Much like an Oscar category, they're five highly coveted slots that come once a year.
The Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory, which takes place every spring, annually presents five staged readings of plays in addition to its two full productions. (Noah Haidle's "Smokefall" and Beau Willimon's "The Parisian Woman," both playing this weekend, are the full offerings.) The staged readings, which feature actors without costumes or props and sometimes with scripts in hand, spotlight playwrights who run the gamut from newcomers to veterans with distinguished lineage.
"The reason we picked them is the same for all of them," John Glore, the festival's co-director, said about this year's group of scripts. "We liked the plays. We read throughout the year with an eye for programming the Pacific Playwrights Festival, and when we see a play we get excited about, we set it aside."
The festival has brought good luck in the past. David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole," which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and be made into an Oscar-nominated film, debuted as a staged reading in 2005. This kind of success suggests that audience members who attend this year's lineup may also witness a classic in the making.
Future classics or not, though, it's bound to be an interesting weekend. Here's this year's staged-reading lineup for the festival:
"Trudy and Max in Love (or That Forever Feeling)"
Author: Zoe Kazan
Director: Lila Neugebauer
What it's about: Two New Yorkers fall into an extramarital affair.
Back story: Kazan has top-notch theater pedigree; her grandfather was Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan, and her mother, Robin Swicord, was commissioned by South Coast Repertory two decades ago. The theater commissioned Kazan as well two years ago. Glore noted this isn't a guarantee that a play will get accepted, but "Trudy" turned out to be a winner.
Show time: 1 p.m. Friday on the Julianne Argyros Stage
"Hope and Gravity"
Author: Michael Hollinger
Director: Aaron Posner
What it's about: Ten disparate lives intersect in an elevator accident.
Back story: Hollinger debuted the first version of the play in NewSCRipts, the theater's annual play reading series, in October. According to Glore, the audience was "quite taken," and Hollinger submitted a revised version for the Pacific Playwrights Festival.
Show time: 3:30 p.m. Friday on the Segerstrom Stage
Author: Carla Ching
Director: Shelley Butler
What it's about: A con takes an unexpected twist for a family of Chinese American grifters.
Back story: Ching is the rookie among this year's playwrights. In the words of Glore: "Usually, when we pick a play for the festival, the writer has been on our radar for a while. Not in this case. This is the first play by Carla Ching we've ever read. We hadn't heard of her before it came along."
Show time: 8 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Nicholas Studio
Author: Gregory S Moss
Director: Adrienne Campbell-Holt
What it's about: Three men visit their uncomfortable past at their 20-year high school reunion.
Back story: Moss' work was the first play chosen for a staged reading at this year's festival. Glore said theater officials have followed his work for the last half-decade, and when they read his latest submission last summer, they declared it a winner for 2013.
Show time: 10:30 a.m. Saturday on the Julianne Argyros Stage
Author: Jordan Harrison
Director: Pam MacKinnon
What it's about: A future society allows people to create virtual versions of departed loved ones.
Back story: Harrison has had a relationship with South Coast Repertory for nearly a decade and introduced his play "Futura" in the 2007-08 NewSCRipts season. According to Glore, the theater has commissioned another play from Harrison, which he's currently working on; "Marjorie" will play in the interim.
Show time: 10:30 a.m. Sunday on the Segerstrom Stage
The theater will also host a free PPF Playwrights Panel, moderated by Julie Marie Myatt, from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. Sunday in the Julianne Argyros Lobby. Carla Ching ("Fast Company"), Noah Haidle ("Smokefall"), Michael Hollinger ("Hope and Gravity"), Zoe Kazan ("Trudy and Max in Love") and Gregory S Moss ("Reunion)" will discuss their work.