PencilPoint TheatreWorks' Ypsi THRIVE highlights new one-act plays



Four of Ypsi THRIVE's seven plays are by women, as are five of the directors, and the majority of the roles are for females.

Brian Cox returned to creating theater about five years ago when he began writing his first full-length play, [|Clutter], based on one of his short stories. Since then, he has written multiple one-act plays, directed, produced, and devised many more shows and storytelling nights, and started his own theater company, [|PencilPoint Theatreworks] in Ypsilanti. He’s an accomplished director, producer, and artistic director, and earlier this year Cox won Encore Theatre's [|Wilde Award] for Best New Script with Clutter.

After offhandedly mentioning this during the interview, Cox pauses, glancing down and blushing slightly. “But I don’t act. No acting.”

So what is Cox’s newest project? On Sept. 28 he’s opening [|Ypsi THRIVE], a three-day, new-play festival at Riverside Arts Center that features seven short plays.

The festival borrows its name from a famous Maya Angelou quote: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

And in this case, the reference elegantly fits.

“I hope that audiences are provoked and that the experience is similar to a beer flight,” says Cox. “I want them to say, ‘I liked this one.’ And it’s OK with me if they taste one and say, ‘Oh, that’s not for my palette. It’s too bitter, or too sweet.’”

The festival is also dedicated to highlighting marginalized voices.

“One of our missions is to try to provide opportunities for women playwrights and women directors,” Cox explains. “So four of the plays we selected are by women, and five of the directors are women. The majority of the roles are also for women.”

In keeping with his beer flight analogy of building a show around seven very diverse plays, Cox says about the directors, “one has been directing in Ann Arbor for 50 years. Another, this is her directorial debut. Another, she’s been directing 15 years out of Detroit. So we have a range of directing experience and I think that’s terrific.”

As for how Cox hopes to grow the THRIVE festival in the future?

“I envision it as being an event, something in Ypsilanti that brings people in. I want it to be more in and of the city ... the idea is that it will be a showcase for Ypsi," he says. "For its businesses, its restaurants, its bars and pubs, and the quirky little shops.”

This fits in well with the overarching mission of [|PencilPoint Theatreworks], which focuses on building community along with creating more opportunities for women.

Cox says that PencilPoint Theatreworks often produces storytelling events called Snapshots: Stories of Life. The events are similar to Moth story hours, but in this case, all of the storytellers relate their tales to photographs that are projected behind them.

“I’m always looking for people who have interesting stories to tell. They’re not performers, necessarily, they’re not professional storytellers, necessarily, they can just be regular folk," he says. "And we put them through three workshops where I work with them to help develop and shape the story -- some people have a story, but they don’t know how best to put it together, how best to present it. ... I find it very exhilarating to help people tell their stories.”

Cox hopes that the next time he produces the THRIVE festival, all of the plays will be selected from Michigan playwrights. Like with Snapshots, this local focus should give him more of an opportunity to work with the playwrights to hone the stories that they’re trying to tell. Plus, says Cox, “I think there’s a natural excitement that comes from local area artists presenting their stuff. There is a community aspect in theater in particular that I get great pleasure from.”

As for what will be next for Brian Cox, the producer/director/playwright?

“I want to work on a devised piece for the spring tentatively called Fight Like a Girl. The mission will be to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and it will primarily be about the spirit of combat, of fighting, of women fighting for things. For their rights, for their health, for their relationships. I consider it to be devised -- it’s going to a cinematic and theatric experience because I intend to incorporate film. I think of it more as a performance piece. The story falls from the screen to the stage and then back to the screen. I want it to be something that is immersive. I want to try to make something that’s immersive. I love it when you go a theater and you don’t feel like you’re watching something, you feel like you’ve been absorbed into something.”

Ypsi THRIVE 2017 plays, directors, and casts:

The Creative Process by Dana Clark-Brock
Director: Megan Wright
Cast: Ethan Kankula, Katy Kujala Cronin, and Alexander Henderson Trice

The Law Makers by Danielle Wirsansky
Director: Michelle Weiss
Cast: Beth Duey and Allyson Miko

Alban's Garden by Rich Espey
Director: Lili Bishop
Cast: Vicki Morgan and Krystle Dellihue

MIsfortune by Mark Harvey Levine
Director: David Galido
Cast: Trevor Maher, Annie Dilworth, and Kelly Rose Voigt

Somewhere Between Lost and Found by Colby Halloran
Director: Susan Morris
Cast: Colby Halloran, and Jimmy Dee Arnold

940 Feathers by Tiim Brennan
Director: Peter Knox
Cast: Susan Morris, and Krystle Dellihue

End Scene by Megan Blaschak
Directed by Kelly Rose Voigt
Cast: David Galido, Annie Dilworth, Trevor Maher, Vicki Morgan, and Allyson Miko

Toby Tieger has directed, acted in, and written plays over the last 10 years, and sees theater as often as he can. He is a building supervisor with the Ann Arbor District Library.

The Ypsi THRIVE festival happens Sept. 28-30 at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., Ypsilanti. Tickets $12; reserve via email: Visit the [|Facebook event page] for more details.