By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Director Robb Willoughby and cast in the first read-through of “Memories of the Game,” opening FutureFest July 22; photo: Doris Lockwoodleft to right (Andre Tomlinson, who plays the son, Michael; Nabachwa Ssensalo, who plays the daughter, Sharon; Marva Williams, who plays Karen, the mother; and Franklin Johnson, who plays Kenneth, the father.)

Auditions come first

We’ve all seen those plays or movies about the hopeful actor who finally gets an opportunity to audition for THE role, the one that’s sure to be the career turning point. There’s about a minute to look at the scene to be read, to scope out the character and the situation, probably not enough time to figure out the motivation. The actor begins to read; hardly aware the voice saying the words is her voice, when… another voice says, “Thank you very much.” The audition for that person is over.

Now, consider FutureFest, the Dayton Playhouse’s ambitious weekend of six never-before-performed scripts, each with several characters, each with a different director. Now, visualize a theater with a couple of dozen people scattered here or there, most close to an aisle, ready for a dash to the stage when their name is called. What could be a very long six-script evening is divided into two, with auditions for the three fully staged shows one night and the staged readings the next.

What happens next? “Then the horse trading begins,” one of the experienced directors, Saul Caplan, elegantly puts it.  The directors meet and discuss actors and roles and settle on the best fits for each script and each part. FutureFest is all about the play and the actors aren’t a factor with the professional adjudicators. But being chosen is important to the actors.

Here are the selected casts.

FutureFest always begins with a fully staged presentation. Opening night, Friday, July 22 at 8 p.m., is “Memories of the Game,” directed by Robb Willoughby with Franklin Johnson, Marva Williams, Nabachwa Ssensalo, Andre Reece Tomlinson. It’s about an African-American family dealing with Alzheimer’s and other poignant issues.

Weekend ticket holders begin the second of the three-day, six-play experience, endurance in good shape with the first of three plays Saturday at 10 a.m. with a staged reading of “Shepherd’s Bush,” directed by Michael Boyd. The story involves the famous writer, E.M. Forster and a secret sexual relationship with a younger policeman. Issues of friendship, marriage and Forster’s domineering mother provide conflict. Cast includes Scott Knisely, Ella Wylie, David Shough, Brian Sharp and Bonnie Froelich. The 3 p.m. staged reading on Saturday, directed by Cara Hinh, is “N,” another real people story: Eugene O’Neill, the playwright who wrote “The Emperor Jones” in 1926 and the African-American actor Charles Gilpin and his wife. Cast: Sean Gunther, Shawn Diggs and Shyra Thomas.

Saturday night! Full stage at 8 p.m. “Miss” directed by Cynthia Karns is also based on the real life story of the 1960s medical tragedy of thalidomide. Cast includes Jennifer Lockwood, Jon Edward Cox, Anna Masla, Ted Eltzroth, Chuck Larkowski, Renee Reed, Jennie Hawley and Mark Anderson.

In the Sunday morning, 10 a.m., staged reading of “The Violin Maker,” directed by Saul Caplan, a grandson struggles to decide if he should continue his family legacy, with Dave Nickel, Robert Hyer and Bryana Bentley.

The last offering? “The Griots” directed by Fran Pesch. What happens when a 100-plus-year-old former slave really talks to a young descendant of slaveholders, and a WPA Quaker historian? Cast is Judi Earley, Annie Pesch and David E. Brandt.

While the five professional theater people choose the winning play, the stalwart audience usually enjoys a buffet. Finally, there’s the big announcement, and FutureFest 2016 is history.

But not today.

Prior to the weekend of July 22-24, we will feature more about the playwrights and their work.

Please call 937-424-8477 for FutureFest weekend or individual tickets or visit daytonplayhouse.com.

Take a short drive to Indiana.

Richmond Shakespeare Festival presents “Comedy of Errors” and “King Lear” with one weekend left at 201 S. First St. in a newly renovated outdoor Starr-Gennett Pavilion, Whitewater Gorge Park, 47374. The festival features professional Equity actors.

Tickets and information at richmondshakes.org. For more information, please call 407-902-9658.   

The big reveal: 

At last. The sixth play on Dayton Playhouse’s 2016-17 season finally can be disclosed. And it is a stunner. There’s time to get ready for Ragtime. Production dates, almost a year from now: May 5-May 21, 2017. Part of the Playhouse’s permission contract required that all public announcements had to be delayed until June.

The story, based on the nearly epic 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, parallels three ethnically different families at the very turn of the 20th century. There are upper class WASPs, an African-American couple and an Eastern European Jewish immigrant family. Amazingly, their lives intersect, and that eventual inclusion is the essence of the defined strength of America.

The book is by Terrence McNally, whose works have been well represented this season in Dayton, including “Master Class” now at the Human Race. Ragtime’s lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens with music by Stephen Flaherty, who has incorporated ragtime, marches, gospel and cakewalk styles of music.

Mathew Smith will direct this complex show. He’s handled The Fantasticks at the Playhouse and other challenging theatrical responsibilities. The Playhouse seems to thrive on musicals. Also on its 2016-17 season are two other musicals. The program year will open in September with Camelot, and will also include Xanadu in January. They’ll also do a Neil Simon comedy, Proposals and The Women by Clare Boothe Luce.

This is the first production of Ragtime by any community theater in the region. It is a 13-time Tony nominated musical.

Please call 937-424-8477 or visit daytonplayhouse.com for season memberships, tickets and more information.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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