When Jeff Irvin submitted his script, “The Texas Book of Beasts,” to Arts Fort Worth’s Original Works Series, he had no idea that it would be selected for a full-stage production. The play has a cast of eight and about 30 scenes, each representing a separate fable in some fashion or another, making it an improbable choice for an organization to pick up and develop. However, a panel of theater professionals selected Irvin’s piece out of 15 readings from last year’s submissions, and the production is currently running at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre until March 26.
The play follows a proposed housing development as it makes its way through the cogs of city government, bouncing among the perspectives of a college student working to protect a habitat for endangered toads while simultaneously pursuing her crush, a developer making her pitch at public meetings, and city clerks who sift through the regulations and paperwork. Despite the dense subject matter, the play is anything but dry.
The script doesn’t have a single stage direction, but it does have several opportunities for audience participation, from sing-a-longs to encouragement to move and cheer. Irvin was unsure how the play would be brought to life, but he was pleased with the performance. He credits the cast and crew for taking his idea and running with it, choreographing their own dances as raindrops in one scene and minnows in another.
The Original Works Series was created in 2019 to engage more people in the arts community, especially those who don’t typically attend art events or consider themselves artists. The program allows anyone to submit a play, and this year, the organization received 88 entries, including pieces from New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. A subset of plays is selected for live reads with help from local theater groups, and then a panel decides which play should get a full staging with a cast and crew the following year.
Jason Leyva, the production manager at Arts Fort Worth, believes that the growth of submissions shows there is a demand for such programs. “It really tells me that there’s a lot of great stories out there and a lot of hungry people anxious to tell them,” he said. “The real challenge is how do you get it onto the stage? It’s one thing to write a show. It’s even more cumbersome to put it in front of people.”
Irvin, who has worked with other organizations in Austin to hold informal readings of his scripts and hone his craft, finds the staging of his first full-length play to be a new experience. He expressed his appreciation for Arts Fort Worth’s support in bringing his work to life. “For me, it’s been an incredible experience and way beyond anything that I would have hoped for with this particular work,” he said.
In conclusion, Jeff Irvin’s play, “The Texas Book of Beasts,” has become a must-see production at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre, thanks to the Original Works Series created by Arts Fort Worth. The organization’s innovative program allows anyone to submit a play, leading to the discovery of a lot of great stories waiting to be told. Irvin’s play is a testament to the importance of such programs in the arts community, and the positive impact they have on emerging playwrights.