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'Waterworks' to serve up four weekends of new theatrical works

Theater fans who head to Live Arts on Thursday night for free preview performances of “Heartbeat Ophelia” by D.L. Siegel and “Silas, the Uninvited” by Derek J. Snow will be part of a festival that places new works and overlooked voices in the warmth of the spotlight.

The inaugural Waterworks festival will provide new plays, staged readings, comedy specials and “a really joyful opportunity for connection,” said Adrienne Jacobson Oliver, director of new works for Live Arts. When the call went out for new works to be considered for the festivals, Oliver and her team received more than 600 submissions.

“We could not have predicted that,” Oliver said. “It’s such a cross-section of stories and voices.”

Expect a mix of theatrical genres, approaches — and perspectives, with more than 60% of the offerings from historically marginalized playwrights, Oliver said.

“Not only are we taking a chance on new works, but we’re focusing on people who have been erased,” Oliver said. A mix of Live Arts veterans and newcomers will be bringing the new works to life on stage and behind the scenes.

Waterworks begins with performances of “Heartbeat Ophelia” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the fourth-floor Conover Studio, followed by “Silas, the Uninvited” at 8 p.m. in the second-floor Gibson Theater space.

Fallon Smyl directs “Heartbeat Ophelia.” Cast members include Mila Cesaretti, Austin Bouchard, David Minton, Mylene Freeman, Priya Curtis, Robert A. Wray, Christina Ball and Sarah White.

For “Silas, the Uninvited,” Clinton Johnston directs a cast featuring Auntais Faulkner, Abena Foreman Trice, Bryce Kirkland and Jude Hansen.

Opening night is Friday. “Simple Future Past Perfect” by Jack Karp, directed by Fran Smith, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Conover Studio. Austin Bouchard, Elizabeth Rose, John Rabasa, Robert A. Wray and Ronda Hewitt will perform.

At 8 p.m. Friday, Marty Moore will direct “Don’t Hydroplane” by Bryan Curtis at 7 p.m. in the third-floor Founder Theater. Taking the stage will be Jane McDonald, Kat Maybury, Tim Read, James Sanford, Darryl Smith, Christina Henderson Paxson and Lois Devincent Sanders. “Silas, the Uninvited” begins at 8 p.m. in the Gibson Theater.

Saturday’s lineup includes “Don’t Hydroplane” at 2 p.m., “Heartbeat Ophelia” at 6:30 p.m., “Locally Sourced” at 7 p.m. and selected scenes from “Silas, the Uninvited” at 8 p.m., to be followed by talk-back time with playwright Snow.

“Locally Sourced,” to be presented in Founders Theater, is a collection of one-act plays from Live Arts’s Playwrights’ Lab. Look for “Jesus Versus the Lizard People” by John Lawson, directed by Kerry Moran; “Echo Talks Back” by Nina Haigney, directed by Leena Miller; “That Which Remains” by Elizabeth Fuller, directed by Kay Bethea; “Heart to Heart” by Sean McCord, directed by Robert Chapel; “Bite Me!” by Jenny Mead, directed by Anna Lien; “Family Portrait” by Kate Monaghan, directed by Tim Read; “Love in an Elevator” by Courtney Walker, directed by Linda Zuby; and “The Offering” by Andrea Carey, directed by Laura Mawyer.

And that’s just the first weekend. The festival runs through June 3.

Not sure about stepping out of your comfort zone? Oliver said that taking a chance on a new play can be a rewarding experience.

“New scripts, to me, are like new books or new television shows. We open up our own apertures to see new people’s visions,” Oliver said. “Just the act of saying, ‘I will be present for something new’ — that’s what progress means.”

It’s especially important to be part of the conversation after pandemic safety measures silenced stages and kept audience members at home at a time when the arts had comfort and reassurance to share in trying times.

“Coming into the theater is like telling stories around a fire. It’s ancient,” Oliver said. “I saw in the pandemic how heavily we relied on arts and creative elements to bring us through. We actually do depend on each other, and discourse, to understand what is happening. We’re still relying on art to help us make sense of ourselves, even now.”

“Unsung Stories,” a series of shows May 25, 26 and 27, will include a special edition of James Cole’s “Poetry Live!” with local poets; selections from “Blue Ridge Mama,” a new musical by Ti Ames; and the Waterworks Showcase, which will focus on three new works that have been selected to be developed for the 2024 festival — “Ah Wing and the Automaton Eagle” by Brandon Zang, “Blue Ridge Mama” and “The Colour Woman” by Petron Brown.

If the new perspectives you enjoy often come from comedians, mark your calendars for performances by Lizzy Cooperman on May 19 and Jade Catta-Preita on May 20. Catta-Prieta, raised in Charlottesville, is the host of “Hotties,” Hulu’s new dating show.

Thursday’s preview night is free. Tickets for other performances will be $15 to $10; get them at or by phone at (434) 977-4177, Ext 123.


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