Arts and Entertainment

The Write Stuff: Playwrights Festival showcases works of five island writers

From left, Grace Willows and Gary Wyngarden star in ‘The Caretakers’ by Greg Sutherland.  - Contributed photo
From left, Grace Willows and Gary Wyngarden star in ‘The Caretakers’ by Greg Sutherland.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Expect an evening of cheers, laughter, smiles and tears at the 16th annual Playwrights Festival Friday through Sunday and Feb. 12-15 at the San Juan Community Theatre.

A variety of cast members, directors and playwrights will again produce a colorful mix of comedy and drama by local playwrights.

This year’s lineup:

— “Infinite Parallels,” written by Wendy Shepard and directed by Ed Wilson. Dreams toss a retired man and his wife into a salad of limitless possibilities, challenging them to explore and rediscover each other. Only glimpses of the familiar remain as unfamiliar behaviors guide them away from what their relationship has been to what it might become. Featuring: Warren Baehr and Marueen See.

— “Getting What You Want,” written and and directed by Chris DeStaffany. Extreme care should be taken in deciding what you really want in life, because you might get it. Featuring: Rosa Blair and James Krall.

— “The Caretakers,” written by Greg Sutherland and directed by Jane Maxwell Campbell. A famous composer jeopardizes his own legacy in his ailing years. What does caring for someone really mean in this drama that spans three generations? Featuring: Catherine Ascher, Grace Willows, Gary Wyngarden, Sarah Niebeling, Katrina Thatcher.

— “Nanu Nanu,” written by Stan Matthews and directed by Ernest Pugh. How hard is it to take the easy way out? “Nanu Nanu” is a dark comedy about three suicidal strangers who find themselves in a closed bar with two guns, a rat and a clogged toilet. Featuring: Dana Rice and Greg Hertel.

— “Rooster,” written by Debbie Emery and directed by Terilyn Brown. A life-long friendship doesn’t guarantee knowing, and life is messy. But it’s never too late for acknowledgment, acceptance and maybe even forgiveness. Featuring: Melody Rice.

— “22–C,” written by Chris DeStaffany and directed by Merritt Olsen. Notes from a very observant man on discovering that his view has been obstructed. Featuring: Charles Richardson.

Opening night is Friday, 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets cost $16, students $8. Visit the theater box office or, or call 378-3210.

Writers talk about the playwriting process
Shepard has written numerous screenplays and songs, as well as articles for magazines and newspapers.

“I try to get out of the way so that the piece can have its own voice,” Shepard said of the playwriting process. “Unconditional love for the characters is essential for playwriting, for if we judge them harshly, they go into hiding and never become full people. We all have the entire human condition within, and developing a character is allowing that part of oneself to speak, without judgement.”

DeStaffany, a retired volunteer firefighter and EMT, has been involved in theater for 50 years.

“I am enthralled with the playwriting process,” said DeStaffany, a third-generation islander. His advice to others considering writing a play: “Just start.”

Sutherland’s son, Eric, is a classical composer and wrote the music for “The Caretakers.”

“Here you create this thing, usually by yourself, and then you give it to other people to absorb it and bring it to life: directors, conductors, musicians, actors,” Sutherland said. “It’s like having other people raise your child after you’ve given birth. Your DNA is inside them but these external forces shape it, usually for the better.”

Over the course of 25 years, Matthews has written several thousand news stories and about 20 documentaries and 100 TV news specials in television journalism. He is communications program manager for San Juan County.

“The thrill of writing is climbing into another world,” Matthews said. “I have always loved live theater. Seeing your work produce laughter, tears and other emotions in people is very satisfying.”

The most promising plays are presented at the Playwrights Festival. Professional actors, directors and writers from throughout the country are chosen to read the scripts. Selected scripts are scored and sent back to SJCT.

After a play is chosen, the playwright refines his or her work during the rehearsal process. The director works with the playwrights and the cast to refine the script.

“A playwright is like a wheelwright,” said Merritt Olsen, executive director of the San Juan Island Community Theatre. “The craft needs to be honed, worked on over time. There is no impending deadline for finished product of the play. Most plays are developed through several productions before there is a finished published work.”

American author and playwright Mark Dunn, a judge in previous playwrights festivals, will host a playwriting workshop on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at SJCT. Writers are asked to bring a play in progress; the workshops are free and open to the public. Register at the box office or call 378-3211, ext. 23.

Dunn has written 25 plays and three novels. He is a recipient of several national playwriting awards. His plays, “Belles” and “Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain,” have been produced more than 150 times throughout the world.

A group of island playwrights meets monthly at the San Juan Island Library. The next workshop is Feb. 19, 5:15 p.m. Visit for more information.

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