7:57AM

Back to the sea: ATCA returns to its O'Neill Center birthplace

NEW LONDON and WATERFORD, Conn., Thursday, 7:30 a.m. —

I arrived here Monday and the rest of the executive committee Tuesday, with the bulk of the participating ATCA members swarming in yesterday (and more to come today). But this is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and start our conference blog. Fortunately, I was wakened early today, no doubt by the seagulls whose cries penetrate even our Radisson Hotel walls.

I could have started blogging last night, after our first O’Neill show, “The Dream of the Burning Boy” by David West Read, an intense drama of thwarted parental love set in that bear-pit of modern conflict, the American high school. Starring Reed Birney with a strong supporting cast of six, it already has a date at the Roundabout in NYC next season. Naturally a critics’s fingers immediately start twitching to write about it, except that this is the O’Neill, the father/mother of new play development, and this was a staged reading of a play still being worked on and not yet open for reviewing.

More to the point, blogging was furthest from my mind, because there was an even more appealing post-show alternative: Blue Gene’s pub, the heart of the O’Neill’s oceanside “campus,” a warm and woodsy spot full of actors, critics and other theater folk. So suddenly, just a couple of beers and a half-dozen conversations later, it was all I could do to get back to the hotel and fall into bed, fully clothed.

Today the conference gathers steam, with a morning meeting, a trip to the Monte Cristo Cottage, the O’Neill family homestead, for a panel on what the hell is ahead for our profession, and then an afternoon-evening excursion upriver to the delicious Goodspeed Opera House.

Oh, and we’re announcing that the 2010 Francesca Primus Prize goes to playwright Michele Lowe. Lots to do! It’s been so busy, this is the first time I’ve even sent the other ATCAns assembled a message asking them to contribute blog postings. So I’ll be back, with friends.

Chris Rawson, Pittsburgh