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Bellingham TheatreWorks’ New Play Cafe reading series boosts the work of local artists live on stage

Six local playwrights will read their plays for a live audience and welcome conversation for feedback

A graphic advertising Bellingham TheatreWorks’ New Play Cafe reading series at the New Prospect Theatre this March in Bellingham, Wash. At 7:30 p.m. on March 3, Sean Walbeck’s “Making Burgers His Way” will be the first of six plays told during the series, with all works produced by Pacific Northwest playwrights. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham TheatreWorks

After several years of sifting through 75 submitted works of talented playwrights with the help of reader assistants, co-owner of Bellingham Theatre Works Steve Lyons narrowed the selection down to 12 plays. Co-owner Mark Kuntz then narrowed it even further to six different works. These plays would become the backbone of their upcoming New Play Cafe series. 

To hear an original story shared with an audience in its first stages and rawest form is a unique experience. That is what Bellingham TheatreWorks was thinking when they began planning this event several years ago. While plowing through the many well written plays sent their way, reader assistants were used to decide whether or not the play should be read by the owners. These six plays are “the cream of the crop” said Lyons, out of 75 plays these have been vetted to hit the stage. 

Bellingham TheatreWorks was built on the need for community spaces for local artists and continues to spotlight the works of the many talented creators in the area. With this play reading series, the audience not only has the opportunity to immerse into a new story but an opportunity to share their feelings and feedback, which are heard and taken into consideration by the author directly. 

The series will take place at the New Prospect Theatre March 3 to 5 and March 10 to 12 at 7:30 p.m. The shows on Sundays will be the shortest, as Sundays are for early bedtimes, said Lyons.

The showings are free to the public, but Bellingham TheaterWorks accepts donations to support more events like this.

“Part of my initial enthusiasm for Bellingham TheatreWorks was doing plays that are focused on local playwrights and local stories," Lyons said. "Part of that comes from the fact that I’m a playwright, and I know how hard it is to get any acknowledgment and response from theater companies.” 

The works for New Play Cafe were originally submitted through either the New Play Exchange's Pacific Northwest tag or directly to TheatreWorks.The New Play Exchange allows writers to publish their scripts on a website that makes them discoverable for targeted opportunities.The playwrights come from throughout the Pacific Northwest, including two from Bellingham, two from Seattle, one from Camano Island and one from Portland.

Playwright Sean Walbeck will kick off the series with “Making Burgers His Way” on March 3 at the New Prospect Theatre. This play was workshopped for over a decade before Walbeck submitted it to Bellingham TheatreWorks. 

Walbeck described his play as a tragic fantasy comedy where there is humor but also deep human failings.

“It is a story of young marriages and the damage they can afflict in a family that’s got abuse and monsters in it,” he said. 

Attending a reading event is both interactive and personal. Audiences listen to what could be the very first time a story is told to a group of people. Walbeck called it a distillation of the theatrical experience, one where sets and costumes aren't needed. 

“[It’ll] pull on your heartstrings, make you laugh. Those are the reasons to go see a theater – to have an emotional experience. And that’s what I’m all about in the theater,” Walbeck said. 

No two nights will provide the same experience. Audiences can expect each night to provide a vastly different and captivating experience. A small cast of actors will read the works of the playwrights with Staton as director. 

“With a reading, the actors are at music stands with the scripts in front of them. They’ve had one or two rehearsals and then they’re just using their amazing acting abilities to bring the play to life,” Lyons said. 

After each show, the audience will be welcomed to converse about the play and give feedback to the author. The audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the writing process behind the artist’s work and help to further develop the plays. 

“I’ve participated in some [play readings], and it’s vital,” said local director and playwright Les Campbell. “It’s great to have a private reading, but a stage reading with an audience there really adds another dimension. It helps guide a playwright to where they take their work.” 

For many playwrights, it is extremely difficult to find performance spaces and even more challenging to get their work published. Campbell said that supporting local work like this can help plays get recognized by publishing companies through furthering the outreach of their work. Campbell said feedback is essential to shape a play into its final draft. 

“The folks at Bellingham TheatreWorks, they’re really committed to expanding opportunities, exposing new work and bringing you some theater experiences to our area that maybe aren’t available through other avenues,” Campbell said.

Jase Picanso

Jase Picanso (he/him) is a city life reporter for The Front. He is a third-year student majoring in Public Relations. His work focuses on local events, organizations, resources and community perspective and experiences on current world topics.

You can contact him at

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