One Book, Four Play Readings

This month, four local theater companies are hosting play readings in conjunction with Door County Reads. The plays differ vastly in plot, genre and tone, but they all explore some aspect of this year’s Door County Reads selection, Andrew Graff’s Raft of Stars.

Peninsula Players Theatre’s artistic director, Linda Fortunato, said the theater company chose Painted Desert for its play reading because, like Raft of Stars, its plot focuses on people running away from something. In Raft of Stars, the people are two runaway boys, and in Painted Desert, they’re a charismatic convict and a mysterious former preacher.

In both stories, Fortunato said, the protagonists ask similar questions: “If I can’t be where I thought I was going to be, where can I be, and who can I be?” Both stories are also set in beautiful natural areas: Painted Desert takes place near the Grand Canyon, and Raft of Stars in the woods of Wisconsin. 

Location was an important element as well for Third Avenue PlayWorks’ artistic director, Jacob Janssen, when he was choosing a play to read for Door County Reads. He settled on Murder Girl, a gothic work in which two siblings who are the proprietors of a supper club find a murderer operating out of the establishment. 

“If anything is Wisconsin gothic, it’s serial killers and supper clubs,” Janssen said.

The play’s tone is similar to that of Raft of Stars, too, he said, because it balances heavy subject matter with comedy.

For Amy Ensign, producing artistic director at Door Shakespeare, the rich cast of characters and sense of adventure in Raft of Stars were reminiscent of a particular classic children’s story.

“I immediately started thinking about adventure stories with young people that contain a lot of heart,” Ensign said, so for Door Shakespeare’s play reading, she found an adaptation of Treasure Island

The connection between the Door County Reads featured novel and a play is the most direct for Rogue Theater, which is presenting a version of Raft of Stars that’s been adapted for the stage by local writer David Clowers and emphasizes the last few chapters of the book.

As a primer for those who have never attended a play reading before, expect a very stripped-down stage setup where actors read from scripts on music stands, standing up and sitting down as they go “onstage” and “offstage.” There’s also often an actor reading stage directions to help audiences visualize what’s going on.

With no costumes, sets, props, elaborate sound effects or special lighting, it might seem as though it would be difficult for audiences to become immersed in the plot, but according to Ensign, they have the opportunity to use their imagination to fill in details and think up their own version of the play. And plenty of viewers like that. 

“A lot of our audience members who come to play readings mention that they really love being able to visualize everything themselves – what the world of the play looks like,” Ensign said.

It’s also easier to focus on the writing, according to Fortunato.

“There are no extra elements,” she said. “You can just focus on the words and the characters.”

Door County Reads Play-reading Schedule 

Murder Girl

Feb. 3, 7 pm

Third Avenue PlayWorks, 239 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay

Painted Desert 

Feb. 6, 7 pm

Björklunden, 7590 Boynton Lane in Baileys Harbor

Raft of Stars

Feb. 10, 7 pm

Presented by Rogue Theater at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay

Treasure Island

Feb. 13, 7 pm

Miller Art Museum, 107 S. 4th Ave. in Sturgeon Bay

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