And welcome to Michael Shaw, Artistic Director. I met Michael at a recent National League of American Pen Women luncheon, where he was the featured speaker. As he talked, his enthusiasm, energy, and love for this theatre located in downtown Palm Springs filled the room.
The theatre’s uniqueness is articulated in its mission statement ” … to explore new theatrical works. By providing an artistic home for new plays to be developed and performed, we aim to create an atmosphere of creative growth for actors, writers and directors in Palm Springs and the surrounding desert valley area. Through encouraging and nurturing new talent, we hope to cultivate increased artistic awareness and ideas in the community.” I find this concept exciting and visionary.
When I asked Michael if he might be interested in doing an interview, I was delighted he said, “Yes.” And before we begin, I’m going to say in advance, “Thank you, Michael, for this wonderful interview,” because his final reply highlights the joy with which he works. Any summing up by me would be superfluous.
Let’s begin …
When and how did you realize you wanted your theatre to be a showcase for new plays?
Almost immediately in 2008 when we started. As an actor, I have always been intrigued by, and have great respect for writers. There’s something incredibly exciting and fulfilling about being at the ground level of a new work, as an actor, as a director, as a producer.
What are the criteria and procedures for playwrights who are interested in submitting their work?
Dezart Performs holds its “call for entries” in search of new plays for our annual play reading festival during the late summer/early fall of each year for a period of 4-6 weeks. There is an entry fee and all plays must be original unpublished works and cannot have been produced in the Coachella Valley. There is a 2-6 character limitation. For complete submission guidelines, please visit our site at dezartperforms.org
What do you look for in a new play?
We’re not looking for a specific message or topic, just great storytelling, a strong voice in the playwright, compelling dialogue, interesting characters, and conflict (even in comedy, there has to be conflict. That’s what makes it funny.)
How are the final plays selected for the season?
We have a panel of 12-15 readers who assist in the selection process of the play reading festival. Each play that is submitted for consideration into our annual play reading festival goes through 2-3 reviews, and then the final 20 are reviewed by the artistic director and one other judge. Once a play makes it into the festival, the audience grades each of those plays in a reading (usually 4-7) and the one or two that become the “audience favorite” will get produced. Any additional programming for the season is selected by the artistic director.
What philosophy/standards/directions do you impart to directors and actors doing a new play, whether a reading or a full production?
For me, it’s the same philosophy with an established work or new work. Be honest with the material, and faithful to the words. Study, study, study. Discover, learn and know the intent of the writer and his/her words and characters. If the playwright has done his or her job, the characters’ voices will be very clear.
How do you attract your actors?
To be honest, the quality of our work. Our production values are incredibly high for a small company like ours, and performers are attracted to the opportunity to work with this level of professionalism.
What was one of the most exciting moments at Dezart Performs?
Opening night of our first full production in the art gallery (our first home) with an intimate audience of 45 (packed into the hall.) We received a standing ovation, and it was like, Wow! The love in the room was real, and you could feel that our early patrons really appreciated what we were trying to do, in bringing something totally different to Palm Springs.
What opportunities are open for volunteers?
Ushering, box office, concessions, backstage production assistants, clerical and office help.
What are your short and long term goals for Dezart Performs?
Short-term: Playwright in residence program, adding an additional full production to next season, adding a third week to each production. Long-term: Building a 250-seat theatre for our home with a full-time staff.
Describe your theatre “season.”
Our season consists of 2-3 full-productions plus our play reading festival; additionally, we hold a gala benefit each year to raise funds for our non-profit.
Anything special you would like us to know? (I know, I know … I said 10 questions 😉 … but just in case … something you wanted the readers to know that didn’t fit in anywhere.)
I love what I do, and could not do it without the people involved in all aspects of this organization who help make it possible!
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Vital statistics for theatre-goers, playwrights, actors, volunteers …
Theatre address: Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Downtown Palm Springs, CA 92262
Mailing address: 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 7538, Palm Springs, CA 92264