There is a colorful, practically rebel playwright community that lies in the shadow — or, more appropriately, thrives in the sunlight — of the skyline of a city known for theater.
A new project by a local theater company will feature Weehakwen playwrights Joanne Hoersch and Eric Conger this month. Their plays will be introduced as a series of intimate readings (a format without full staging) with the audience right up on the stage at Park Performing Arts Center in Union City.
The plays are produced by Hudson Theatre Works, the county’s newest equity, professional non-profit theatre company. Exempt from the pressure to succeed often encountered in Manhattan, the Union City-based company is able to encourage writers and performers to take artistic “risks” and foster the sort of creativity that could put northern New Jersey theatre on the map.
“Hudson Theatre Works believes that the only way to build a professional theatre is to help to develop and produce new works,” Artistic Director Frank Licato said.
The new series of readings is known as “Play Works.”
‘Jackson is Gone’
Joanne Hoersch earned a living as a professional actor for 20 years after receiving her bachelor’s in English from Emerson College. She had a three-year stint with a New York City ensemble theatre called Bandit Company that she started with Licato in 1983. After many, many auditions, she became the female understudy for the Broadway show “The Nerd” in 1987.
Her understudy experience became the turning point in her career. Hoersch found her heart wasn’t fully in her acting.
“You can’t be a successful actress and not really, really want to do it,” she said.
“Hudson Theatre Works believes that the only way to build a professional theatre is to help to develop and produce new works.” –Frank Licato
So she decided to combine her acting experience with her writing and try her hand at plays. The dialogue involved suited her much better.
“It was a much happier experience for me,” she said.
Hoersch hit her stride with her very first play, “Jackson is Gone,” which will be read in the PPAC Play Works series on Monday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
A year ago, “Jackson is Gone” was read at the Weehawken Library and followed by an audience critique. “It was very painful, but also very helpful,” she said. “I made huge changes, and I’m excited to see how it is received.”
The drama-comedy is about a middle aged couple whose dog is stolen. The event triggers a complex psychological dismantlement of the characters involved.
“It’s largely about the healing of wounds that you thought had been taken care of, the interactions with other people, and the strange bedfellows you might make in the process,” Hoersch explained.
Her work has roots in her real life twofold: first, it was inspired by Hoersch’s own experience with the loss of her yellow lab, Dylan Thomas; and second, Play Works’ featured playwright Eric Conger has taken a leading role in the reading.
Hoersch hopes one day to find backing for a full production of “Jackson is Gone”—hopefully, she says, at Hudson Theatre Works.
‘No Good Deed’
Ohio-born Eric Conger has lived in Weehawken for 18 years, and like Hoersch, pursued an acting career for 20.
As a twist on Lily Tomlin’s famous quote, he said, “I came to New York to be a writer, but all I could find was work on the stage.”
He began translating plays in 1974 while he apprenticed at Virginia’s renowned Barter Theatre. Inspired by his time with a fraternity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, he had an idea for a play he wished to write. “The Eclectic Society,” which was bought by the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in 2008. “It’s highly unusual to have such luck,” Conger said.
His luck earned him an agent, after which he wrote “Thank U 4 Your Service” about the ill treatment veterans received upon returning home during the (first) Bush administration. His second play set a theme of sorts for Conger’s work.
“My plays are about behavior and society,” he said. “What I’m after is the conflict underneath it all.
His third and latest play, “No Good Deed,” will be read at PPAC on Nov. 21. The idea came from a series of articles Conger read in the New York Times about the community of Chappaqua, N.Y. and the controversy surrounding their plans to build a memorial in 2005 for three locals who died in the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
Conger’s play is, instead, set on the 10th anniversary of 9-11, and focuses on the conflict behind the idea of continually memorializing the tragedy of the event without stopping to address why the event happened in the first place.
“My play will not please those who espouse the view that America is infallible,” he stated. But he believes it will be well-received.
“Jackson is Gone” will be read at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7. “No Good Deed” will be read on Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 646-522-5689 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com/a>