ArtFarm play festival

The cast of "Witness Uganda" rehearse for their performances this weekend. — File photo by Ashley Melone

Contrary to polished and rehearsed performances that many people go to the theater for, the upcoming theatre festival, New Writers, New Plays, gives the audience power to shape the works that they will see this Thursday through Saturday.

“New Writers, New Plays will open up the rehearsal process of a play,” said founder and executive producer of Vineyard Arts Project Ashley Melone. “Because the works aren’t finished yet, the artists will make changes based on the feedback they receive from the audience. The plays will be different each day.”

Vineyard Arts Project, whose mission is to help the creation of new work, has existed on Martha’s Vineyard since 2007. “This year, we wanted to expand our theatre component,” said Ms. Melone, who collaborated with Brooke Hardman, artistic director of the sustainable agriculture movement-inspired ArtFarm Enterprises (2009), to produce the festival. “Once our two organizations joined together for the festival, we read scripts and chose a comedy, a drama, and a musical, so we’re covering all of our bases,” said Ms. Melone.

“Each piece is very different, yet equally complementary to the others,” said Ms. Hardman.

The festival features staged readings from the original scripts of both comedy, “Big Babies” and drama, “Disgraced,” as well as excerpts from the musical “Witness Uganda.”

“For me, it’s about being a creator/artist,” said writer of “Big Babies” Matthew Wilkas. “Big Babies,” directed by Martha Banta, is about an altruistic, yet attention-loving woman who becomes addicted to being a surrogate mother and is rendered lonely at the end of each pregnancy. “It describes the desire to give life meaning and purpose, and how that can involve a lot of sacrifice.”

“Disgraced,” written by Ayad Akhtar and directed by Will Frears, tells the story of a Muslim American lawyer who loses his job to a friend. “The purpose of this play is to give voice to a U.S. experience that is too narrowly represented,” said Mr. Akhtar. The play discusses both Muslim identity in America and the complexity behind the current political chaos.

“Witness Uganda,” written and conceived by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews, is based on Mr. Matthews’ experience teaching at a school in Uganda and Mr. Gould’s work in the Peace Corps in Africa. The musical follows the story of Mr. Matthews’ nonprofit work, and features performed interviews with staff and students from Uganda, as well as actual voice-overs from the interviews. “We wanted to ask the question, ‘Is changing the world really possible?'” said Mr. Matthews.

The festival consists of performances of each play at either 1, 4, or 7 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Vineyard Arts Project building at 215 Upper Main Street in Edgartown. Receptions will be held between each performance with live entertainment provided by Carnegie Mellon University students through the PigPen Theatre Co. Food and drinks will be provided by Morning Glory Farm, Espresso Love, The Pointway Inn, and Bear Flag Wine.

New Writers, New Plays is a pay-what-you-can event. “We wanted the festival to be accessible to everyone who wants to come,” said Ms. Hardman. “We prefer for people to RSVP, but we won’t turn anyone away.” Ticket reservations are available on,, and

Naomi Pallas of Vineyard Haven, a junior at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, is a summer intern at The Times.