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Ignite! heats up 'Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976'

Ignite! heats up 'Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976'

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For the past few weeks, Rebecca Gilman has really been looking forward to the world premiere of “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976” at the Loretto-Hilton.

Of course, she has; she’s the playwright. Even a writer as widely produced as Gilman (“Spinning into Butter,” “Boy Gets Girl” and “The Glory of Living,” etc.) isn’t immune to that kind of thrill.

“In January, I had an opening night at the Goodman Theatre (in Chicago, where she lives), ‘Luna Gale.’” She sighed. “The high that night was zero. I bought a new sweater for it.

“It’s exciting, nerve-wracking — sometimes painful! You’ve worked so hard but on opening night, you have to realize that things are beyond your control.”

Seth Gordon was looking forward to the opening night as well. He is, after all, the director. But there’s more to it than that.

Gordon, the associate artistic director at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, created and leads its Ignite! New Play Festival. “Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976” is the first play to go all the way through Ignite, from inception to full production.

The Rep commissioned Gilman to write the play, which deals with the turmoil in a small Wisconsin community after a major manufacturer buys the company that employed nearly everyone in town.

The play got on its feet last year at Ignite, a series of staged readings of promising work. Now its premier production is the flagship of the third festival; the readings take place this month.

“I’m very grateful that the festival has taken shape as quickly as it has,” said Gordon. “A lot of people are coming to this production because they heard it at the reading a year ago. They’re like proud parents at a graduation.”

Gilman thinks it’s hard to overestimate the importance of efforts like Ignite!

Holding readings that are open to the public “allows a theater to generate interest in new plays,” she said, instead of sticking to a reliable diet of well-known titles studded with prestige classics.

The value to writers is even greater, she said, “because it gives you an audience. You get to see how it plays.

“Last spring, the festival was great — and the play got a really nice response. I tried to pay attention to everything. Are people laughing in the right places? Are they reacting to the characters?

“It reminded me of why I took to playwriting in the first place. I did write poetry and prose, but in playwriting, at some point you have to go into a room with a whole lot of other people and collaborate. I like that, being in the room. The festival is another room to be in.”


‘Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976’

When Through March 30

Where • Emerson Studio Theatre, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road

How much • $49-$63

More info • 314-968-4925; repstl.org

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Judith Newmark is the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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