Reluctant stand-up, Playwrights Festival returns, auditions open for fall play

Mark Normand

Stand-up didn’t come naturally to comedian Mark Normand, born and raised in New Orleans.

After college, Normand headed for New York City, where he was dumped into the grueling and competitive circuit of stand-up in a city that breaks most aspiring acts. Awkward and stiff with discomfort, he worked six spots a night throughout the week, gradually numbing his nerves and learning to read a room. But Norman admits stage fright still challenges him, even now, after an eight-year career with spots on Conan, a semi-finalist appearance on “Last Comic Standing,” numerous accolades and tours with Amy Schumer. He still works several spots a night when not touring, worried that if he takes a break, his fear will grow too strong and stand-up will beat him.

Like most great observational comics, Normand writes material on his daily life, finding relevancy most often with young audiences from his troubles working low-wage jobs with a college degree and eking through the month with little more than a handful of dollar bills. He also found a rhythm talking about single life and relationships and navigating risky topics like race, religion, sexuality and gender in ways that get uncomfortably close to the line before finding our commonalities and landing the clever humor there.

Mark Normand is currently on tour in support of his debut stand-up album, “Still Got It!” He will perform at 10 p.m. Friday at Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. Tickets are $15 at the door or online at www.etix.com. Go to www.theatre99.com or call 853-6687 for information.

Driven by a vision to create a contemporary theater company for the “discerning Charleston audience,” Kyle Barnette and Brian Porter founded What If? Productions nearly five years ago, drawing from many genres and producing material that challenges traditional theater norms.

Barnette and Porter, both actors and directors, worked with Charleston Stage and regional companies for the last several years before they created a professional company of their own to gain more control over content and production.

What If? introduced itself in 2010 with its debut production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which featured Porter in the role of Hedwig. From there the company has been on a hot streak, hosting plays, workshops, competitions and auditions throughout the year, while Porter and Barnette still find time to direct and act with Charleston Stage.

From the beginning, What If? has held an annual theater festival to help emerging talent develop scripts, produce shows and receive acting and writing advice. Playwrights from around the Southeast submit scripts to be judged by a panel. Three finalists earn a reading of their scripts before festival attendees, who will vote for a winner. The winning script will receive a full production to headline the following year’s festival.

The festival’s Play Fest Day will be held Saturday and features a full afternoon and evening of workshops, performances and readings from “The Poetry of Craigslist” by local actors and comedians. Day passes to all events are available for $30 (includes box lunch from Normandy Farms), or attendees can pay per event.

This year’s headlining play, “How to Field Dress an Android,” is the sci-fi/futurist tale of a young man’s moral and physical struggles to save his dying wife, complicated by a world in which humans are forced to hunt androids for parts and survival. The production is based on Irene Pynn’s winning script from last year’s playwrights competition and is directed by Darryl Laplante, with Barnette serving as artistic director.

The play will open Thursday with performances on Friday and Sunday and the following weekend. Friday and Saturday’s shows are set for a 7:30 p.m. curtain; Sunday’s is 5 p.m.. Tickets are $20, $15 with student ID, and can be purchased at the Threshold Repertory Theatre box office, 84 ½ Society St., or online at www.brownpapertickets.com. Go to www.whatifproductions.org or call 225-0119 for more information.

Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, Inc. will hold auditions for its upcoming production of Lydia R. Diamond’s Broadway hit “Stick Fly” this week.

Under the guidance of founding artistic director Arthur L. Gilliard, AFTC produces roughly four plays a year and focuses primarily on material from respected playwrights examining the African-American experience. The company also conducts annual workshops on theater techniques and offers acting classes designed for community members from beginners to advanced.

“Stick Fly” tells the story of the LeVays, an affluent African American family whose sons, Kent and Flip, arrive at the family home in Martha’s Vineyard to introduce their girlfriends, Kimber and Taylor, to their father, Joe, and Cheryl, the teenage daughter of the family’s longtime housekeeper. Tensions rise as Taylor, an academic whose absent father, a well-known novelist, left lasting conflicts, grapples with the family’s wealthy lifestyle and confers with Kimber, a self-described WASP, on her position as an inner-city schoolteacher. The play confronts issues on race, class, privilege and family and is looking for three males and two females ahead of its fall debut at the Dock Street Theatre as part of the MOJA Arts Festival.

Auditions will be held at the AFTC rehearsal space, 2023 Reynolds Ave., in North Charleston 6 p.m. Tuesday and noon July 18. Auditioners are asked to bring a head shot, resume and a prepared monologue. Call 843-329-9978 to reserve an audition time. For more information on Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, visit www.aftcinc.com.