Clark’s New Play Festival a Knock Out: From the Minds of Your Peers, Straight to the Stage

The Michelson Theater has been nearly worn to shreds. Black painted walls sit drying in the experimental room upstairs, and random props lay strewn across the downstairs stage at all hours of the day, changing rotation and placement as varying directors and stage managers see fit. Trying to organize nine separate plays in one theater has its draw backs, but Clarkies are up for the test.

“It gives people in the playwriting class a physical result of their work,” said theater major Adam LeFebvre. “There was a lot of work in a little bit of time. Because there were so few rehearsals, the actors were expected to put in a lot of work outside the theater, which is a unique experience. The play became our life.”

LeFebvre has had no small role in the New Play Festival. He plays three characters in three separate plays.

Clark’s New Play Festival consists of an overwhelming amount of collaborative effort: nine plays written, directed, and staged by Clarkies, and acted out by fifty actors. For a school this size with a theater department so small, the festival has been no small task. It is the result of a collaborative effort between two Theater Arts classes, Professor Gino DiIorio’s Playwriting II class and Professor Raymond Munro’s Directing Seminar.

“While students have written a great deal, the works seemed to be getting shorter. I wanted to encourage students to complete longer works,” said Professor DiIorio. “It seemed as though there were a number of talented playwrights coming through the program so I kicked the idea around with Ray, and while we knew it would be a stretch, it had always been a dream of ours, so we had all the elements in place and the time was right.”

Across the board, students who were involved in the festival saw it both as an opportunity and a challenge.

“Directing a show is a huge commitment.  Not only do you have to look at the big picture, you also have to focus on smaller components.  I don’t want to know how many hours everyone puts in to get a play ready for a performance.  It’s a lot,” said one contributing grad student.

Likewise, playwright Sean Morrow felt that the process was very involving, but worth it.

“I had a lot of fun, but it was a huge strain on the department,” he said. “Producing nine plays is very difficult.” When one considers that these are all students with finals, club activity, and class assignments like the rest of us, it starts to sound overwhelming.

“The funny thing about theater is that you never think you have enough time. If you look at it objectively, you’d be right,” LeFebvre said. “But somehow you always make it work, and it is always worth it.”

The festival has been divided into three stages. Series A has already passed, and ran from the 6th to the 11th. It included “It’s a Deal” written by Drew Baker and directed by Kaylie Curran, “Smorgasbord” written by Maxie Kalish and directed by Precious Ra’Akbar, and “Misnomer” written by Ashley Beman and directed by Alex Kump.

“It was a bit scary to go up the first week. We were really going to set the tone for the rest of the festival,” said student director Alex Kump.

Series B will run to the 18th and is comprised of “Arby Carmichael Killed a Mountain Lion” written by Sean Morrow and directed by Christine Dunant, “J&M” written by Diana Dunlap and directed by Chelsea Long, and “4:25 to Ypsilanti” written by Natasha Ochshorn and directed by Sarah Jette.

Playwright, Natasha Ochshorn spoke about the level of commitment put into the plays. “We only had a very short amount of time to crank these out,” she said. “For the actors the real work started when they only had three weeks or less to put the whole thing together.”

“One of the most challenging parts was trying to schedule around not only eight other directors’ shows, but the other events and classes that met in the Little Center,” Kump said. “In the end, we didn’t get much time in the theatre itself.”

“It’s really like setting up nine mini families that have to coexist and work together for 6-8 weeks,” Professor DiIorio said. “It gets pretty intense and then it’s gone, but that’s the beauty of it.”

The process undoubtedly brought students together for a very memorable and meaningful process, but naturally, not everything with the New Play Festival went smoothly; there were some problems aside from the obvious scheduling conflicts and time constraints.

“During auditions we asked all the male actors if they were comfortable kissing someone of the same sex,” Ochshorn said about her play, “4:25 to Ypsilanti.” “Apparently a lot of them thought we were joking. We weren’t.”

Morrow also had an anecdote to share. “Prop shopping was fun, convincing the people at the pharmacy at Target that we needed two syringes for a play production was interesting.”

With its strain on Clark’s department, a question is raised. Should Clark do it again? There were mixed opinions.

It was an amazing experience for me as a writer, but I think it’s been a little crazy for some of the actors in it,” Ochshorn said. “I think it should go on as long as there’s enough people who want to do it, and so long as it doesn’t interfere with Gino’s sanity.”

Though this year’s run was seen as more of a learning experience, LeFebvre added that each year would only get better with time.

“This was an incredible experience, and now we know what our timelines should be and how we should do things,” he said.

Some who were involved were not as fondly reminiscent, however. One grad student who wished to remain nameless thought it to be a bad idea to repeat the process at this scale.

“I think there are elements, though, of the festival that could be continued but not at the same level as this festival, but the department is too small to do something on this scale annually.”

Professor DiIorio had a different insight on the event from his perspective. “I dread the whole festival because I knew it would be difficult to pull off,” he said. “It had so many moving parts, but I’m so thrilled each night when we present something new. It’s one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had as a faculty member at Clark.”

Regardless of whether the show will go on again another year, the final, upcoming Series C will be held beginning the 20th, including “Julie’s Pond” written and directed by Ian Michaels, “Double Date” written by Chelsea long and directed by Laura Menzie, and “Olive My Love” written by Betty McCarthy and directed by Milla Smith.

All shows are at 7:30 p.m. twice a week. Series B will also be doing a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday the 18th. Shows are free with a college ID and $5 for the general public.

Remember, for there to be good theater, there must be a good audience.

“Having a good audience, a big audience, makes such a difference in the quality of the show,” Ochshorn said. “It gives the actors something to work with, to feed off of.”

“To me, the most exciting form of art is an actor on a bare stage in front of an audience,” Professor DiIorio said. “It’s a simple world that deals in complexities. It’s an artistic space where anything can happen.  It’s the audience, the actor, the spoken word.

If you find yourself free on just about any April evening, stop by the Michelson Theater in the Little Center to see the hard work put in by all of these Clarkies.

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About Ashley Klann

Clark masters student. Local reporter. Photographer. View all posts by Ashley Klann

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