Juniper Productions mixes plays with fine menus for Philly Theatre Week

Cocktail Plays brings performances to the distillery. (Photo by Marv Kaplan.)

While Philadelphia buzzes green with the Eagles' Super Bowl win and thousands flood the city Thursday morning to celebrate at the victory parade, local theater artists will prepare another expression of local culture: Philly Theatre Week.

This 10-day celebration of local artists, presented by Theatre Philadelphia, takes place with staged readings and productions across greater Philadelphia. The festival is designed to be accessible to audience members who may not be able to afford mainstage ticket prices — many performances are free; others cost either $15 or $30.

Local artists, fair wages

One theater company offering a unique taste of theater is Juniper Productions. Founder and producer Sonya Aronowitz grew up loving theater in Manchester, England, before landing in Philly. Aronowitz dabbled in acting and playwriting, became a journalist, and then worked in public relations for a theater school in England. Her unique background and combination of skills made her confident she could create a theater company focused on serving both artists and audience members who may not consider themselves theater fans.

“I have the experience of being a playwright myself, so I know from the inside how hard it is to get work produced,” Aronowitz explains. “I can’t stand that we’re not seeing more original local work being produced.”

When Aronowitz envisioned Juniper, she knew she wanted it to nurture local playwrights. She made a commitment to pay all artists involved a fair wage for their work — writers, actors, and directors. But she also imagined that one way of creating more opportunities for play production would be to take theater to the audience. She envisioned staging plays in restaurants and bars and finding people who might not seek out theater but would be open to theater coming to them. Philadelphia Distilling hosted Juniper’s first production at the Philly Fringe festival (here’s the BSR review).

‘Theater evangelist’

For Theatre Week, Aronowitz scheduled 10 plays to be shared as “Play Appetizers,” “Play Tastings,” and “Cocktail Plays.” "Appetizers" are short plays that will be staged in East Falls at Vault and Vine, with coffee and pastries served. "Play Tastings" feature excerpts of full-length plays by three Philadelphia women playwrights at the Twisted Tail in Headhouse Square, with food and drinks available. "Cocktail Plays" bring Juniper’s successful Fringe show to audiences in Lansdale at the Stove and Tap. Cocktail Plays feature four short plays by Philadelphia playwrights, along with artfully crafted cocktails.

Based on Juniper’s success with mixing theater and cocktails at the Fringe, Aronowitz feels confident they will reach an expanded audience for new plays during Theatre Week. “I’m a theater evangelist,” she says. “I’m always thinking about how we can bring theater to more people. With good food and drinks, we create a whole experience and people respond to that.”

Aronowitz is onto something: some of Juniper’s Theatre Week events are already sold out. But tickets are still available for Play Appetizers on Sunday, February 11, at Vault and Vine; two Play Tastings shows on Monday, February 12; and Cocktail Plays in Lansdale, running February 18 through 20.

Philly Theatre Week, presented by Theatre Philadelphia, runs February 8 through 18 at venues throughout the greater Philadelphia area, covering 80 events from 70 different companies, and nothing over $30. You can find the full guide online. 

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