New Play Festival gives aspiring playwrights the opportunity to share their work

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Author: Malcolm MacLeod

Theater Professor Laural Meade sits alone in the lamdas of Occidental’s Keck Theater, watching a cast of student actors rehearse the play “Tell Me I’m Beautiful,” written by Nikki Resendez (senior).

“Just a teaching point here — actors, I don’t see you taking notes,” Meade said. “You should be writing all of this down. You’ll thank yourself a week from now.”

During this rehearsal, Meade prepares the actors, writers and directors for the 18th annual New Play Festival, which begins Friday and runs through Feb. 21.

In Meade’s 18 years at Occidental, she has poured her passion into the New Play Festival. The festival gives five student playwrights an opportunity to actualize their work in collaboration with professional actors and directors, such as Rosie-Glen Lambert, whose directing highlights include “Spring Awakening” and “The Curse of the Starving Class.” The collaboration culminates each year in a staged reading of each play in Keck Theater.

Last weekend, Glen-Lambert directed a rehearsal of Resendez’s play, scene by scene, line by line. She described to one actor how his character should accept the awkward embrace of a friend after having his heart broken. They then discussed in great detail how he would deal with the script in his hand during the encounter, using it as a prop to rip up mementos of lost love.

When the actors take the stage during their final performance, they will read straight from the most recent edition of their scripts in a long line of iterations, crafted through collaboration and collective experience.

“We’ll be editing right up to the day of the show, so we can’t expect the actors to memorize new lines on the spot. The script becomes a part of the performance,” Resendez said.

By Meade’s design, the New Play Festival is an opportunity for playwrights to hone their writing and collaborative skills with a full cast and production team. The writers edit their work constantly throughout the process. With only three weeks to rehearse, each rehearsal can run up to four hours. After each run, the script is trimmed or padded according to the director’s suggestions.

“We all wrote these plays last semester, but what we’re putting out next week is not the same play,” Resendez said. “We’re constantly editing. It’s very much like a breathing thing, it changes a lot.”

Five playwrights at Occidental shared this intensive experience of bringing their scripts to life with peers and professional mentors. Alongside Resendez, Maricela Guardado (junior), Hannah Kaminsky* (senior), Billy Schmidt (senior) and Rory Horne* will see their personal projects performed in Keck Theater.

Meade and a group of her peers selected the playwrights in a campus-wide competition. This year, all of the students participating in the festival emerged from Meade’s playwriting class.

Meade, Resendez, Glen-Lambert and their crew of actors ironed out the fine points of “Tell Me I’m Beautiful” during rehearsal, sharing moments of both laughter and focused criticism.

Guardado, whose play rehearsed the following day, spoke about the unifying power of the theater.

“I think the special thing about theater is its connection to traditional, oral storytelling,” Guardado said. “When you get a group of people together to listen to a story, you connect to one another, and people appreciate it when you put something so personal out there.”

In an organic process of performance and discussion, the play takes shape. Character movements, costume, props, lighting and sound choices are all derived through dialogue between the writer and their support group.

“In the theater, you’re never going to have a finished product. You’re always working on process,” Guardado said.

As Meade and Resendez close their rehearsal, waiting for the next to begin, the group comes together, some comparing notes, others discussing narrative.

“I really try to put creative teams together to support what the writer wants to do,” Meade said.

The writers and their supporting teams of actors, directors and producers have put in long hours re-working these plays into polished works of writing, ready for debut.

“Bombs Away” by Schmidt opens the festival Friday at 6 p.m. “Tell Me I’m Beautiful,” and “The Pocket Watch” by Resendez and Kaminsky respectively, begin at 7 p.m. the following day. “Old New” by Rory Horne closes out the festival on Sunday, beginning at 6 p.m.

*Horne and Kaminsky are Weekly staff members.

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