The Playwrights’ Center celebrates new work with PlayLabs 2013

The Playwrights’ Center’s PlayLabs series showcases the cutting edge of contemporary theater.

Actors Christina Baldwin and John Middleton perform a reading of Trista Baldwin's play,

Chelsea Gortmaker

Actors Christina Baldwin and John Middleton perform a reading of Trista Baldwin’s play, “Angel Fat” for PlayLabs at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis on Sunday. PlayLabs is a 30 hour intensive writing, reading and re-writing session for playwrights.

Joe Kellen

What does a play look like? As far as PlayLabs is concerned, there’s no right answer to that question.

PlayLabs, which is now in its third decade, develops the latest work of three of the 26 members of the Core Writer Program at the Playwrights’ Center, an organization recognized nationally for its dedication to new plays.

“There are a lot of companies out there that want to get connected to new work,” playwright Trista Baldwin said. “Hopefully this provides a way for those people to find out about what’s happening.”

Brand-new plays from Baldwin, Mat Smart and Christina Ham were selected this year for staged readings in the weeklong event. Actors will have scripts in hand and won’t have costumes or a set.

Each of the three playwrights receives a stipend, a designer of their choice, the opportunity to work one-on-one with dramaturgs and access to the Playwrights’ Center’s facilities.

“It’s about the playwright having the opportunity to examine every different aspect of their play,” Associate Artistic Director Hayley Finn said. “We get the time to focus on the writer’s process.”

Even though the writers have been molding these pieces for a while, they work in a fast-and-furious environment. The creative team has a little more than a week — including lots of tweaking and editing — to prepare for two staged readings.

“I feel like PlayLabs gets your play in the best shape possible for production. Of course there’s more work after that — but it’s a great opportunity,” Baldwin said.

The three plays examine a diverse array of themes.

This year is Baldwin’s second time in the lab. Her play, “Angel Fat,” is an exploration of greed and fertility in the hedge fund world.

Smart’s piece, “The Royal Society of Antarctica,” is the story of a young woman searching for her mother.

And Ham’s “Scapegoat” draws a connection between racism in early U.S. history and today.

As theater changes around the world, Finn said, she thinks it’s important to keep faith in the power of new work. The plays in this series do their best to contribute to the changing territory by exploring themes that are often uncomfortable.

Baldwin’s play was inspired by an image of a white woman in designer clothing pole dancing on a subway, in front of a beleaguered, pregnant Indian woman.

Baldwin ran with that surreal symbol of inequality and created a piece that has moments rooted in reality that lead to dark, dreamy scenes in which the play’s world turns upside down.

Whether these plays take audiences to the whipping winds of Antarctica or cause them to re-examine their thoughts about racism in the U.S., PlayLabs’ aim is to offer an experience that gets them hungry for a full production.

What: “PlayLabs 2013”

When: Times and dates vary, Oct. 21-27

Where: The Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free with prior reservations (SOLD OUT)