JAW (formerly known as Just Add Water/West, now officially going by the punchier acronym) is a nationally known festival that occurs every year in our fair city, thanks to the folks at Portland Center Stage. The festival works like this: Playwrights from across the country submit their scripts, and four are chosen to receive the full JAW treatment. Ten days of intensive workshopping with other playwrights, actors, and directors give the playwrights a chance to revise and develop their work, with the help of their peers. The workshops culminate in a staged presentation of each of the four scripts, which this year include a satirical look at Wal-Mart culture and a retelling of the life of Marie Antoinette.
A number of scripts that premiered at JAW in past years have gone on to production at local theater companies, including Ebbe Roe Smith's excellent Number Three, which ran earlier this year at Third Rail Repertory Theatre, and Act a Lady and The Thugs, both of which ran at Portland Center Stage.
This year marks the festival's first at the Gerding Theater, and the week is packed with events, including premieres from local playwrights Nick Zagone, Matthew Zrebski, and Cynthia Whitcomb. Additionally, JAW offers four young playwrights the chance to see their work performed before the Main Stage presentations—Cleveland High, an apparent hotbed of up-and-coming playwriting talent, dominates this year's crop of high schoolers.
On Friday, July 20, members of the Portland theater community (including Many Hats Collaboration, the Miracle Theatre Group, and defunkt theatre) will offer their contribution to the "largest theater collaboration in US history," Susan-Lori Parks' 365 Days/365 Plays, a cycle of plays, written one per day for a year by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, that is currently being performed in one-week increments at theaters across the country. Also, don't miss the Theater Fair on Saturday, July 21, which includes four site-specific works (from the likes of Liminal Performance Group and Fever Theater) hidden somewhere within the Armory.
And all of this ooey-gooey theatrical goodness is completely free, so wander into the air-conditioned Gerding Theater to catch a sneak peek at what are bound to be a handful of interesting, challenging scripts. While you're at it, show a little love to Portland's hardworking, often underappreciated theater community. They deserve it.