Category Archives: New Ideas Festival

My first audition, and other notes: A newcomer learns about the New Ideas Festival as a writer and participant

by Suzanne Bowness

New Ideas Festival 2019.
Image design: Suzanne Courtney

This week I attended the first of three opening nights in the 2019 New Ideas Festival (NIF). In two weeks, it will be my opening night as a playwright of one of the festival plays, The Reading Circle. It is my first opening night because it’s my first play in production.  Quite a lot of firsts for me, thanks to NIF, so I thought I’d share a few more of them.

My first audition
I went to my first audition in January. There, at least one actress confessed that it was her first audition as well. The difference is that that brave girl was saying it from the stage. I’m not an actress. I fear the stage. For me, it was just my first time watching an audition, so more fascinating than terrifying.

Fortunately, my director, a title I now like to name drop even though my director has an actual name, Marley Kajan, is much more knowledgeable about these things. My director is an actress herself and willing to be peppered with questions, something that I am testing the limits of. Do performers always have a monologue prepared? (Yes. Marley herself has several!). What’s a side? (An audition piece from the play).  What’s a better side to prep? (One that shows your range or ability to handle dialogue? Debates on this one). Are all auditions this short, like just 5 to 10 minutes? (Many are even shorter!) What’s a callback?

Questions continued into the rehearsal process. Others were also a target for them. I was paired with a dramaturg, Catherine Frid, who provided some humbling yet helpful insight that prompted me to deepen my newly introduced minor characters (my play started out as a one-woman show). Sometimes I’m not asking questions so much as observing what’s going on (not a stretch for me as an introvert writer): at rehearsals I’m mostly on the sidelines watching as my director does her thing, steering actresses’ intonations in different directions, asking about their character intentions and adding elements that never even occurred to me. Musical cues? Sure, why not. Oh, and it hasn’t stopped being surreal to hear the words you’ve written read by real people whose voices sound better than the voices you had in your head.

 NIF turns 31

I may be a newcomer to this festival, but NIF itself is already 31 years old. To find out more about what I had (happily) gotten myself into, I turned to former festival coordinator Carolyn Zapf, who was until 2018 co-artistic director/producer (with Pat McCarthy) of the festival for eight years. She tells me that the founding producers of NIF were Molly Thom and Kerri MacDonald. The first festival took place in May 1988. The plan was to create “a laboratory to develop new talent and new theatrical ideas.”

“Since then, NIF has played and continues to play a role in playwright and script development, and has also provided opportunities for many Toronto directors, actors, stage managers, and technicians at an early stage in their careers,” says Zapf.  NIF is also a source for Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival, which helps move plays a step further in Alumnae’s development process.

NIF plays can also move along to other productions. A play from NIF 2016, Omission, by Alice Abracen, was programmed in Alumnae’s hundredth anniversary mainstage season last year. A play called Theory, by Norman Yeung, was part of this year’s Tarragon Theatre season. Theory was a workshopped reading in NIF 2010, went on to SummerWorks 2010, and was produced at Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival in its inaugural season in November 2013.  Theory won the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition in 2015.


Back in the audience

While I’ve got couple of nervous weeks to get through before my words debut, this week I got to make my debut as a festival audience member and enjoyed seeing the works of fellow playwrights, which I’d only heard to this point  as snippets in auditions. From the hilariously funny and physical Bazookas (a final highlight of auditions was watching a parade of grown women each announce with straight face that they were “here to audition for the part of Boob One”) to the thought-provoking question raised by The Last Date, to the “modern fairy tale” qualities of Outside Looking In to the very current issues raised in Body Parts, Week One offered a good variety of characters and emotions.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival continues to March 24 – a new lineup starts on Wed March 13; another on March 20.    Suzanne Bowness’ play, The Reading Circle, is part of Week Three (March 20-24). 

Tickets: $15/wk (4 short plays – all world premieres), plus a PWYC staged reading of one longer play  at noon on Sat March 16 (Waiting For Attila) and March 23 (Harbor).   Details/ticket purchase link at



Leave a comment

Filed under 2018/19 Season, New Ideas Festival

New Ideas Festival 2015 – CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Hey, writers!   Time to dust off that short script that’s never been produced, or get cracking on finishing the one you’ve got in the works. The deadline to submit to Alumnae Theatre’s 27th annual New Ideas Festival is September 5, 2014. The Festival runs from March 11-29, 2015. New Ideas is a juried, 3-week festival which focuses on script development, and offers playwrights dramaturgical support, free rehearsal space, publicity, and sold-out houses.

Playwrights are encouraged to participate in the whole production process, from choosing a director and cast to attending rehearsals and revising their work as it comes off the page.

Anyone from anywhere can submit a script, but must adhere to the instructions detailed below. No submission fee.


–           Scripts must be original works that have not been previously performed (outside of a   workshop).

–           Scripts are read “blind” – the writers’ names should not appear on script pages.

–           Any genre or style is acceptable.

–           Maximum running time 40 minutes.

–           Submissions longer than 40 minutes will only be considered for a one-time staged reading.

–           Completed scripts which are chosen for New Ideas will receive 6 performances.

–           Playwrights are not permitted to act in or direct their own script.

–           Deadline to submit:   September 5, 2014.



Scripts or proposals should be submitted electronically in PDF or Word format to

Please include a cover page with the script/proposal, providing the play title, a list and description of characters (including age), and a short play synopsis. Send a separate contact page with the play title, playwright’s name and contact information, and a short bio (75 words or less). NIF does not provide feedback on submissions or return scripts.

NIF will confirm receipt of submissions within two weeks, and scripts/proposals will be sent to the NIF reading committee. The 2015 festival lineup will be announced in early November, followed by cold reads of all chosen plays in early December.

Preference will be given to scripts that include challenging roles for women of all ages. NIF welcomes voices from diverse communities.

These instructions can be also be found on AUDITION NOTICES tab of our website

Leave a comment

Filed under New Ideas Festival

NIF play “It All Leads To The Lemon Scene” is finalist at New York Avant Garde Arts Festival!

A delightful* short play which premiered in Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival in March, It All Leads to the Lemon Scene, has been selected as one of four plays in the finals of the New York Avant Garde Arts Festival (organized by Variations Theatre Group and playing at the Hudson Guild Theatre, June 14-23)!  

The play has been performed three times so far (Round One, Wild Card Night, and Semi-Finals).  The competition for Round One is judged by both a jury and audience picks. As the Alumnae team was from out of town, they didn’t win the audience pick, but were chosen by the jury on “Wild Card Night” to advance to the Semi-Final round. And now  Finals are on Saturday night (June 23)!  The grand prize winner will come from the four audience/judge selections, and the winning play will receive a prize of $1000.

Big congratulations to playwright Pamela Winfrey (who’s from California, and submitted her play to New Ideas – a little festival in Canada – without really expecting anything to come of it!), director Lynn Zeelenberg, AD/SM Brett Haynes, and actors Sheila Russel and Stefannie Flannigan.

See for details on the New York Avant Garde Arts Festival.

* Full disclosure:  Lemon Scene was probably my favourite of all 15 plays in New Ideas this year.  And it got a lot of very positive feedback from other audience members too.

Fingers crossed for Lemon Scene  on Saturday!

Leave a comment

Filed under 2012/13 Season, New Ideas Festival, News

The courage of actors

David Suszek, who directed me in a New Ideas Festival play (Eve’s Prayer by Kelsey Blair) last year at Alumnae Theatre and also performs standup comedy, has a funny and insightful blog called On Being A Stagewhore.

A link on Facebook sent me to his latest post, titled “The Courage Of Actors”.   Check it out – definitely worth reading.  Actors will recognize themselves, and directors should take note!


1 Comment

Filed under New Ideas Festival

New Ideas Festival 2012 – Call For Submissions

It’s that time of year, folks.  As summer steams toward fall (I know, I know:  let’s not rush it),  the producers of New Ideas Festival 2012 are sending out the Call for Script Submissions.  Deadline is September 15, 2011.

Two big changes this year:

– a $10 reading fee (per script) will be charged for submissions received from playwrights who are not members of Alumnae Theatre Company.

– scripts may be submitted electronically (in Word or pdf format) to  Snail mail or hand delivery (3 copies) still acceptable, of course.

Other than that, the usual criteria still apply:  plays must run no longer than 45 minutes, and – most important – MUST NOT HAVE BEEN PREVIOUSLY PRODUCED.  The festival is called “New Ideas”, after all.  The whole point is that these shows will be world premieres.  Download the complete Call for Submissions document at .  Read it carefully!




Leave a comment

Filed under 2011/12 season, New Ideas Festival

New Ideas: week three reading

The reading this week, Moon and Murna (Act II) (by Betty Jane Wylie, dir. by Jeanette Dagger), began with an extremely amusing, informative & brisk recap of Act I (“Previously on Moon and Murna… and that’s what you missed on Moon and Murna.”), which ended with Murna braining Moon with a wine bottle, knocking him unconscious.

At the beginning of Act II, Moon is still unconscious and tied to a chair & when he comes to, Murna’s intentions become increasingly apparent as she proposes a game of Bingo, with Moon as the caller and her as the player – using various pharmaceuticals in place of chips, which she pops throughout. Murna doesn’t want to die alone – & Moon is her captive audience. She continues to challenge him as he attempts to convince her to untie him, but to no avail.

In the end, Moon’s chair topples over & while he lays there on his side, Murna collapses into her chair – unconscious? Dead? He manages to set off her personal alarm & yells for help as the lights go to black.

During the talkback that followed, we learned that Wylie was inspired by Douglas Coupland’s book Generation X; the large margins allowed for copious note-taking & the play is her rebuttal. This was Dagger’s first time directing a staged reading – & she chose to have the actors up on their feet (as opposed to a directed reading where the actors read from music stands). The number of props in the script prompted a decision to go props-free, as well as mime-free, with the read stage directions kept to a minimum. Casting was important for the older woman/younger man dynamic – & actors Brenda Somers & Conor Hefferon were exceptionally good. Aside from being a response to the Gen X cohort phenomenon, Wylie, an older woman herself, is also interested in the place of older women in the world – & in telling their stories.

Actors’ choices were also discussed, especially Somers’ decision on when Murna picks her candidate at the food bank & when she realizes that Moon is the right one for her purposes. As her plan unfolds, Murna challenges Moon continually, pushing him along a journey of testing boundaries & self-discovery.

This generational clash is thought-provoking, funny & touching – & I’d be very interested to see this play produced. Photo courtesy of Jeanette Dagger: Conor Hefferon and Brenda Somers.

After the talkback, I joined Ed Rosing & the GuineaPigging painting team on the main stage. We finished earlier than expected, so I was able to see Two Weeks in Normandy a second time. And I love it all over again.

And that, my friends, is a wrap for New Ideas 2011.

I’ll be continuing to help with painting on GuineaPigging (thanks to co-producers Tabitha Keast and PJ Hammond for the great snacks yesterday!) – and will be back soon with more fun and games on this last wacky show of the season.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Ideas Festival

New Ideas this Saturday – important TTC info

Hey again – this just in from Marketing/Promotions Director Tina McCulloch:

IMPORTANT TRANSIT NEWS: For those coming via TTC to the theatre on Saturday (March 26), please note that the Yonge/University/Spadina subway line will not be running in either direction between Bloor and Union this weekend. If you usually travel on the Yonge line to Alumnae Theatre, you’ll need to find a different route.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Ideas Festival