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Page to stage: Ideas come to life for writers through Arts Fort Worth program

Playwright Jeff Irvin speaks with the cast of “The Texas Book of Beasts” at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre at 1300 Gendy St. in Fort Worth.
Arts Fort Worth
Playwright Jeff Irvin speaks with the cast of “The Texas Book of Beasts” at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre at 1300 Gendy St. in Fort Worth.

When Jeff Irvin submitted his script for “The Texas Book of Beasts” to Arts Fort Worth’s Original Works Series, he didn’t anticipate that his play would be selected to become a full-stage production.

“It has a cast of eight. It has nothing routine in terms of the staging. It’s got (about) 30 scenes, each is a separate fable in some fashion or another … So you have to fathom that this was an extremely improbable thing for an organization to pick up and try to develop,” the Austin-based civil engineer said over the phone.

But a panel of theater professionals selected his piece out of 15 readings from last year’s submissions and now the production is running at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre through March 26.

Fort Worth Report

Tickets: $25

The Texas Book of Beasts

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.

“There isn’t a single character in the play that I can’t relate to somehow in terms of my personal life and my profession,” Irvin said. “They all represent things that I’ve done or been attached to in some fashion.” 

The script doesn’t have a single stage direction, Irvin said. But, he did write in several opportunities for audience participation, from sing-a-longs to encouragement to move and cheer.

Irvin wasn’t sure how the play would be brought to life, but said 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.

He was especially impressed by one specific scene where a city clerk is defending the permitting process.

“It is a really hard paragraph to get through, and Amanda (Reyes) totally nails it. She not only gets through it, which is difficult enough, but she gets through it with energy and passion and makes it coherent to the audience,” he said. “It’s entirely to her credit that that worked. I mean, it’s really quite an astounding performance.”

‘A chance to platform emerging playwrights’

Jason Leyva is the production manager at Arts Fort Worth.

He said in 2019 staff members were discussing ways to engage more people – especially those who don’t necessarily consider themselves artists or typically attend art events.

“How do we get those people in the doors rather than simply relying on an established actor or a play or a name? We wanted to try to do something that would bring the community to us,” he said.

From that discussion, the Original Works Series was born.

The program allows anyone to submit a play, and this year, the organization had 88 entries including pieces from New Zealand, Australia and Japan.

With help from local theater groups, a subset of plays are selected for live reads, and then a panel decides which play should get a full staging with a cast and crew the following year.

While there are some other arts organizations host similar events, the growth of submissions shows that there is a demand for such programs, Leyva said.

“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, the playwright, has worked with other organizations in Austin to hold informal readings of his scripts and hone his craft. But, the staging of his first full-length play is a new experience.

“What a great organization you have in Fort Worth,” he said.“For me, it’s been an incredible experience and way beyond anything that I would have hoped for with this particular work.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.