It takes persistence, perseverance and time to build community. Perhaps that time expands, when you are building a community of theatre artists and playwrights outside of a major urban area. If Kato McNickle’s efforts building The Planning Stage in southeastern Connecticut are an example, the time spent is well worth it.
Southeastern Connecticut, located midway between Boston and New York City, is also an hour from Providence, Hartford, and New Haven—all five of these cities are notable theatre destinations. With the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center located in Waterford, just down the road from Eugene O’Neill’s boyhood home in New London, the region is fertile ground for the growth of playwrights locally.
McNickle was involved with a local playwrights initiative that was under the auspices of the O’Neill before the millennium. After ten years, the program folded. But not before Kato rose through the ranks, learning a great deal not only about playwriting, but also about the process of curating play submissions, staging readings, and the role actors have in play development. So when the local playwrights festival ended, Kato was ready to keep building the community that had started to form.
Nearly two decades later, Kato has produced many of her own and other local playwrights and is active in the local theatre community.
“I figured if I was producing my own play, why not invite another playwright or two to join me and make it a festival. There wouldn’t be much extra work required,” said Kato in an interview at Artreach, a local arts and wellness organization where Kato works.
In April, The Planning Stage presented local writer Michael R. McGuire’s Weird Detective Tales at the Donald Oat Theater in Norwich.
“I wanted to work with Michael again. When I read Weird Detective Tales, I knew it was the one. It’s a really cool play that I didn’t see being picked up at another theatre or festival.”
Now that a solid theatre community is thriving in the region, Kato’s focus has expanded. Looking beyond developing a community of writers, she is now focusing on cultivating the audience for new plays, an audience who wants to be engaged in conversation about the work.
Weird Detective Tales is an ideal play to discuss. “It’s a play where the characters all exist in their own world; the audience gets to decide what the play is about.”
Kato has several projects in the works, in addition to supporting fellow playwrights and building the local theatre community. In July, she’ll produce her own play, Chance of Rain, a riff on Noah’s Ark. She is also working on the draft of a book compiling all she has learned about producing staged readings of new plays. Its title? The Planning Stage.
It’s been decades of work. Momentum has been steady and the pool and experience of local theatre artists continues to grow.
“When we work on each other’s plays, we all rise and grow together. We have a very generous theatre community,” Kato said. Generosity began it all.