Stage Set for New and Old Playwrights

Students and local playwrights put on the New Paltz Play Festival, which consisted of eight 10 minute plays, 11 performances and three one acts.

Students and local playwrights joined forces this past weekend on April 8, 9 and 10 when they put on the New Play Festival in Parker Theater. The festival was comprised of 11 performances, eight 10 minute plays and three one acts, written by students and locals and completely student run.

Members of the Department of Theatre Arts decided to hold the festival because they wanted to introduce the idea of new plays and their importance to theater, said Assistant Theatre Arts professor Nancy Saklad.

Saklad was the chair of the committee working on the festival, which also included head of playwriting Larry Carr, artistic director Robert Miller, John Bray – who led the talk backs after the plays – and stage manager Gail Rice. The committee solicited for plays last fall and met over winter break to discuss which plays they would choose.

The committee received about 70 submissions from playwrights located between Albany and Westchester. While some plays came from prior playwriting classes with Carr, others were sent by playwrights in the area. Before the committee read through the submissions, Carr weeded out a few. If he hadn’t, they “would still be reading plays,” Saklad said.

The competitive decision process involved ratings and discussions from the committee.

“We sat down and we rated the plays and we talked to one another about them,” Saklad said. “We looked at the overall ratings and said what can we do if we have this selection of plays.”

Luckily, the committee tended to agree on which plays deserved to be chosen and which still needed work.

“It’s interesting, plays kind of rise to the surface if they’re worth their weight in salt,” Saklad said. “There were a couple of them that we all went ‘these are really good,’ and then there were a whole bunch that we said ‘these have some promise,’ and there were others that we said ‘these are abstract ideas, not yet drama.’”

When the committee concluded the selection process, they ended up with an evening of eight to 10 minute plays on Friday, a matinee of the same plays and a night performance of the one acts on Saturday and another evening of the one acts on Sunday.

According to Saklad,  the selection of plays was extremely varied, with some being very serious and others very funny.

“They’re as unique as the writer’s voices are themselves,” she said.

Local and longtime playwright Mary Gallagher had her comedic play “Andre the Seal” featured in the festival. Her play was about a woman screenwriter desperately trying to get the job of writing what may be the final TV movie. The screenwriter hates pitching ideas, but ends up turning a “sad, personal memory into a perfectly structured, perfectly phony TV movie story.”

While Gallagher was unable to attend the performances due to illness, she had previously met with the director and actresses and felt assured they could handle the play.

“I thought they all understood the play very well and were smart, talented people, so I felt confident that they would do well with it,” Gallagher said.

Another playwright whose piece was selected and performed was third-year English major Annette Storckman. Her play, titled “Assumptions,” was about a lonely girl who falls in love with another girl in a bear suit. Storckman developed this idea after working as the promotional Mando Books bear for an hour. During her time in the bear costume, she was “flipped off” by many guys and realized it was because they thought it was another guy under the bear suit. She then decided to play with gender assumptions, as well as comedy in her play.

Storckman had taken a few of Carr’s classes previously, and saw the New Play Festival as her way to start getting produced. She was thrilled when she found out her play got in, especially considering the number of submissions. Her enthusiasm was enhanced after the actual performance.

“I think my play was very well received. I was relieved to hear the audience laugh at my jokes, and Rachel and Ally were phenomenal,” Storckman said. “There were also a few mentions of it at the talk backs we had after the performances, which was gratifying…nice to know it was remembered!”

With a total of 350 audience members over the course of the weekend, Saklad believes the festival was a huge success and plans to present a new festival in 2013.

“New plays are the life blood of the theatre,” Saklad said. “We are proud to provide opportunities for fresh voices.”