Festival of New Plays to test fresh works from Utah's Lake Bonneville of talent
By the USU Theatre Arts Department
"However, this creates a dilemma for playwrights because new plays must be performed before an audience before it is clear whether they will work. This is a risky venture for producers to undertake as they often shy away from plays that have not proven themselves successful. It's a Catch-22 for playwrights and producers alike," said Hassan.
How then do new plays make it to the stage? Utah State University's "Festival of New Plays" may have the answer.
Three original one-act plays by Cache Valley playwrights will be presented Jan. 26-29 at the Lyric Theatre. Curtain is at 8 p.m. and tickets are $5 at the door. Students are admitted free with valid ID. According to festival director and USU Theatre Arts and History Professor Mark Damen, plays were selected from local submissions in what is to become a new community playwriting forum.
"The inspiration for the festival comes from the wealth of talent here in Cache Valley," said Damen, who teaches playwriting, theatre history, Latin and Greek courses at Utah State University. "From what I've seen from my students and the community, we are swimming in writing talent like Lake Bonneville never dumped. The festival arose out of a need to find a forum for this talent and an audience for it. We are looking to orchestrate talent so it may present itself to the public in a way that is enjoyable and exciting."
Damen spearheads the festival courtesy of Utah State University's Theatre Arts Department, the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation, and a committee of fellow playwriting sponsors who include USU Theatre Arts Professor Kirstie Rosenfield and community liaison Wendi Hassan.
Damen teaches two playwriting courses at USU and plans to make community playwriting courses available to teach the craft of playwriting to beginners and provide feedback and workshopping for the more experienced playwright.
Presenting the plays to the public is already under way in a four-step process. According to Damen, the first step begins with the aforementioned playwriting courses for the beginner or an evaluation of previous work from a more advanced playwright. The second step is admission into Utah State Theatre*s Conservatory Series production of *Script & Stage,* a forum of staged readings of one-act plays that undergoes an extensive workshopping process. The plays selected for the third stage are showcased in the festival, going from the staged reading to a fully-mounted production with set, lighting, and costumes. The fourth step still lies in the future with hopes of bringing the best of the festival plays to Utah State Theatre's Mainstage season, said Damen. Kirstie Rosenfield, Associate Professor of USU's Theatre Arts Department, shares the vision and need for festivals of this kind to exist.
"Without new plays, we're left doing theatre history," said Rosenfield. "Endless copies of the same productions don't expand horizons or open artistic horizons to playwrights and audiences."
Throughout the playwriting process at USU, plays are workshoped, rewritten, reviewed and rewritten again, said Rosenfield.
"The festival allows time for the vital importance of reaction to the work. The longer the process of feedback, the more fulfilling the work becomes."
"Plays are works in progress until staged by the Guthrie and put in print," she quipped. "If you're interested in writing, the more writing you do and see, the better your skills become.
As an arts administrator living in Cache Valley, Wendi Hassan, who has worked with numerous arts organizations including Unicorn Theatre, Cache Children*s Choir, the Alliance for the Varied Arts and the Old Lyric Repertory Company, believes that Logan is the perfect location for the festival.
"Logan is incredibly rich in its cultural heritage and people really care about the arts. Thanks to arts outreach programs from private organizations and school systems, people have the best resources available to them and to their children which is incredible for a community of this size. Interest in the arts is cultivated at an early age and it's what binds us together.
"Plays chosen for participation in the festival have gone through an extensive process that many works in the community may not have had the opportunity to go through. This is a chance for everyone to become involved in an exciting creative process where each can express his or her own reality. While this first festival might showcase USU student playwrights, this is a plea and a call to become a part of the playwriting craft and the creative community."
"With luck, the subject matter of the festival will become widely varied because the strength of the writing is the real emphasis," continued Hassan.
According to Damen, the opening-night audience will have the opportunity of discussing the productions with the playwrights.
"This is a chance to tell us what you think of the material and why," said Damen. "The audience is theatre. Theatre happens in the mind of the audience, not just on the stage. The audience is and should be the defining factor."
For further information about the playwriting programs at USU, contact Damen at 797-3786. For further information on "Festival of New Plays," contact Kirsten Watkins at 797-1500.