Margaret Hair: New Works, new ideas |

Margaret Hair: New Works, new ideas

Margaret Hair

— I have no idea what the songs in “What’s That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling,” will be like.

My best guess would be that the musical theater material that makes up the piece – a sort of staged mockumentary, set on cable TV, following the career of fictitious songwriter Jacob Sterling – will be a study in the life of a character who is chronically unfortunate in a showstopping way.

Thanks to the 11th annual New Works Festival at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, I won’t have to keep guessing at this for long (though I suspect that guessing could be cut even shorter by a quick Internet search). Along with three other dramatic works, David Pittu and Randy Redd’s “What’s That Smell” will make its world premiere from June 20 to 22 at the festival.

An event that thrives on fresh ideas that have plenty of room to grow in a week of rehearsing and workshopping, the New Works Festival is my style of theater.

Sure, classic productions of classic plays are great and absolutely are something to experience at some point. But nothing compares to witnessing new work while it still is new. Nothing stands up to seeing actors act with material they’re still playing with, or to hearing them deliver lines that were penned days earlier.

It might not be as polished, and it might not find as wide an audience as dramatic material that proved its worth decades or centuries ago, but the kind of work exhibited in the New Works Festival has a vitality to it that no repeatedly rehearsed and performed production can retain.

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The creative process behind that vitality is open to the public in a series of rehearsals and readings this week, where actors, dancers, choreographers and writers will exchange ideas to get four full-length shows ready for the stage.

If you have a chance, take the drive out to Perry-Mansfield to sit in on one of those rehearsals. New Works Festival Artistic Director Andrew Leynse encourages arts enthusiasts to take advantage of the festival’s open-door policy as a way to get a better sense of what’s going on.

Even if it doesn’t give insight to the “smell” behind Jacob Sterling’s composing career, it will give insight to the spirit behind new American theater.