Tennessee Williams: Science Fiction and Fantasy
18th Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival
By: Festival - Jun 14, 2023
The 18th Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival announces its September program titled Tennessee Williams: Science Fiction and Fantasy. Over four days, in venues throughout the town, the Festival will share Williams’ lifelong fascination with science fiction and fantasy by presenting performances of plays, short stories and unfinished works by Williams. 2023 will feature the return of the Festival’s popular “Hotel Plays” where audiences, moving from one hotel room to the next, are treated to several short works by Williams.
The 2023 Festival will be produced and performed by artists from South Africa, Cyprus, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Champaign-Urbana, Minneapolis, New York, New Orleans, and Cape Cod. The Festival’s roster of live performances will be complimented during Festival week by parties and educational programming to celebrate the enduring inspiration of America’s great playwright.
Curator David Kaplan explains. “From his teenage years to the months before he died, writing science fiction and fantasy freed Williams to boldly explore his fears and hopes for the future. Spaceships and kindly space men! Killer Queens and Vampires! Who knew? Happy to share!” Kaplan’s catalog essay on Williams’ life-long interest in science fiction and fantasy can be found here.
The Festival will be held September 21-24, 2023 in several locations in Provincetown. 2023 Festival Passes are now available for sale online at twptown.org and by phone at 866.789.TENN. The Carte Blanche Pass provides an all-access VIP experience, while the Flex Pass affords a more flexible menu across the full range of shows. The popular Festival Day Pass allows audience members to hop on a ferry from Boston in the morning, spend the day at the Festival, and return home the same night. Tickets for individual shows are also available now.
Here are more details on this year’s performances:
- Stairs to the Roof – A full-length Science Fiction Fantasy play by Tennessee Williams. The “Stairs” of the title lead to the roof of an office building in downtown St. Louis. A bearded man in a starry robe appears on that roof in a puff of smoke and—with a wave of a wand—dispatches an inventory clerk to colonize a new planet. The Festival’s production with music and dance is performed by an ensemble from the Republic of Cyprus, directed by Marios Mettis, who brought joy to the 2022 Festival with The Magic Tower.
- A Recluse & His Guest - A mysterious woman wrapped in leather, a foreigner in all countries —who knows the language of birds, hounds, and swine—seeks refuge with the town outcast who she bathes, feeds, and perhaps, comes to love. Staged with actors, marionettes, and shadow puppets by the Mudlark Theater of New Orleans in association with Night Shade Shadow Theater, under the direction of Pandora Gastelum, who moved audiences to tears with The Peaceable Kingdom at the 2022 Festival.
- Killer Queens: The Vengeance of Nitocris & The Pronoun ‘I’ - Adapted for the stage from Tennessee Williams’ first published work (“The Vengeance of Nitocris,” 1928), in Ancient Egypt a sister avenges the death of her brother, the Pharaoh. Nitocris plays on a double bill with Mad Queen May in Williams’ bawdy fantasy one-act, The Pronoun ‘I’, published in 2008. Shape-shifting May renounces her newest pretty boy lover, an enormously vain poet. Just what Provincetown needed: two more killer queens! The ensemble is a mix of artists from Cape Town, South Africa and Cape Cod locals.
- Sci-Fi Hotel Plays - A Sci-Fi Fantasy of texts by Tennessee Williams performed in hotel rooms. Welcome to the eerie boardinghouse of Williams’ The Strange Play. The boarders include a time-travelling sailor and a witch who collects tinfoil. The room where The Chalky White Substance performs is host to a young man in a desert after a nuclear war, waiting for his older "protector." In another room, the devotee of an unnamed Saint offers Chronicle of a Demise, an eye-witness account of an ascent to Heaven. Audiences move on separate tracks from room to room. The 2023 Hotel Plays are staged by Brenna Geffers and the Philadelphia-based Die-Cast ensemble.
- The Knightly Quest - A gay vampire escapes from an American police state in a getaway spaceship. A very unusual story by Tennessee Williams (or by anyone else) adapted for the stage by Cape Town, South Africa’s Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer, performed by Marcel Meyer.
- The Eye That Saw Death - A troubled patient with a transplanted eye takes on the tormented vision of a murderer (from whom the eye was removed after execution). As a teenager in the late 1920’s, Tennessee Williams wrote this ghoulish tale in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe, probably hoping to sell the story to a pulp magazine. It wasn’t published until 2015. The Festival’s unsettling adaptation is the brainchild of Jennifer Restak and Alex Zavistovich, Artistic Director of the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre of Baltimore.
- The Men from the Polar Star - In an intergalactic bar, the gossipy tale unfolds of a New Orleans widow who discovered time-travelling Captain Christopher D. Cosmos asleep in her bed. Then the crew of the Polar Star arrived. Under the title “The Men from the Polar Star (or the Metamorphosis of Mrs. Holly)” director Thomas Mitchell has compiled a performance text made up of what he’s found: erotic science fiction, some of Williams’ most rhapsodic writing.
- A Tennessee Williams Science Fiction and Fantasy Anthology - Die-Cast ensemble from Philadelphia with the help of Festival artists will present an onstage adaptation of a WEIRD TALES anthology, curated and directed by Brenna Geffers, putting Tennessee Williams Sci-Fi Fantasy into context. A highlight of the Festival’s Weird Anthology is an adaptation with music and dance of a poem by British poet, Paul Ibell, “Taking Tennessee to the Coast” in which a group of Williams admirers follow up on Williams’ instructions for what he wanted done with his body after he died.
The iconography for the 2023 Festival is based on covers and inside illustrations from vintage Sci-Fi Fantasy magazines. You can learn more here.
The programming of the Tennessee Williams Institute (TWI), including scholars, and graduate level seminars, was announced earlier in the year. We are pleased to announce the addition of three more Williams’ scholars to this year’s Institute:
- Thomas Keith has edited over twenty Williams titles since 2001, most recently as Consulting Editor for New Directions Publishing, and is responsible for bringing out much of Williams’ late work. He also is the scholarly editor of Now the Cats with Jeweled Claws, an anthology of plays by Williams that includes two previously unpublished texts performed at the 2023 Festival: The Strange Playand A Recluse and his Guest. Keith currently teaches at Pace University in New York City and has served as the Festival’s dramaturg since its first year.
- Margit Longbrake, senior editor at The Historic New Orleans Collection, acquires and edits books and museum publications and since 2016 has served as managing editor of the Tennessee Williams Annual Review, where she has overseen the editing and first-time publication of a number of primary Williams texts unearthed from the archives.
- Jennifer Restak is the educational director of the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre of Baltimore, Maryland. A scholar/practitioner, she will be discussing the lineage of American Sci-Fi Fantasy and her adaptation of Williams’ Poe-inspired “The Eye That Saw Death,” which will be performed at the Festival this season.
They will join Lisa Yaszek (Regents’ Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech), Gregory Carr (Assistant Professor of Theatre at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO), and Tom Mitchell (emeritus professor of Theatre at the University of Illinois) whose adaptation of Williams’ unfinished, unpublished, “The Men from the Polar Star (or The Metamorphosis of the Mrs. Holly)” will be staged at the 2023 Festival. TWI sessions are moderated by Carrie Chapter, Adjunct instructor at Temple University and freelance dramaturg. More information about the Institute can be found here.
For more information on this year’s Festival, visit twptown.org. You can also follow the Festival on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
About the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival
The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival was founded in 2006 in Provincetown—the birthplace of modern American theater—where Williams worked on many of his major plays during the 1940s. The Festival is the nation’s largest performing arts festival dedicated to celebrating and expanding an understanding of the full breadth of the work of America’s great playwright. Theater artists and patrons from around the United States and from dozens of countries have come together to produce and enjoy classic and innovative shows that celebrate Williams’ enduring influence in the 21st century, hosted by venues throughout the seaside village.