Student talent flourishes at New Play Festival

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Student writers and audience members packed the house of Keck Theatre for the sixteenth annual New Play Festival.

This year, with student and professional involvement, there were over 50 creators in the fest. Our audiences, over the five shows, numbered in the hundreds,” Professor of theater, head of the festival and award-winning playwright Laural Meade said. “Factor in some themes of the work – war, death, love, mayhem, technology, spirituality – and you have a lot of people exploring and exchanging powerful ideas and images through the mercurial filter of live artistic expression. That’s what brings us back to the theater time and again, yes? It’s a phenomenal gift we give to each other.”

English And Comparative Literature Studies (ECLS) and theater double major Sarah Martellaro (senior) opened the festival with “In the Garden of Eden,” an innovative, side-splitting meta-farce inspired by the board game Clue. The play combines the excitement of murder mystery with delightful absurdity and self-referential theater jokes.

“I just wanted to write something silly and nonsensical. That’s
about it,” Martellaro said.

Student and professional talents work together to produce each play, generally with a director and one or more hired actors working alongside Occidental students on each play.

“I thought Sarah’s play, when we sat around the table and read it, was really funny and I thought we’re not really going to know if its working or not until we get it on its feet. So that was our main goal, the pop up. We just had to get up and be fearless,” “In the Garden of Eden” director Michael Sargent said.

“Jack Courage in the Land of Olives,” by theater major Nina Carlin (junior), and “Face Time,” by undeclared Griffin Wynne (first-year), followed. Carlin’s “Jack Courage” earnestly tells the story of a woman named Dinah-Lee who exacts justice for Jack, played by theater major Grace West (sophomore) and music major Nick Gallagher (senior) respectively, in western-Biblical stylistic mash-up. Wynne’s “Face Time” bid the audience goodnight with gut-busting giggles as it told of a future dystopia in which humans only interact with each other through social media and Siri is the reigning deity.

“Working [as an actor in] “Face Time” made me more aware of the huge role technology really does play in my life and made me cognizant of the future of technology, of the path we could very well be headed down,” undeclared Georgia Tankard (first-year) said.

“Conference,” written by theater major Emily Bragg (junior), and “Fire, Brimstone & 401k” by theater and Diplomacy and World Affairs double major Reza Vojdani (senior) closed the festival on Sunday with a bang. In “Conference,” two best friends from high school are reunited at a student-teacher conference after nine years apart. “Fire, Brimstone & 401k” tells a more fantastical, comedic tale of unemployed Don and his strange encounter with Satan.

Each of the five writers truly developed and improved her/his script. It’s a kind of magic – prying a play off the page and on the stage,” Meade said.