April 18, 2008
Iowa New Play Festival May 5-10 proves that theater people are a little crazy
Theater people have a reputation for being a little crazy. And the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts provides evidence at the end of every spring semester by producing the Iowa New Play Festival, the most ambitious new-play festival in college theater.
This season the New Play Festival will once again achieve the seemingly impossible: present more than a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the department's undergraduate playwrights in productions and readings May 5-10 in the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
The New Play Festival requires the deployment of all the Department of Theatre Arts' resources -- acting, directing, dramaturgy, design, stage management and technical -- to orchestrate an intense and event-packed festival that offers student playwrights the productions and feedback that are essential for their development. At the same time, the festival offers audiences an opportunity to participate in the creation of significant new American theater at the ground level.
Five new plays, written by students in the Master of Fine Arts program in playwriting, will be premiered with performances at 5:30 and 9 p.m. each day except Thursday.
--Monday, May 5: "The Toymaker's War" by Jennifer Fawcett, directed by Brandon Bruce, in the David Thayer Theatre. In 1995, Sylvie was an idealistic young journalist who went to Bosnia hoping to write the story that would launch her career. Stumbling upon an isolated village populated only by children, she attempted to learn the truth of their lives. What she discovered instead was a world of dolls; a world of queens and dragon-slaying knights. In this safe world she could communicate with Milan, a young Bosnian Serb toymaker turned soldier, and his little sister, Lejla. Outside this world of make believe, however, very real violence was brewing and soon one horrific act of brutality sparked a massacre. Now, 13 years later, Milan is on trial for crimes against humanity and Sylvie is a world-famous journalist implicated for her possible involvement in the slaughter that befell that tiny village. Fawcett, from Canada, is the winner of the KCACTF National Science Playwriting Award and she will be at the Kennedy Center this summer for the University Playwrights' Workshop.
--Tuesday, May 6: "Seven Dreams of Her" by Sarah Sander, directed by Sarah Ballema, in E.C. Mabie Theatre. Grey loves August. August loves Grey. Grey meets Ivy. Ivy moves in. Can a ménage a tois, a household of three, work? Sander's plays have been produced in Washington, D.C., as well as at the UI.
--Wednesday, May 7: "A History of Bad Ideas" by Greg Machlin, directed by Joe Luis Ceddilo, in Theatre B. Jason and Georgia test their relationship as his writing takes them from New York City to the Iowa Writer's program. Will art bring them together or is it the ultimate betrayal?
--Friday, May 9: "We Three" by Mary Hamilton, directed by John Kaufmann, in the David Thayer Theatre. A young girl is reported to have drowned in the river, but no body can be found to verify the report. The lives of three characters are intertwined in the aftermath of this event. Hamilton is a graduate of Rutgers University, and her work has been produced or read at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the New Jersey Young Playwrights festival and the Young Playwrights International Festival.
--Saturday, May 10: "Dust Town" by Morgan Sheehan-Bubla, directed by Anthony Nelson, in E.C. Mabie Theatre. Be prepared to meet a man, a monster, a thing from the dark, a hero and a three-headed dog. Sheehan-Bubla is a third-year Master of Fine Arts student with a degree from the Tisch School at New York University.
Tickets for all the evening productions -- $6 for the general public and $4 for UI students, senior citizens and youth -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. Tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday of the festival at the Theatre Building box office.
Festival packages are also available that offer all five plays for the price of four.
All the daytime readings are free, and the public is invited to attend. The readings will take place in the Cosmo Catalano Acting Studio, Room 172 of the Theatre Building, unless otherwise noted:
--Monday at 2 p.m., "Bajo Augua" by Tony Meneses
--Tuesday at 2 p.m., "Why Love Doesn't Even Know Its Name" by Lisa Leaverton
--Thursday at 2 p.m., "The House of Grateful" by Sheela Kangal
--Thursday at 5:30 p.m., selections from the Undergraduate Playwrights Workshop
--Friday at 2 p.m., "Mourning Aletheia" by Joshua Casteel
--Saturday at 1:30 p.m., "Painted Skin" by Joe Luis Cedillo
Guest respondents from the professional theater world are always part of the Iowa New Play Festival mix. This year's guests are John Eisner, producing director of the Lark Play Development Center in New York; Wendy Goldberg, artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center; Mead Hunter, director of literary and education programs at the Portland Center Stage in Oregob; dramaturg Morgan Jenness; and Golden Globe-winning actress Regina Taylor.
The Iowa New Play Festival began in the 1960s as Critics Week and developed into the more public Iowa Playwrights Festival. The festival's name was changed to the Iowa New Play Festival to stress that the production of new plays was of educational value not just to the playwrights, but to all students in the department.
Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater.
Among them are Evening Standard Award-winner Rebecca Gilman, who has become one of America's most talked-about playwrights; Emmy Award and Jefferson Award winner Rick Cleveland ("Six Feet Under" and "The West Wing"); Dan Coffey, known to public radio audiences as Dr. Science; Darrah Cloud, whose "O Pioneers" was broadcast by PBS and was toured by the Acting Company; Todd Ristau, the co-founder of No Shame Theatre whose work has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and the London West End; Charles Smith, playwright-in-residence at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and a faculty member at Ohio University; two-time Obie winner W. David Hancock; and Keith Josef Adkins, whose plays have been commissioned by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum and the Actors Theater of Louisville, and who has written and acted in the sitcom "Girlfriends."
Many of the plays developed through the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and presented in the festival have gone on to successful professional productions, have been honored with theatrical awards or have been invited to theater festivals.
For example, David Adjmi's "Strange Attractors" was recently produced at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. Kirsten Greenidge's festival play "Feeding Beatrice" won the American College Theatre Festival Lorraine Hansberry Award, and her "Familiar" was published by Dramatic Play Service. Peter Ullian's "In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower" was selected by Harold Prince for development as a musical, and as "Eliot Ness in Cleveland" it premiered in Denver. Victoria Stewart's festival plays "Nightwatches," "The Last Scene" and "800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" have had many productions. Naomi Wallace's Iowa Playwrights Festival scripts "The War Boys" and "In the Heart of America" have been given major productions in London. Kate Aspengren presented "Dear Mrs. Martin" in the festival, where it was seen by a representative of the Samuel French publishing house, leading to the script's publication and availability to theaters throughout the country. Levy "Lee" Simon won the Lorraine Hansberry Award for "The Bow Wow Club," which premiered in the festival. And Robert Alexander's "A Preface to the Alien Garden" has had several national productions, including at Trinity Rep.
Some of the productions and readings contain material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether a particular show or reading is appropriate for them should contact the department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.
The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.