The Slippery Rock University Theatre Department will host their annual festival entitled “Brave New Plays” this Monday and Tuesday at Sheehy Theatre in the basement of the Maltby Center.
The festival features plays that are written by students who practice and hone their playwriting skills over the course of the spring semester in the playwrighting class taught by Dr. David Skeele, who also teaches the directing class offered on campus. Playwriting is a class where students start off writing plays and begin to learn how stories are to be structured to obtain maximum interest, Skeele said.
“By the end of the semester we really gear this class to the festival,” Skeele explained. “When I teach it, my final portfolio assignment is the students having to come up with two ten minute plays—two very polished ten minute plays—and one solo play.”
Heading the festival is senior Ellie Petro. Petro, the production manager, said the festival has been in the works since the beginning of the semester when the production staff was finalized. There are numerous plays submitted for the festival and out of that group, the theatre faculty picks a handful, in this case eight plays, to be performed at the festival, Petro said.
Although the plays are generally all different from each other, the theatre department tries to find themes to sort of tie all of the plays together, Petro said.
“This year, our scene designer, Dr. Deb Cohen, is trying to incorporate ‘hands and clocks’ into every set piece,” she said. “There is not a specific theme that [the plays] have to be about, we just try to find similar things between them.”
Skeele emphasized how nothing compares to a playwright experiencing their words they wrote for a character come to life on stage. It is a very powerful and exhilarating experience for a student have that happen to them, Skeele said.
Among the various playwrights who contributed to the festival are sophomore Allison Valetta and senior Rebecca McGann.
Valetta, a sophomore, said the play she wrote, entitled “Heavy in Your Arms,” is a sort of “horror-esque” type of play.
“It involves a girl who, at first, seems to be fine and normal but then whose eating disorder kind of comes to life as a character,” Valetta said. “It terrorizes her, and [the audience] watches the relationship between the girl and the disorder.”
Valetta said she wrote the play last semester in her playwriting class and spent roughly three days on it.
McGann said that she wrote two plays that will be featured in the festival. One, entitled “Open Up,” is about two men who are romantically involved with each other.
“Basically, the one guy is not ready to completely admit out loud how he is feeling,” McGann explained. “There is a surprise twist in [the play] that a lot of people did not see coming.”
McGann’s other play is a horror play called “Stay Young Forever.”
“‘Stay Young Forever’ is a horror play written about kids our age and what would happen if one of them made a wish and actually got to stay young forever and how that would happen.”
McGann said that she wrote the first draft of “Stay Young Forever” last spring in a class with Dr. Skeele. “Open Up,” however, came to McGann one night last semester and throughout winter break and then spent about twenty minutes writing the first draft and has been making edits to the play, even up until last week.
Petro stressed the importance of the “Brave New Plays” festival and the impact it can have on the student body of Slippery Rock.
“A lot of people do not like going to the theatre because they think it is boring and they cannot keep their attention up,” Petro said. “But these are just ten-minute plays, so your attention is there and then the play is over and then you get to another one. You are never bored.”
Skeele called the festival one of the theatre department’s more popular events and a “hard ticket to get.” The festival is the cult sensation of the theatre department, he said.
“I think what is valuable for everybody is seeing what talent exists in these students,” Skeele said. “A lot of times students are interested in what other students have to say, not just ‘old, dead guys’ where the relevance can be questioned. When you are seeing stuff written by the women who sits next to you in Biology, you kind of immediately accept that there is probably something there that is relevant to you.”
The festival shows Slippery Rock, which is a very sports-oriented school, that there are more than just sports happening on campus and it is a chance for the students to show what they are capable of doing and for other students to come and support those students, Valetta said.
McGann said that the festival is a really great opportunity to showcase all the student-generated work together, especially because it is all student written, directed, designed, and acted.
“[The festival] falls a lot on our shoulders,” McGann said. “We try to make our professors proud and ourselves proud and it is just really really cool.”
Skeele said that he always enjoys showing off the capabilities of the theatre students to everyone.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Art is what tells you that what is inside you is worth something,’ and this is a great example of that,” Skeele said.