Lara Toner Haddock
This month, Austin Playhouse is producing the world premiere of Nightbird by R. Eric Thomas. We love new works and have produced many regional premieres over the years, often being the second or third theatre to produce a play. But our world premieres have primarily come from local playwrights like Cyndi Williams (Roaring, Dug Up), Lowell Bartholomee (Previews of Departing Attractions), Katherine Catmull (Summer and Bird) and Lisa B. Thompson (Monroe). So how did we end up being the first theatre in the country to produce R. Eric Thomas' Nightbird?
Nightbird was originally commissioned in 2017 by InterAct Theatre Company with funding from the National New Play Network. But after years of development and a pandemic, it hadn't been produced.
In 2021 I had just sent my girls back to school - pre-k and 1st grade. Someone shared this parenting post by Jen Hatmaker about giving our littles a lot of grace during the first week back. I shared the post, and then, because I was probably also overwhelmed by the first week of school and likely avoiding something else I was supposed to be doing, I started reading other posts on Jen's site. In one of the first, she mentioned that her favorite newsletter was by R. Eric Thomas. Link right here.
I jumped over to Eric's website and was surprised to discover in addition to being a bestselling author, blogger, host of NPR's The Moth Radio Hour, and Elle columnist, he was a playwright. One of his plays had just opened in Philly and it sounded fantastic. Smart, funny, topical, exactly the kind of new work we're always hoping to find.
A few years ago, the National New Play Network, started the New Play Exchange. It's an incredible resource for producers to access unpublished plays. I went to NPX and found several of Eric's unpublished plays available for perusal. Nightbird caught my attention and two hours later I had read it straight through. But in September 2021 we were back in a Covid upswing, without a space, and without any clear idea when we'd be back to live performances.
Five months later we started talking with University Baptist Church about using their education building as an interim facility. While those plans were being finalized, our Associate Artistic Directors, Ben Wolfe and Sarah Fleming Walker, and I jumped into reading scripts and discussing plans for our first full season since the pandemic started. One of the plays I shared with them was Nightbird. When we all got together for our first season planning meeting, it was the one play we all absolutely loved.
While Nightbird's path to our stage was untraditional, I'm so grateful that Eric trusted Austin Playhouse with the premiere of his play. It's ambitious and challenging in the best ways and it's been incredibly gratifying to watch our team, led by director Marcus McQuirter, bring these characters and this story to the stage. Thank you to everyone who has made plans to come out to support this new work. I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!