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University of Iowa News Release


May 5, 2011

Foster says desperation drove her to write Iowa New Play Festival script

fosterPlaywrights draw their inspirations and motivations from many sources -- and sometimes plays just cry out to be written. Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Jessica Foster says "desperation" about the state and future of education in America drove her to write her absurdist play "Proficient," which will be performed at 5:30 and 9 p.m. Friday, May 6, in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building as part of the 2011 Iowa New Play Festival.

"I've always been drawn to the material, growing up in a household of educators, but what draws me to the material here and now was a feeling of desperation," she said. "I've seen a distinct change in the way people are learning and functioning in the world, and it scares me.

"There are generations that are being educated this way from the start of their years in school, and they'll be the ones who are in charge of the country at some point. I don't know if they are learning the necessary skills to do that. It came to a point where I wanted my theater to do more, so I decided to tackle this issue that is very important to me," Foster said.

Foster told Little Village magazine, "Last spring I found out that three of my favorite teachers were retiring. When I wrote them to express my gratitude and congratulations, one responded telling me that the decision was not of her own volition, but strongly encouraged by the administration. Knowing what a naturally talented teacher she was and also having been greatly influenced by her, I felt the effects of No Child Left Behind on a more personal level, and I knew it was about time I spoke for my family and friends who sacrifice so much in what seems to be a broken system. In other words, I started my play 'Proficient' with the dedication page."

Although the play is issue-oriented -- with definite political implications -- Foster said that she steered clear of ideological agitprop theater. "It's an issue embedded in characters lives (with a little absurdity thrown in there for good measure)," she said.

"When I first decided to take on such a big issue I thought, so many people are affected by this problem that the play could be a cast of thousands. It turns out it could be done with a 3-character play. Those characters turned out to be Ms. Delaney, a teacher; Craig, an educational salesman; and Rodney, who works with Craig," Foster said. "There's also a chorus of children, of which we have four for this production."

The salesmen are marketing a program that promises financial benefits for the school, but it also programs children into test-taking automatons.

"It was important to me to find who the characters were in this play, to boil down the conflicts and embody them in a few people. It helps that this is absurd theater, because I'm able to represent issues, rather than account for every position in the educational system.

"At the same time Ms. Delaney, the teacher in the play, is not a mouthpiece for teachers or a representation of every teacher, but rather she represents and experiences what many teachers have had the misfortune to go through. She is a real character who reacts to the situations as a distinct person."

Tickets for "Proficient" are $5 for the general public and free for UI students with a valid UI ID. Tickets will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. Tickets to all the remaining festival plays are on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. through Friday at the Theatre Building box office. More information can be found at

The Iowa Playwrights Workshop -— the UI MFA Program in Playwriting -— is an intensive three-year program dedicated to educating playwrights for the professional theatre. The objective of the program is to train talented playwrights and collaborative theatre artists who will lead the American theater in the creation of new works and the training of future generations of playwrights.

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 only to the playwrights but to all students in the department. Learn more about this year's festival at

Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater, and 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.

This year's festival is dedicated to Cosmo Catalano, who died in January. He joined the UI Department of Theatre Arts in 1966 and was professor in charge of acting and directing, department chair and managing director of Iowa Summer Rep. Catalano directed more than 100 productions for the department. His numerous contributions to the community are detailed here:

The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to

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