Shakespeare said "all the world's a stage," and this includes the Darien Library's community room. In fact, for 18 years the actors/playwrights at the library have sponsored original plays written by local and regional writers. Co-founded by the late Catherine Lindsey and her husband, Robert, the collaborative was most recently under the auspices of the Darien Players until Catherine passed away six years ago.
Three years ago, Robert and Bridget Cusack brought the popular theater program, now called the Catherine Lindsey Memorial Actors/Playwrights Workshop, back to the Darien Library, with the assistance of Erica Bess, the library's head of adult programming.
"I think it's a wonderful program to have here at the library because the mission of the library's new building is to have more cultural offerings available and to use all of the space that we now have," Bess said. "It's also a great artistic outlet for the actors and playwrights as well as the community."
Submissions are now being accepted for workshops scheduled to take place on Thursdays, Feb. 10, March 10 and April 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. Those interested in participating in the 2011 Actors/Playwrights Workshop Series are asked to send the first ten pages of the manuscript by Tuesday, Feb. 1, to email@example.com.
"We're looking for experienced and inexperienced playwrights," Cusack said. "We also want to give playwrights a chance to show their wares." The playwrights represented in last year's workshop hailed from Albany, New York to Westchester and Fairfield counties.
The public staged readings will take place on Sunday, June 12, at 2 p.m. in the library's new auditorium. Last year about 75 to 85 people were in attendance. "When the weather is really nice outside on a Sunday in June, it's great to have this kind of turnout for our performance," Bess said.
The purpose of the Actors/Playwrights Workshop is to offer scribes a collaborative, creative forum to fine tune their writing. Sometime in late spring, auditions will be held for the roles. "We give comments during the workshops that assist the playwrights in casting as well as crafting their plays," Cusack said. "Some of the playwrights may end up directing their own plays. It's a valuable experience for everyone because actors obviously get some more acting experience, and the playwrights get to see their works performed."
Although Robert is predominantly an actor and director, and his wife Bridget takes on duel acting and playwriting responsibilities, the couple enjoyed working with the Lindseys for many years. "She was a lovely, lovely lady," Cusack said. "They both had vast experience in the theater."
He said Robert Lindsey's job during World War II was to "entertain the troops." Cusack said he had the opportunity to direct Lindsey 15 years ago in a local production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap."
"We thought it was a shame that the program had been discontinued," Cusack said.
In 2008, the Cusacks approached library director Louise Berry about "resurrecting" the Artists/Playwrights Workshop. "She thought it was a great idea," Cusack said.
Using both Equity and non-Equity actors, all six plays which were submitted were staged. Last year, however, Bess said because there were 14 entries, a committee comprised of librarians selected six for the staged reading.
"One Up," a four-character play set in Darien, was chosen to be produced. Written and directed by Mary Ellen Murphy of Rowayton, its plot focuses on the "snobby lifestyles of those living in Darien," Cusack explained. Along with Robert and Bridget Cusack, the cast included Donna McLaughlin, Michael Douglass and Richard Carl.
With some writers submitted more than one play each year, the committee also decided that they could only enter ten pages from one manuscript. "Last year, Mary Ellen Murphy came in with 25 pages with 25 actors and we had to say, `Hey, we're not doing Ben Hur here,'" Cusack said.
For the past two years, the library's script-in-hand readings have been a great source of entertainment as well as a way to memorialize the Lindsey's theatrical contributions.
"It's important for us to do this to keep the spirit of Catherine alive," said Cusak. "Last year her husband (who lives out of state) wasn't able to come but her daughters did."
In addition to the Actors/Playwrights Workshop, the Cusacks, in partnership with the Darien Library, launched another theatrical program called Weekend One-Acts. Three productions were scheduled, however, when Robert Cusack needed emergency surgery, and the play that he was appearing in was cancelled. The response was tremendous, though. "The community room holds 150 people and for the two nights they performed there were 350 people in attendance," he said. "I would say they were sold out."
This fall, he and his wife hope to get the chance to perform the cancelled show, Tennessee Williams' "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow."
"It's not one of his well-known plays but it's a beautiful love story," Cusack said.
The Darien Library is located at 1441 Post Road, Darien. For more information and to register for the Actors/Playwrights Workshop, call Robert Cusack at 203-655-7699 or e-mail Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org.