At the end of 2021, Rover Dramawerks in Plano, Texas opened Marilyn Millstone’s new play, Proprioception. Although the world premiere production was delayed for sixteen months due to the pandemic—which endured the loss and relocation of one of the cast members—Millstone’s celebrated American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) NewPlayFest award-winning work opened to audiences, who were more than ready to enjoy the experience of theatre again. Directed by Carol M. Rice, the play connects the lives of an African American physical therapist, a primadonna dancer in recovery, and a widowed Holocaust survivor. The playwright defines the word proprioception as “how our bodies move through the world. The body’s ‘sixth sense.’” Rice’s direction accentuates the themes of the play that explores the delicate dance of living and the struggle to find hope amidst suffering.
The new year began with the launch of the Bishop Arts Theatre Center’s (BATC) First Move Playwrights Lab. Led by Playwright-in-Residence Franky D. Gonzalez and Program Manager Cain Rodriguez, the First Move Playwrights Lab is an eight-month play development initiative in which a cohort of four to eight Dallas/Fort Worth playwrights meet monthly toward developing a new work. The end of the 2022 lab sessions will culminate in a staged reading called the First Move Playwrights’ Festival, a two-weekend celebration involving the public. The inaugural First Move lab consists of four local playwrights: Aaron Zilbermann, Erin Malone Turner, Zoë Kerr, and me.
Franky D. Gonzalez is the newly appointed Playwright-in-Residence at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center. He is a playwright and television writer of Colombian descent splitting time between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nationally, his work has appeared with The Lark, the Sundance Institute, the Ojai Playwrights Conference, the Latinx Playwrights Circle, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, the Goodman Theatre (Live @ Five Series), the New Harmony Project, and Bishop Arts Theatre Center, to mention a few. He was a staff writer for the fourth season of the television series 13 Reasons Why, and most recently, Gonzalez was named the 4 Seasons Resident Playwright, a Sony Pictures Television Diverse Writers Program Fellow, and a Core Writer with the Playwrights’ Center.
Franky says, “Cain and I sensed a need in the Dallas/Fort Worth region for a specific program aimed at assisting early career, and most importantly, local playwrights in the development of their work, by facilitating feedback on works-in-progress until they reach the state of submission readiness.”
Cain Rodriguez is the Program Manager for the First Move Lab. He is a Latinx theatremaker based in Dallas, Texas. He wears many hats, including actor, director, producer, dramaturg, and emerging playwright. He is passionate about new play development and was the artistic director of a local playwright’s development group for over four years. A mainstay in the region, Cain has worked with various venues including Arts Mission Oak Cliff, Dallas Theater Center, Bishop Arts Theatre Center, Sunset Art Studios, and many others.
Rodriguez reminisces about the innovative vibe of The Aviary, a local writing group for playwrights to connect, explore, and hear their work read by local actors. He led the group for several years, and it was a creative hub for theatremakers up until the pandemic took its toll on the world. He says, “The First Move Playwrights Lab started from the warm memories of our pre-pandemic playwriting group, The Aviary. Also, Franky and I share a mutual dissatisfaction with the state of new works being spotlighted in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Franky pitched this program to BATC, and then we decided to collaborate.”
Gonzalez says, “In terms of this program, my greatest hope is to see the works of Dallas/Fort Worth playwrights reach a place of wider recognition, and that artists across the nation see this region as a destination for theatre development, and not a revolving door for local artists to leave for traditional theatre cities like New York and Chicago.”
In late January, Jo Morello’s musical love story Lil & Satchmo opened at Jubilee Theatre in Fort Worth. The play showcases the legendary works of Louis Armstrong and his second wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, also a looming jazz musician and pianist. And in February, the Bishop Arts Theatre Center opened THE HOW TO BE PROJECT: Ten Plays For Racial Justice, a festival of short and one-act plays inspired by and in conversation with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book How To Be An Antiracist. In partnership with Pen America, audiences enjoyed plays written by Alle Mims, Jonathan Norton, Eugene Lee, Erin Malone Turner, Kristen Adele Calhoun, Paula Sanders, Oba William King, Zetra Goodlow, Michael Harrison, and Bwalya Chisanga.