Schoch and Frangos attend Rosies in Tampa, FL

Flashback Theater Co.’s New Play Development Program is developing new plays for our local stage with a proven track record for success. The Lake Cumberland region has drawn in visitors from all over the nation for years due to our beautiful landscape, and in recent years, has even become a developing hub for new television and film projects. Flashback’s New Plays are similarly developed here, but are reaching beyond to spread back out across the country; bringing the stories of Kentucky, by Kentucky, to the broader world.

Over the years, Flashback has worked with several local playwrights to develop a new canon for our region: full length plays, short plays, and musicals that reflect both the culture of our region and the broad world around us. Amber Frangos’ play Rosies: The Women Who Riveted The Nation had its world premiere at Flashback in 2018, and recently had a second production produced by the Carrollwood Players Inc in Tampa, FL to a completely sold out run! Winchester-based playwright Bill McCann Jr,’s play, Boats Against The Current, which premiered at Flashback in the spring of 2019 after a workshop in 2018, will have a second production in Berea, KY at the Spotlight Playhouse in March. Flashback’s new work development program is integral to their mission to create theater that speaks to the soul, and it seems that with support from the company, these works are taking on new life of their own.

What is New Play Development?

Actors at a New Work workshop in 2018

The theater is a collaborative art form, and when a playwright writes a new play, they often don’t work on it alone. Regional theaters across the country have initiatives to help writers develop new plays and musicals for audiences to enjoy. In development, playwrights work with a dramaturg as well as a team of actors to hear the play out loud, tweak dialogue, make discoveries, and fine tune the play to fulfill their vision. Sometimes this process leads to a fully-staged production, sometimes it means a play might be rewritten from the ground up. Regardless, it gives playwrights the opportunity to progress their work with collaboration from other artists. Many major Broadway hits began as new work in-development at regional theaters like Flashback.

At Flashback Theater, there is a specific call to develop new work that centers Kentucky artists and culture. Producing Artistic Director Sommer Schoch founded Flashback Theater in part because while working in regional new work powerhouses like Arena Stage in Washington, DC, she discovered that of all the perspectives being celebrated in the American theater canon, there wasn’t a lot of work that reflected her experience of life in rural Kentucky. In starting a theater company in her hometown of Somerset, she hoped to start a dialogue on who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. From the beginning, this necessitated a New Work Development program, where local playwrights and storytellers would have the opportunity to see their work fully realized by like-minded artists in the community.

Rosies: The Women Who Riveted The Nation

Rosies at Flashback in 2018

Enter Amber Frangos, one of the first actors to appear in a Flashback production, who had a strong background in writing. In a brainstorming session about planning for the future of Flashback, Schoch’s step-mother, Carol Huckelby, brought up the idea of producing a play about local legend and icon Rose Will-Monroe. Monroe was a Pulaski county native who played Rosie the Riveter in a WWll promotional film, and became an icon for her reputation as the “real” Rosie. Frangos fell in love with the idea, and it wasn’t long before a rough draft was written.

Frangos recalls bringing her first draft to Sommer unsure of what the next steps would entail: “The times that I have had collaboration its been like “well you need to do it this way, or you need to write this,” Sommer didn’t do any of those things. Her things were all direction focused.” Frangos was grateful for the pleasant challenges of Schoch’s collaborative spirit, “She does not get involved in the creative development of the vision of the artist – she only asks the artist questions if she sees it going different directions.” Indeed – a good new play dramaturg isn’t trying to “fix” or “change” a play, but guide it according to the playwrights vision, or in Schoch’s words to Frangos, ask “Is this the story you wanna tell?”

After a new play workshop, a public reading, and several rewrites – Rosies was ready for the mainstage. Rosies: The Women Who Riveted The Nation played for two weekends as the inaugural production in the FbTC Black box in 2018. The play was wildly successful, playing to several sold outhouses. Even then, Schoch reminded Frangos “There will still be things that we tweak all through (the process) – even going through from production to production.”

Seeing the play produced a second time gave the playwright more information. Rosies received its second production in February 2024 at the Carrollwood Players in Tampa, FL. Audiences clamored to the box office and shows sold out hours before performances even began. Still, Frangos, who traveled down to Florida for the occasion, found elements of the play that she plans to tweak before its next production.

Boats Against The Current

Boats at Flashback in 2019

Following the success of the Rosies premiere in 2018, Flashback jumped right back into development with Boats Against The Current, written by Kentucky playwright William H. McCann Jr. The play focuses on the deteriorating family life and inner turmoil of Harrison, a Kentucky man diagnosed with Alzheimers. A workshop was held over a few months in the summer of 2018, producing a flurry of work and adjustments from McCann, who had originally submitted the script to Flashback in 2016. “We ended up with four different working drafts during the week and yet another draft afterwards,” said Schoch, who once again served as a director and dramaturg for the workshop.

The play received a world premiere, produced by Flashback in March 2019 after two years of polishing. The play will be produced again for a one-night-only performance at the Spotlight Playhouse in Berea, KY in March, and is in the running for a full production during Spotlights 2024-25 season. McCann has also just released a new chapbook, God Hires Gardners, which is available wherever books are sold.

Mary: Her Story

Mary: Her Story at FbTC in 2021

Also from Frangos’ body of work is the playwright’s collaboration with local musician Maria McNeil: Mary: Her Story, a musical about the human life of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. After a stunning world premiere with Flashback in 2021, Frangos eagerly began marketing the production to other potential producers. To aid this process, Frangos and McNeil came together once again to record a cast album at Mill Springs Studio. Potential producers, audience members, and cast members alike can now listen to the music of Mary at their leisure. The album features several local singers and can be streamed to on music platforms like Spotify or Apple Music by searching Mary: Her Story.

Getting Involved

Aspiring and veteran playwrights alike are encouraged to submit their works to Flashback for workshop and production consideration. The only criteria that must be met by submission material is that it must either A) be Kentucky based, connected to our history or region in some way, or B) have a Kentucky perspective. How does our community see the world? How does the world see our community? This can be in the form of a Kentucky character in a new place, an outsider coming to Kentucky, or perhaps some other expression of a Kentucky voice. As the resident playwright and a veteran of the new work process herself, Amber Frangos advises prospective playwrights: “An artist that wants to participate – needs to let go of their work. You need to have faith that the work will be what it’s supposed to be at the end of the process.”

Those interested in submission can visit this link for all requirements and information. As Amber is the resident playwright, you can contact her with questions about playwriting, production, or any of her plays at [email protected]

Flashback Theater is grateful to our 2023-24 Spotlight Sponsors: Applied Behavioral Advancements, M&W Printing, The Shubert Foundation, The City of Somerset, David Daring Rentals, and Fenix Digital; as well as our Footlight Sponsors: Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital & Lake Cumberland Residency Programs, First & Farmer’s National Bank, The Weigel Family, United Cumberland Bank, T. Ronald Kidd Trust, Kinetic by Windstream, Somerset Community College, Toyotetsu America, Inc. (TTAI), Brad Bigelow of Century 21 Advantage Realty, and Buffalo Wings & Rings.