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Preview: New Play Cafe’s Simply Sci-Fi

Close Encounters And Strawberry Shortcake

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks out the new menu item at the Big Kitchen Cafe: live theater. The New Play Cafe serves up Simply Sci-Fi.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the New Play Cafe's Simply Sci-Fi at the Big Kitchen Cafe.


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The Big Kitchen Cafe is known for its home-style cooking and desserts but starting tonight you may get a close encounter along with your strawberry shortcake thanks to the New Play Café’s Simply Sci-Fi.

This week, the Big Kitchen Cafe is contemplating pricing for a new menu item: time travel. The cost: a gazillion dollars.

“I like that it’s on the menu and that it costs a lot,” said Kevin Six.

But don’t worry, going back to the past will be a whole lot cheaper. You have to act quickly, though, because time travel is only available for the next three weeks as the restaurant plays host to the New Play Café’s Simply Sci-Fi, a tasty collection of six new ten-minute plays.

Kevin Six co-founded New Play Café. He says audiences will have plenty to savor: “They can expect good food, they can expect original new theater written by San Diego playwrights, and to have the plays performed right in their laps.”

Literally. Actors will sit next to theatergoers and brush elbows at the counter. Attendees may also have a hard time distinguishing the wait staff from the performers since characters in the play might be refilling their coffee cups. Laura Preble sampled the New Play Café’s first offering back in May.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

Kevin Six oversees a rehearsal of the New Play Cafe's Simply Sci-Fi at the Big Kitchen Cafe.

“You felt like you were in the middle of the action,” said Preble, “I had this feeling of eavesdropping on people’s conversations, actors were coming in working around the audience members and serving them so it made you feel like you were part of the play, which is a really unique experience. I enjoyed it.”

Judy Forman’s been running the Big Kitchen for 33 years, and she’s thrilled by what New Play Café is cooking up.

“I guess I have a lot of theater genes in me and I don’t get to be onstage but I get to be backstage a lot and I love the creativity that happens here.”

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

Actors and audience members are in close proximity at the New Play Cafe's productions at the Big Kitchen. This is a scene from their inaugural work, "Coffee Shop Chronicles."

It’s not the first time such creativity has been served up at her diner. Back in 1989, Forman encouraged John Highkin to whip up some Diner Theater and Dessert Theater at the Big Kitchen.

“It’s a wonderful place to create in,” said Highkin, “and audiences really like being close to what happens, somehow it becomes a really different experience for audiences and a different experience for people who create theater.”

It also means low overhead for a company since there’s no lighting or set design, and no expensive theater rentals. Plus it’s easy to sell the house out.

“Twenty-five people, and you’re sold out,” explained Highkin, “And so you create demand. What it is really is the scale is wonderful. There are enough nooks and crannies, and it’s visually pretty funny that it’s possible to do things without having to alter the space much.”

The New Play Café’s first production, Coffee Shop Chronicles, was tailored to the space with all the plays set in coffee shops. It was such a success that Six decided to do another.

“We put a call out for playwrights,” said Six, “So far it’s San Diego playwrights, they submit plays and we do a table read with some directors we’ll give some feedback and we’ll make decisions based on what we saw at the table read.”

This time the theme was science fiction, which made co-founder Lizzie Silverman very happy.

“I don’t really hear about a whole lot of plays that are science fiction themed,” Silverman said, “And I don’t know if that’s because the theater community doesn’t want it or it’s too expensive to produce but obviously we are going to use imagination a lot.”

So flashing lights are the “special effect” to convey time travel. But it works and the audience willingly goes along. Laura Bohlin performed in the first New Play Café in May.

“With the first set of plays they all were set in cafes and that was the general idea,” Bohlin said, “And then these ones they are not. These are all science fiction and some of them happen to take place in a café but some of them definitely don’t and I think it’s going to be really fun for the audience because it’s going to require them going on a journey with us and it will be otherworldly and so it’s beyond just happening in a café but it really is a leap in logic.”

“This almost falls under the category of we have a barn, let’s put on a play,” added co-director Eric Poppick.

New Play Cafe series, Simply Sci-Fi

Performances are held on Thursdays & Fridays beginning August 15 - 30 at 7:30 p.m.

"Simply Sci-Fi" features a series of six, 10-minute science fiction plays, by San Diego playwrights.

For tickets or information click here.

But without expensive sets and special effects to distract the audience, the focus can be on the flavorful characters.

“The plays I have there are not real outer space people I have more humans who could be from outer space, you get to decide,” Poppick said.

Playwright Janet Tiger’s “Time Travel Café” changes up the usual sci-fi recipe for time travel by emphasizing the emotional ingredients.

“I believe very strongly that there is the ability to travel through time that we don’t even you know, think about much but for example your mother calls you on the phone and bingo she says one thing and you’re back 30 years,” Tiger said.

Her “Time Travel Café” considers the emotional baggage we carry as we travel into a past we cannot change. Another plays suggests a close encounter but with a dash of humor.

In one scene, a woman coughs and struggles to sit down. When the man at the table inquires if she’s okay, she perks up and says, “Yeah, I just like to pretend I’m dying before I reveal the secrets to the cosmos.”

To which the exasperated man replies, “I was right, I am your straight man.”

The six plays offer a diverse array of science fiction and that’s exactly what New Play Café wanted. Jennie Olson Six is another New Play Café co-founder. She explained that the goal was to challenge San Diego writers to submit new work and then foster their creative process.

“We wanted to give them a little bit of a mini-workshop experience,” Olson Six said, “We wanted to give them a chance to see their work on stage and by on stage we mean on the kitchen floor… but I think that if your play can stand the test of being performed in a restaurant while people are eating dessert it has a pretty good chance of being produced later out there.”

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

The Big Kitchen Cafe provides an impromptu theater space for the New Play Cafe.

The short plays dished up by the New Play Café’s Simply Sci-Fi can be looked at as tantalizing appetizers to something bigger and more filling to come. New Play Café’s Simply Sci-Fi will be serving up close encounters and dessert on Thursdays and Fridays through August 30th at the Big Kitchen Café in South Park. Tickets, which include dessert, are $30 at the door and $20 online.

Megan Burke and Maureen Cavanaugh reported for Midday Edition.


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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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