Yussef El Guindi’s “The Talented Ones” premiered Thursday night. This show was brought to the Hatlen stage by LAUNCH PAD, a program through which playwrights come to UCSB to create new works. This year was LAUNCH PAD’s 10th Anniversary, and a great milestone in LAUNCH PAD history: Two plays developed through LAUNCH PAD had their world premieres as professional productions at regional theaters. “Kingdom City” by Sheri Wilner opened at La Jolla Playhouse in September of 2014 and James Still’s “Appoggiatura” opened at the Denver Center.
The Artistic Director of LAUNCH PAD is Risa Brainin, who started the program to bring acclaimed playwrights to UCSB.
“My impulse for starting LAUNCH PAD was a need I saw for playwrights; their work was getting caught in a cycle of readings and workshops. It was very hard for them to get their professional premiere, and when they did, it was such a high-pressure situation that they didn’t have a chance to work on it in a safe environment. I saw there’s something we can do here that bridges that gap.”
Sarah Ruhl’s “Melancholy Play” was the first in-progress production to be worked on at UCSB, and a year later, Ruhl won the MacArthur Fellowship. Though “Melancholy Play” had already been performed, Brainin provided her with a space to continue perfecting her work. Brainin explained that every playwright comes to LAUNCH PAD at different stages in their process, but the idea is to give the writers facilities to experiment.
On Yussef El Guindi in particular, Brainin revealed that “The Talented Ones” had been “overwritten” by the time he arrived at LAUNCH PAD.
“Yussef likes to write too much and then cut [unnecessary material] … He likes to overwrite and put a lot of backstory in for the characters and things that are not necessarily needed in the end but are very helpful along the way.” Guindi’s play, “Threesome,” is performing off Broadway in June and he was one of three people nominated for the Genius Award by The Stranger magazine, a Seattle-based publication.
Having seen Guindi’s overwritten version of The Talented Ones, Brainin revealed that one particular aspect of the show advocated it as a great work to bring to LAUNCH PAD.
“One of the reasons I thought “The Talented Ones” would be really great was because all the characters are young, they’re all in their 20s, so that’s perfect for our BFA students.” Not to say that the plays developed through LAUNCH PAD must cater to the student actors; Brainin utilizes actors from the graduate department, faculty and even local actors outside of the university as the need arises.
“The Talented Ones” provided a wonderful opportunity for five BFA acting students to watch a play in progress, one of whom was Joré Aaron-Broughton, who won an Indy Award for her recent performance as Oya in “In the Red and Brown Water.”
“For an actor, the script is the source for so much of the information regarding your character. It’s the foundation of who that person is and what kind of story the play is trying to tell. With the usual play, that source is a stable one … but with LAUNCH PAD, your foundation has the possibility of changing in a large way … The fact that with every performance a change can happen is yet another reason for an actor like myself to stay present and be ready for anything.”
“The Talented Ones” will be performed at the Hatlen Theater until May 30, and will likely feature variations from night to night. May 30 is also the date of BFA auditions for UCSB’s theater program, open to all who wish to try out! For more information on the BFA actors training program, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu/academics. For more information on LAUNCH PAD visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu/launchpad/. For more information on “The Talented Ones” and Yussef El Guindi or for tickets, visit secure.lsit.ucsb.edu/dram/d7/news/event/371.
It was a pretty damn good play; darkly funny and well-acted.
Reminded me a bit of a darker version of Arsenic and Old Lace, which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen!