During the doldrums of the theater “off-season,” the annual On the Verge Festival brings a burst of late-summer artistic vitality to the time of year usually reserved for drunken cascarón fights. This is the company’s fourth year in town presenting new plays and fresh perspectives written, directed, produced, and performed by area up-and-coming theater professionals. On the Verge (OTV) is aptly named — its mission is to find hot-off-the-press, provocative plays that discuss the current social moment. This year’s selections include a reading of the play Athena by Gracie Gardner (directed by Kate Bergstrom), about the competitive friendship/rivalry between two fencing students, and a production of Trouble in Kind by Caridad Svich (directed by Josiah Davis), about a working-class community recovering after a horrific (and personal) trauma. The productions will take place at the Community Arts Workshop (CAW) on Garden Street.
The mainstage production, Trouble in Kind, is one of seven plays written by Svich in the last year. The series, titled American Psalm, explores the blue-collar American experience from a number of cultural viewpoints throughout the country. “That’s the seed of where these different plays are coming from,” said director Davis. “Caridad is pinpointing the emotional landscape of working-class Americans around the country and doing it in a way that is poetic and mythological.” Davis said Trouble in Kind, which takes place in the bayou, explores the aftermath of a hate crime, the ripple effect it has in the surrounding community, and how people heal and move forward. “Caridad’s play does a very good job of having a message that we don’t hear every day — a message of hope that breaks through the trauma we’re all feeling,” said Davis.
On the Verge’s artistic team opts to produce playwrights’ works that aren’t “color-blind” and that create space for a diverse group of performers to take on dignified roles that explore the world beyond white, middle-class, coastal folk. Company member and performer Terry Li described this artistic choice as “something that’s been a part of the OTV mission since day one. OTV creates the opportunity for this work by not just bringing in playwrights we want to hear from but by creating an opportunity for actors of color, like myself, to have a space to say what I want to say. I can’t find that anywhere else.”
After three successful years, this community-based theatrical festival keeps going strong. “It’s intrinsic to our mission to have a company that reflects and engages with the community,” said Artistic Director Kate Bergstrom. “This year’s company is full of students, actors, and makers of all ages from local schools, alumni traveling back, new professional actors, the awesome CAW team, and more.” Bergstrom added that this year’s festival is smaller and more focused than years past, with only two works. “We aren’t adding any frills this year and looking forward to the unique season — we think the work will be extraordinary.”
Bergstrom, who graduated from Brown University and Trinity Repertory Company with an MFA in directing, looks forward to continuing the On the Verge Festival in Santa Barbara, her hometown, in the future. The team has already begun considering the details of their next season. “OTV is [my] home base,” she said. “We look forward to building it stronger and more glorious than ever before once I’ve had a year out of graduate school to prepare.”
On the Verge Festival runs August 2-12 at the Community Arts Workshop (631 Garden St.). Readings of Athena will be performed Thursdays, August 2 and 9; Trouble in Kind will play Friday-Sunday, August 3-5 and 10-12. All shows are at 8 p.m. See onthevergefest.org.