The Stories We Tell

By on 31 July, 2015 in Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” – Barbara Kingsolver

PASTIME The Hanson Family Photo by Mark Dauber

From the 2015 Cloverdale Production of Pastime, by Greg Thornton. The play was the winner of the 2014 Page-To-Stage Series. Pictured from l to r: Matthew Givens, Mariah Reilly, Scott Page, John McWilliams, Stephen Dubberly, and Sarah Adkins. (Cast member Terry Sweeney is hidden in the photo, but was so memorable in the production. Set Design: Mike Winkelman) Photo by Mark Dauber.

The Cloverdale Playhouse Page-to-Stage Series began in our 2013 season. It developed out of a conversation Emily Flowers, our Managing Director, and I were having about finding a way to have new voices or established voices with new work presented at the theater. A good number of theaters around the country have New Playwright programs so there were fine models from which to draw some ideas.

One of the best of these programs is the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers Project, now in its 25th season. I have had the great privilege of being a part of this program for quite a few seasons when I was a resident actor in the ASF company. I have lost count of how many new plays I sat around the table reading at SWP, but there are a number that stand out in my mind. Lizard by Dennis Covington received a staged reading, then a full production on the Octagon stage. Lizard went on to have the honor of playing in the 1996 Cultural Olympiad prior to the Games in Atlanta. I still have palpable memories of playing Callahan to the breathtakingly-talented actor and dear friend, Norbert Leo Butz as Lizard.

Then, there was Richard Marius’, The Coming of Rain, adapted from his novel of 600 pages plus. I directed the staged reading and then, went into the cast in a fine production that starred the luminous Greta Lambert. There was Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s inspired Gees Bend, which took the roof off the place when it was first read. I don’t remember leaving my seat when it was all said and done. There was the extraordinary Fair and Tender Ladies that people still carry around in their hearts. What a gift that became from Lee Smith, adapted by Eric Schmeidl, with music and lyrics by Tommy Goldsmith, Tom House and Karren Pell, and that lustrous cast. A Lesson Before Dying adapted by the much-missed Romulus Linney from Ernest Gaines memorable work. Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown was a potent play that still resonates within me. The list of inspired work that continues to grow out of SWP is long and inspiring and we are mightily blessed by what it has given to the world of new plays.

A treasure trove of laboratories for new plays exist all around the country. Some of the leading lights are the Humana Festival at the Actors Theater of Louisville, the O’Neill Center in Connecticut, and the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. Many of our leading playwrights have had work that generated from these renowned programs, but the roster of places encouraging these voices is a long and full one.

I recall so warmly when the Playhouse did The Boys Next Door in our opening season in 2012. I knew the piece well since I was in the very first reading of Tom Griffin’s moving, funny, and life-enhancing play when I was with the McCarter Theatre Company in Princeton, NJ. I was always impressed with Tom’s openness to suggestions from the actors as we worked on the piece. And that’s the thing-the collaboration of artists joined to bring something new to life. From the seed of an idea or a particular image, from a burst of memory that blooms, or some wisp of imagination in the writer’s mind, to the instant it strikes the page, to the moment it takes breath and finds voice in an actor, to when it lands into life on the stage, there are very few instances as an actor that I can find that replicate that feeling.

The Playhouse Page-To Stage Series considers plays from all over. It is not regionally-specific. Our only requirement is that a script be unproduced. When our playwriting contest reaches its deadline, all of the submitted scripts receive a “blind reading.” This simply means that the writer’s name and any biographical information is removed from the script. This allows the reading committee to read each submission knowing nothing about who wrote it. The script stands or falls on its own. In our first year of the series, we received over twenty scripts. Our very first winner was a terrific play by Evan Guilford-Blake, who lives in the Atlanta area. Evan’s, Family Portrait, received a staged reading at the Playhouse and our audience that evening was wonderfully responsive to it.

In our second season of the series, we received over twenty-five submissions and the winner chosen in this go around was Pastime, by yours truly. To adhere to the “blind reading” composite of the series, I had submitted the script under a pseudonym and none of the committee had any knowledge where it had originated. Not until after the staged reading did it seem necessary to “step forward” and claim authorship. To my great surprise and shaking terror, it was well-received enough to be considered by the Playhouse Artistic Committee as worthy of a full production and thus, it went into rehearsal and opened the Playhouse’s 2015 Season. I was thrilled with the cast and the production values that surrounded it. What was of special importance, as far as I was concerned, was the honest back and forth that went on in rehearsals. The cast was an essential collaborator as the play grew and then became theirs, as it always should be. I continue to work on the piece and look forward, with fingers crossed, to its future at other theaters.

In this, the third season of the Page-to-Stage Series, we received over one hundred and eighty submissions; an extraordinary response to be sure. We were overwhelmed by this outpouring, to say the least. We found ourselves in need of more readers, and so we expanded the committee. Over this past month, we have taken on what I refer to as our “Summer Reading” project. If only we had a beach to sit on! The scripts that have arrived, via PDF files, have come from all over, literally. From Canada to India to Wales, as well as the United States, these scripts tell stories of many universes. Some are clearly first time attempts, while some exhibit a playwriting craft that clearly has been at work for a while.

The stories run the gamut of human experience. Some funny, some sad, some are true flights of fancy, while others are grounded in hard reality. They are written, as far as we can glean, by writers of all generations. They include casts of two to some that require a cast of fifty. Some scripts ask for simple staging: a bench under a tree, others need a castle and a moat. These all will be considered by our dedicated readers, who then will sift through the plays and choose a few they deem the strongest and most conducive to our Playhouse both in terms of content, casting, and scenic requirements. Come August 15th, the winner will be announced, then the cast assembled, the playwright invited, and the great work of gathering at table to bring this new piece to life. It will be read on Monday, September 14th to an audience that has never heard it before. That in itself is a great story to be told.


  • Auditions for Dial M for Murder Sunday, August 2, 5:00-8:00 and Monday, August 3, 6:30-9:00. Directed by Fiona Macleod
  • Joe Thomas, Jr. 3rd Tuesday Guitar Pull August 18, 7 p.m. Featured Artists: Christina Christian, Dustin Herring, & Jonathan Tew. $10 at the door (includes complimentary beverage.)
  • Page-to-Stage Series Winner Announcement: August 15 — Staged Reading: Monday, September 14, 7:30.
  • Playhouse School Classes Begin in Mid-September
  • Dial M for Murder October 22nd-November 2. Performances Thursday-Sat 7:30 & Sunday 2:00.

For tickets and further information:
Call 334.262-1530 Online:

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

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