For the past four months, nine local knitters have been busily making the props for the Greater Boston Stage Company’s world premiere production of “Alligator Alley.” Rather than sweaters or scarves, the knitters have been creatively covering a wide assortment of hardware store items, including paint cans, a snow shovel, a hammer, and a broom.
The effect, known as “yarn-bombing,” is just one of the many surprising details playwright Callie Kimball has woven into her dark comedy about family, debts, and freedom. While various characters comment on the knitted items, the decorated tools — more than two dozen of them — help create the slightly skewed but homey atmosphere.
“I like to set my plays in a particular place,” says Kimball before a recent rehearsal. “This is set in Central Florida, not either one of the coasts, and has its own specific socio-economic culture.”
The world she created appealed to Weylin Symes, producing artistic director at Greater Boston Stage (formerly Stoneham Theatre), when he was looking for scripts to launch the company’s Don Fulton New Play Project.
“I liked the way Callie combines the whimsy of knitting with some very serious issues,” says Symes. “All the characters are flawed, and a little desperate, and that’s where the comedy comes in.”
The play opens with Kathy, a recently widowed hardware store owner and knitter, sitting quietly in her store. There are no customers, explaining why she’s had time to knit patterns around the items she’s selling. We soon learn that Kathy has decided to give away the store to a black woman she met in a homeless shelter as a form of “reparations,” and her college-age daughter is furious. What follows is a series of discoveries that escalate, revealing mistaken assumptions.
“The play explores some prickly issues, but I hope the comedy makes it accessible,” says Kimball.
Symes says his theater company has produced a half-dozen world premieres, but they can be artistically and financially risky. “I like the fact that [Symes] takes chances,” says Don Fulton, a longtime audience member and supporter of the Stoneham theater who made the donation to foster world premieres.
“I like all kinds of plays,” says Fulton, a retired electrical engineer who lives near the theater, “and when I do, I go back and see them more than once. I think I saw ‘Dames at Sea’ five times.”
When Fulton was diagnosed with a terminal illness two years ago, he made plans to donate to his favorite charities, designating a $1 million gift to the theater.
“We were thrilled by his generosity,” says Symes, “but we thought, wouldn’t it be nice for us to do something that he can enjoy?”
The Don Fulton New Play Project dedicates $100,000 to producing a world premiere each season.
“This funding gives us the flexibility to have a reading, a workshop, or an added week of rehearsal,” says Symes. “It’s an extraordinary gift that helps us nurture plays and voices. I love working on new plays, but Don has given us an incredible cushion. We’ll still take risks, but not worry so much.”
A decade of creative collaborations
Fort Point Theatre Channel’s production of “Ghost Sonata” marks the company’s 10th anniversary, an achievement that surprises even writer and director Mark S. Miller, who co-founded the company with composer Mark Warhol and serves as producer.
“We started the company by turning to the artists in the Fort Point community,” says Miller. “With members that include sculptors, filmmakers, musicians, and painters as well as directors and actors, we discovered we were doing more performances that were not necessarily theater.”
Over the years, FPTC has presented 110 different events, including a devised theatrical piece paired with a monumental sculpture in Provincetown; new music performed on instruments the musicians designed themselves; a collaboration with Boston String Quartet and Contrapose Dance for a production that animated an operatic episode; and the upcoming “Her Story Is,” a collaboration between women artists in Iraq and the United States that will culminate in a series of exhibitions in Boston next spring.
FPTC’s creative flexibility comes from the 23 co-artistic directors who come up with ideas and collaborate on productions, says Miller.
“The range of work we present reflects the interests of the group,” Miller says. “We’ve been going for a decade because there are always new ideas to pursue.”
“Ghost Sonata,” which runs at the Cambridge YMCA though Oct. 14, is a short play by August Strindberg that exposes the lies and guilt that bind a group of people together (tickets are available at www.fortpointtc.org). Christine Noah, who has been affiliated with FPTC for the past year, suggested the play last summer when the group hosted a reading, but says it felt more urgent after the presidential election.
“The world of Strindberg’s play is one in which falsehoods are everywhere,” says Noah, who is directing the play. “I thought those themes were very contemporary, and I wanted to create a link with our social media-obsessed culture.”
In her production, every actor will carry a cellphone or tablet outfitted with a light, and the backdrop to the stage will show projections of the characters’ profiles and posts on a variety of social media platforms. Even in rehearsal, the lights affixed to the phones cast an eerie glow on the faces of the characters as they distractedly check their screens while other characters speak to them.
Although FPTC produced in the Channel Center for two years, as well as the nearby Lucky’s Bar, it moves from space to space like many other local companies.
“Every space has its advantages, and each of our productions has its own identity, so our audiences often change from one production to another,” says Miller. “But we are now talking about forming our first formal board of directors to make decisions about looking for a permanent space and whether the organization should hire an executive director or producer.”
With conversations heating up around new theaters in the Seaport — one developer has proposed three venues totaling 750-800 seats — Miller says he is encouraged.
“Bringing theaters into the area is important,” he says, “and this developer seems to understand what is necessary for a successful theater space: office space, rehearsal space, storage and shop space as well as operating support. I’m confident there will be something there.”
Presented by the Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, Oct. 12-29. Tickets $40-$55, 781-279-2200, www.greaterbostonstage.org
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.