them together into a representation of the human experience. I took the idea to Lit Youngstown and to Selah, and we decided to make the project happen.”
The name comes from the idea of threads being woven together to form a rope or fabric.
“Each strand represents a thread of the human experience,” said Harrington. “The strands are woven together to make something whole or something stronger.”
Local theaters occasionally present original one-acts, but Harrington and Lynn wanted to carve out a niche for original writing in the Selah space.
“We don’t want to compete with what others are doing,” said Harrington. “We want to add complementary work to the local artistic landscape.”
A second goal was to involve a large number of writers through Lit Youngstown. “Typically with a play, a play festival or a poetry reading, you have a single writer, or a few writers,” said Harrington. “The Strand Project features the work of 19 writers.”
The Strand Project received more than 100 entries from writers across the country, and a team with theater and writing backgrounds narrowed it down to 21, by 19 writers.
Harrington crafted a full-length script from the chosen monologues.
But The Strand Project is a theatrical work that tells a story to an audience, not just a collection of connected readings. As such, it uses scenery, props and costumes.
“Using the bar setting as a backdrop allowed us to pair and group characters at the bar and at tables,” said Harrington. “The characters tell their stories to each other in these pairs and groups. We’ve set the theater up cabaret style and used back-wall lighting to create the feel of intimacy. Several stories are told from the space where the audience sits, adding a level of immersion for the audience.”
Lynn and Harrington cast 20 local actors for the show: Rosie Bresson, Jenna Cintavey, Tyler Clark, Liz Conrad, Tony Genovese, Mary Dippolito, Carla Gibson, Danielle Jackson, Medford Mashburn, Tracy McQuillan, Mitchell Myers, Jaye Mills, Tom O’Donnell, Erica Perna, Sarah Puhala, Terry Shears, Bill Soldan, Jackie Stevens and Kerry Lynn Turner, and featuring Sam Perry as the bartender.
Selected writers for The Strand Project were Mark Harvey Levine, Kage Jonas Coven, Castor Wolvio, Jack Karp, Jason Green, Krista Knight, Roberta Beary, Daniel J. Cleary, Donna Latham, Cordelia Hanemann, Cassandra Bogue, John Minigan, Michael Burgan, Michael Poblete, Lois Marie Harrod, Gail Reitano, Miriam Klein, Matt Cowley, Brian Palumbo and Wayne L. Miller.