If all goes as planned, theatergoers this month will attend performances of Gabrielle Fox’s three one-act plays (under the umbrella title “Fox Tales”) and learn about and support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Likewise, when people settle in to see Mark Jason Williams’ hourlong play “Recovery” — inspired, in part by his own successful battle with leukemia — they’ll learn about and support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Welcome to the Planet Connections Theater Festivity — yes, “festivity” — the second-annual effort to link theater and charity.
In an age when many non-profit theaters are getting by on dwindling charitable contributions, Planet Connections is working to build community around an idea that theater can bring heat and light to contemporary issues, raising awareness and funds.
Among the other causes supported by the festivity are The Actors Fund, Amnesty International and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
This year’s festivity includes 35 full productions and nine staged readings in three venues — Theatres at 45 Bleecker, The Robert Moss Theater, and The Gene Frankel Theatre — from June 3 through 29. “Fox Tales” and “Recovery” will both play the Frankel.
The festivity bills itself as “New York City’s premiere eco-friendly theatre festival, connecting artists and audiences with diverse dynamic charitable organizations.”
There’s a whole “green” aspect to the festivity: recycling bins are prominent, as are eco-friendly lightbulbs, recycled paper. The event boasts a “ticketless box-office” and “recycled costumes” from the Theater Development Fund’s vast collection.
<object id=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ classid=”clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000″ codebase=”http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=9,0,47,0″><param name=”movie” value=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/48345545001?isVid=1″ /><param name=”bgcolor” value=”#FFFFFF” /><param name=”flashVars” value=”omnitureAccountID=gpaper183,gntbcstglobal&pageContentCategory=Frontpage&pageContentSubcategory=FRONTPAGE&marketName=Westchester, Rockland, Putnam:LoHud&revSciSeg=&revSciZip=07675&revSciAge=1963&revSciGender=male&division=newspaper&SSTSCode=umbrella/front.htm&videoId=89530733001&playerID=48345545001&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true” /><param name=”base” value=”http://admin.brightcove.com” /><param name=”seamlesstabbing” value=”false” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”swLiveConnect” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /><embed src=”http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/48345545001?isVid=1″ bgcolor=”#FFFFFF” flashVars=”omnitureAccountID=gpaper183,gntbcstglobal&pageContentCategory=Frontpage&pageContentSubcategory=FRONTPAGE&marketName=Westchester, Rockland, Putnam:LoHud&revSciSeg=&revSciZip=07675&revSciAge=1963&revSciGender=male&division=newspaper&SSTSCode=umbrella/front.htm&videoId=89530733001&playerID=48345545001&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true” base=”http://admin.brightcove.com” name=”flashObj” width=”486″ height=”412″ seamlesstabbing=”false” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowFullScreen=”true” swLiveConnect=”true” allowScriptAccess=”always” pluginspage=”http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash”></embed></object>Fox, who lives in Mt. Kisco, says she chose BC/EFA because of her theatrical roots.
“My mother is an actress,” says the Yorktown native. “I remember her looking through the obituaries and finding the names of people she worked with who died of AIDS and she’d say ‘Nobody’s doing anything.’ But Broadway Cares did. They took care of the community.”
The three plays that make up “Fox Tales” are:
• “Winfluence,” about two office workers bucking for the same promotion, one with the seeming advantage of a New Age-y “friendinar”;
• “The Graveyard Shift,” about a drag queen who has lost his partner to AIDS and then meets a redneck with whom he finds common ground; and
• “Good Friday,” which is set in the biblical theme park, “Jesus Land” and involves a woman who Fox says “is on her last stop, with nowhere else to go.”
Fox says each of the plays — directed by her longtime Axial Theater playwriting mentor Tony Howarth — involves characters who make connections despite their solitude and isolation.
“Tony brings an incredible knowledge of theater, of what works and what doesn’t,”?Fox says. “I learn so much from watching him work with the actors. He has so much enthusiasm.”
Signing onto the festivity means mounting the production in New York, finding a director and actors to rehearse and make the trek to Manhattan for a schedule that is challenging at best: “Fox Tales” will be performed a half-dozen times between June 3 and 20, with performances starting at 9 p.m., noon, 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 1 p.m.
Fox drew on friends from Axial and other theaters to fill out each two-person cast: Jess Erick, Donna James, Margie Ferris, Stephen Medwid, Fidel Fonteboa and Fred Rueck.
“I really like the charity angle,” Fox says. “It just gives you that much more motivation to do a great job and get people to come so that they learn about the charity.”
Williams, of Yonkers, was diagnosed with pediatric leukemia when he was five and battled the disease for four years.
“It was a painful experience,” he says, “But worse was watching your family’s face while you’re going through it. But looking back, I’m not bitter because it helped me stay upbeat and confident in my adult life.”
It also started him on his path to writing; putting feelings down on paper proved a valuable outlet.
He studied dramatic writing at NYU’s Tisch School and began playwriting when he was a sophomore, under the guidance of Venable Herndon, who wrote the screenplay for the 1969 film, “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Williams told Herndon he wanted to write a play about people with leukemia, “not a sad play, a play about people trying to survive and even find love in the most challenging circumstances.”
“He took a moment and then told me that he had recently been diagnosed with leukemia,” Williams recalls. “That was the moment I decided I needed to write this play.”
Herndon died of acute leukemia on Dec. 8, 1999, having seen Williams’ first draft of “Recovery.”
“Recovery” opens June 17 for a five-performance run.
“It’s about a man and a woman being treated for leukemia who have a forced encounter and ultimately turn to each other for companionship and adventure,” Williams says. “They fall in love in what may very well be the last days of their lives.”
Their oncologist is treating them while dealing with a mentally-ill wife, and there’s a good-hearted nurse who’s out to save the world.
“It’s sort of an anti-Lifetime movie, the ones where a person gets cancer and then just sits there and dies for the last half-hour,” Williams says. “I love ‘Terms of Endearment’ as much as the next person, but the story I want to tell is about people who are trying to endure despite challenges.”
When the festivity staff asked Williams what charity he’d like to support, the choice was as obvious as it was “deeply personal.”
A one-act version of “Recovery” was part of a festival at Blueberry Pond Theater Ensemble last May, directed by Elena Zazanis, who now plays Kathleen, one of the lead characters. Jonathan Holtzman, who plays the other lead character, Michael, is another Blueberry Pond alum.
The directing duties are being handled by Alex Mallory.
“She came so prepared, with so many ideas and a great vision for staging it in a festival setting,” he says.
Make that a festivity setting.
What: Three one-act plays by Gabrielle Fox, directed by Tony Howarth
When: 9 p.m., June 3; 12 p.m., June 5; 3:30 p.m., June 6; 7:30 p.m., June 10; 8 p.m., June 14; 1 p.m. June 20.
Where: Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St., Manhattan.
What: An hourlong play, without intermission, Mark Jason Williams, directed by Alex Mallory
When: 7:30 p.m., June 17; 4 p.m., June 21; 9 p.m., June 23; 7 p.m., June 24; 5:30 p.m., June 26.
Where: Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St., Manhattan.