Whenever playwright Dominick DeGaetano has the chance, he sits right in the middle of any given theater.
Not only is it the best seat in the house for watching, it is the ideal spot for smelling—especially when a production is working.
“I can sniff out a good play. It’s gotta be the hormones people are emitting,” the 25-year-old said last week over coffee at Starbuck’s in Hampton Bays. “You’d be surprised, just by sitting in a large group of people, you can feel what’s going on. Everyone has that feeling, when you go see a show. You’re all experiencing it together.”
At the John Drew Theater Lab workshop at Guild Hall in East Hampton, it is usually for the first time.
On select Tuesday nights through May, the stage will showcase one-night readings by emerging performing artists with a local tie—Mr. DeGaetano among them, whose original play, “Turing Test,” will appear on March 11. Each piece is hand-selected by Artistic Director Josh Gladstone, who has approached the process with a realistic eye.
“It’s a lab. The work’s not always going to be polished,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “It’s not always going to be great. I recognize that not everyone is at the same place in their career. That would be a pretty weird and boring world if they were.”
In the weeks leading up to the performance, the select actors, directors and writers have full access to the theater, its rehearsal rooms and staff support, he explained, as well as a modest honorarium and travel stipend for out-of-town collaborators.
The workshop is booked through May and will resume in September, Mr. Gladstone said, with nine readings in the first round. He made room for three extra slots after receiving nearly 20 submissions—the majority of which he turned away.
He’s looking for talent. He’s looking for an East End connection. And, most importantly, he’s looking for passion.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s not like there’s no quality control. I’m going to exercise my right as artistic director to try to ascertain if there’s energy behind it,” he said. “And I’m going to mix it up, too. I don’t want it to be the same voices every week.”
On Tuesday, March 4, one of the voices—and faces—will be his own. Mr. Gladstone will star opposite his wife, Kate Mueth—an actor, performance artist and founder of the dance theater company Neo-Political Cowgirls—in a staged reading of “The Personal(s)” by Brian Sutow.
The playwright has no East End connection personally. His work will appear thanks to its director, Springs native Isaac Klein. The pair met at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts when Mr. Klein was a senior and Mr. Sutow was a freshman.
“We definitely made a connection and we stayed close,” Mr. Klein said last week during a telephone interview from his current abode in Vermont. “What I love about this play is that there’s different games being played and different levels of reality going on. I’ve been reading it and talking about it with Brian. He’s putting together a new draft, so this is the first time anyone will hear it.”
Inspired by “Blind Date” by Stanley Tucci—a remake of the original film by Theo Van Gogh, who was famously murdered in Amsterdam while making a movie about religious extremism—Mr. Sutow immediately started writing in 2012 after realizing the story was a play and not a film. The plotline follows the struggle of an estranged husband and wife, Don and Janna, who go on a series of blind dates with each other to try to save their marriage after surviving a tragedy. It was produced in Washington, D.C. last year.
“The material was extremely attractive to me because it explored very funny, good people who are struggling to navigate in a world without clear-cut antagonists,” Mr. Sutow explained last week in an email. “That’s a world that I live in.”
Mr. DeGaetano—a playwriting student at Stony Brook Southampton—has a hard time pinpointing the genesis of his new play, “Turing Test.” It revolves around poetry professor David McKenna, who lands a position at a large research university after agreeing to a strange request: to tutor a single student while under observation, as part of a top-secret experiment.
“I put it in a drawer for a year and a half. It wasn’t working,” he said. “Sometimes you need to put something aside and then you realize how to make it work. You need to become the person who can actually finish the thing—or become smart enough to finish it.”
The play is a complete story, he said. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. He will watch it from the heart of the John Drew Theater, he said—close enough to see the actors and far enough away to be the first one out the door.
“You want to smell what people are thinking, but you don’t actually listen to what they’re thinking,” he laughed. “At least not at first. It’s still a delicate thing. You don’t want to break it by listening to the wrong person.”
The John Drew Theater Lab will continue its workshops with a staged reading of “The Personal(s)” on Tuesday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Next up, “Turing Test” will be staged on Tuesday, March 11, at 7:30 p.m. Free admission to every performance. For a full schedule, visit guildhall.org/theater-2/john-drew-theater-lab.