With the overwhelming popularity of blogs and social-media forums that provide users with the liberty to share their thoughts and impressions, it’s easy for anyone to feel as though they are a respected critic and that others should appreciate their opinions. Playfest 2012 will provide a similar feedback opportunity for students and faculty trying their hand at critiquing theater, offering constructive criticism in a small-scale-production environment.

Playfest 2012

Tonight at 7 p.m. through March 24, various times
Studio One, Walgreen Drama Center

This year’s Playfest will include six dramatic readings, one performed every day of the upcoming week, starting tonight. From School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Ben Blackman’s existential “Think Tank,” to the “Peter Pan”-inspired “What’s Heaven For?” written by LSA sophomore Michael Toner, the variety of plays this year demonstrates the range of student playwrights at the ‘U.’

Preparation for Playfest begins with Theatre & Drama Prof. OyamO (a.k.a. Charles F. Gordon) selecting six student-playwrights from playwrighting courses whose work seems ready to be taken a step further. He invites these writers to enroll in Theatre 429: “Playwriting Towards Production,” a course designed to help students understand their work as an object to be produced, resulting in professional readings during the weeklong Playfest.

“The process begins with one full class devoted entirely to a single student’s play, since the class is three hours long,” OyamO explained. “We do a reading there in class, and then we discuss that play, looking for areas requiring improvement. Then the writer goes back and continues to make alterations and work on the play.”

In Theatre 429, students with different areas of theatrical expertise and concentration-focus are given the chance to work collaboratively on something creative, separate from the usual control of a professor.

Through discussions and rehearsed readings, the six playwrights’ shows are workshopped and revised in the class. Student directors prepare to direct these works, and the rest of the class supports the festival in other ways as actors, audition monitors and promoters.

“I also invite people who are actors and directors because we need them too,” OyamO said. “Essentially, what we do in class is we try to fully develop every aspect, as well as each story, further.”

An important part of Playfest is the post-show dialogue that occurs between the playwright and the audience. These comments are meant to augment and assist each piece from the perspective of a viewer.

“The idea is that this reading will give people enough of an idea of the kind of play (the students) have written,” OyamO said. “When the audience has a feedback session after, they can respond to the play and the principles of the course.”

And for the first time, there is a monetary prize that will be awarded at the end of Playfest’s run this year.

“Theater is not a guaranteed paycheck or income; it’s something that you do because you love to do it,” OyamO said. “And if you’re fortunate enough to earn a living off of it, then that’s great. People in the arts are always going to have greater difficulty turning that passion into a living, though.”

That being said, courses taught at such a professional level, as well as Playfest itself, may offer a glimpse of realistic production values and what it takes to survive in such an industry.

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