“It’s pretty cool to give birth to a new work,” says Kyle Barnette, the producing artistic director of What If? Productions. Barnette is excited. Actually, ebullient might be a better word.

It’s easy to understand why. On Thurs. July 11, What If? is opening a show that’s been a year in the making. Called The Practice Child and penned by Tyler Stuart, the play won the inaugural What If? Productions’ Playwrights Festival in 2012. The Practice Child will anchor this year’s Playwrights Festival, with a full two-week run.

The play tells the story of two brothers, Blil and Bill. Blil was born first, and when his mother misspelled his name on his birth certificate, she wrote Blil off as a mistake. Then she had a second baby and named him Bill. Bill is the perfect child; Blil is a mess. But now Bill has a terminal brain tumor, and Blil has fallen for his brother’s fiancée. The play takes place in Bill’s hospital room with a cast of characters including a homeless astronaut, a bipolar mother, and a senile surgeon.

Part of What If? Productions’ mission is to showcase the works of new and emerging playwrights, and it was with that goal in mind that they began the Playwright’s Festival in 2012. In its first year the Festival was small, and provided the competition’s three finalists a space to have a live reading of their shows. Audiences voted to select the winner.

The schedule for the 2013 Playwrights Festival is much bigger than last year’s, featuring not just readings but parties, workshops, performances, and more. The festival events take place July 11-13, in addition to the performances of the The Practice Child from July 11-21. It’s a world premiere, Barnette says, so “you will not get to see this show anywhere else.”

To start things off, the opening performance of The Practice Child will be followed by a crazy medical themed party, to go along with the play’s hospital setting. Friday night’s performance will feature a Q&A session with playwright Stuart prior to the show. The festival will also feature a 24-hour theater workshop, in which a writer, director, and actor group will create and perform a short play within 24 hours.

On Saturday, July 13 each of the three 2013 finalists will have a scene from their plays read by a group of actors, after which the writers will participate in a Q&A with the audience. Audience members will vote on their favorites, with the winning play appearing as the highlight of the 2014 festival. The 2013 finalist pieces are Sorrow’s End by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Dark Glass by Ira David Wood, and Accepting Applications for a Muse by Brian Jones. All the playwrights are from the Southeast, with entrants coming from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The festival will also include a music and dance workshop and demonstration with local choreographer Stephanie Burg and local composer Andrew Walker. Walker will score a scene from this year’s competition finalists, while Burg will choreograph a dance for each piece of music.

Local businesses are getting behind the festival this year, too. Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar is holding a “Practice Cocktail” competition on their Facebook page. To enter, you have to devise a recipe for a Stoli-based cocktail. The winner will receive two tickets to opening night of The Practice Child, and their cocktail will be served at the opening night party.

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