Student playwrights present original work during Playfest 2011

BY DANIEL CARLIN
Daily Arts Writer
Published March 15, 2011

After over 100 preview performances and many rescheduled opening nights, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has officially taken a hiatus. However, since beginning previews in November, the show has found audiences flooding the Foxwoods Theatre in New York to witness it attempting to reshape and redevelop itself.

Playfest



Tonight through Saturday at 7 p.m.

Studio One and Studio Two

Free

University playwrights will be undergoing a similar process this week. Playfest, a festival that showcases six staged readings by student playwrights, embraces the development process. Its stripped-down productions, going on all week, focus on the writing. The festival, which takes place in Studios One and Two of the Walgreen Drama Center, will remind the Ann Arbor community that a play does not need to cost $65 million and be filled with special effects, costumes and over-the-audience acrobatics.

Playfest starts at the beginning of the semester, through the course Playwriting and Production, which is taught by School of Music, Theatre & Dance Prof. E.J. Westlake. The class consists of 17 students — including six playwrights and six directors. Through dialogue and readings, the six playwrights’ shows are workshopped and drafted in the class. While the six other directors prepare to direct these young playwrights’ works, the rest of the class supports the festival in other ways as actors, audition monitors and promoters.

This is Westlake’s first year running Playfest. A playwright herself, she believes that putting plays “up on their feet” truly brings new life to a project.

“It will always have an impact on your writing when you have bodies in front of an audience,” Westlake said. “The language changes; the way the audience interprets things will change your idea of things. You can’t help but have revisions in mind once a play has had a staged reading.”

An integral aspect of Playfest consists of the post-show talkbacks that occur between the playwright and the audience. The dialogue and feedback are meant to dramatically assist each piece.

Emma Donson, an MT&D junior debuting a piece at Playfest, has found this collaborative process to be very beneficial throughout Westlake’s class and is fired up for the audience reactions this coming week.

“It has been really great getting feedback from other students,” Donson said. “As a playwright, you tend to spend most of your time alone, in a room and in front of your computer.”

For the students who are not writers in the course, the class has taught them the importance of the art of writing. MT&D junior Porscha Kazmierczak directed a show and has greatly appreciated being a part of the evolution of a play.

“It expanded the view of the creative process,” Kazmierczak said. “I have a different understanding of what the playwright puts into (a play). Without a playwright, there is no show.”

The six penmen will be taking audiences on a wild roller coaster through different geographic domains, from a working-class community in Pittsburgh to a Brooklyn flat to a dorm room on a reality television show.

“It’s always a challenge with so many different plays in one week, limited actors and resources," Kazmierczak said. "But that just forces us to be more creative and step outside of the box. I think we’ve all done that and I think it’ll be a great run.”

Through Playfest, Ann Arbor will be turning on the lights for new playwrights and audiences who are ready to explore the mysteries and excitement of original homegrown theater.

“You are getting a chance to explore a new work of art and have some input in it,” said Kazmierczak. “And who knows? One of these plays might win the Hopwood!”