Almost a year off the stage and behind monitor screens, the theater program in Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre continues to find new ways to produce and share their work, launching the New Play Festival this weekend.
For three weekends beginning Feb. 20, audiences can attend the online festival and experience performances in virtual formats. Three unique pieces written by MFA theatre students and directed by both students and faculty take the virtual stage as workshops and a fully-produced production.
The first weekend features a new piece that will be workshopped, showing the nearly-completed technical productions in a virtual setting, “en-DANGER!-ed,” written by student A.R. Corwin and directed by student Jillian Johnson.
In “en-DANGER!-ed,” a visitor to the Museum of Natural History stumbles upon the “Hall of Endangered Species” while waiting to enter the hot new dinosaur exhibit. At the push of a button, they’re swept into the colorful personal lives of endangered animals who are doing anything and everything to stay alive and stay relevant. “en-DANGER-ed!” tells the comedic tale of Manny the manatee, who is creating a new public relations campaign, Pole the polar bear who is panhandling to tourists, Stack the Panamanian Golden frog who is pleading asylum, and Blobby the blobfish, who is dead, but loving it.
“This play is incredibly funny but also has a heartbreaking message to deliver,” Johnson said. “One of the things I love most about ‘en-DANGER!-ed’ is how it lures you in with a comedic tone before bringing to light some of the bigger issues around the impacts of climate change, deforestation and other practices that severely affect our planet.”
The second weekend features “Light Switch,” a fully-produced play written by MFA students Dave Osmundsen and directed by Kristina Friedgen. The work follows Henry, an autistic gay man with a special interest in 19th century British literature, on his quest for love and acceptance.
“I’m excited that we have an actor on the spectrum playing a character on the spectrum (written by a playwright on the spectrum),” Osmundsen said. “I’m also excited for audiences to see the really unique design elements. This will be more than a simple Zoom reading!”
The third and final weekend showcases the workshop production “Alone: Edgar Allan Poe's Final Chapter,” written by student Jesse Saywell and directed by professor Jeff McMahon.
“Alone” takes place in 1845, when Edgar Allan Poe is at the height of his fame. With tragedy stalking his every move, Poe's mind spirals into the depths of darkness from which his greatest tales of terror were birthed. The piece dives into the life, loves and death of one of history's great storytellers.
“I'm excited to share with audiences a new take on Edgar Allan Poe that uses his writing as a means of investigating the man himself, rather than the other way around,” Saywell said. “The performances are stunning, the visuals are extremely innovative, and the story comes to life through the screen. I can't wait for people to see the finished product.”
Theatre faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre said it is important to address the difficulties that these groundbreaking creators have tackled. There is the issue of basic blocking, lack of audience reaction in real-time and even simply coordinating actors to know the direction of the scene their partner is in. The New Play Festival and the workshop process had allowed these playwrights, directors, cast and crew to overcome those obstacles and continue to hone their craft.
“New play development is a vital part of our art form – it’s the time when we playwrights get to see the figments of our imagination come alive and see what they’re really made of,” Corwin said. “You always learn something new about yourself and your writing through the workshop process. It pushes me to experiment and make my work better and better. I don’t know where I would be as a playwright without it."
New Play Festival
7:30 p.m., Feb 20, 26, 27, March 5
2 p.m., Feb. 21, 28, March 6
Online via Vimeo