Student playwrights prepare for Instant Play Festival

Daniel Kim

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This weekend, the Theater Department will host the annual Instant Play Festival. The festival will take place on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Harper Joy Theatre. Assistant Professor of Theater Jessica Cerullo and many theater students have put tremendous effort into organizing the festival. This weekend, student writers will truly put their creativity to work.

Both nights of the festival are tests of students’ talent. Writers will receive a prompt in the evening, and they have one night to write a 10-minute play. In the morning, finished plays are given to directors, who bring the play to life by 8 p.m., selecting actors, staging the play and selecting costumes.

“It’s basically a way of improvisation as far as the writers’ part and allowing anyone who is anybody come out and act for it. It’s a great creative process and a great way for anybody to come out and have a good time,” said first-time playwright Evan Martin, ’16.

A student can become involved with the Instant Play Festival in many ways, but Assistant Theater Professor Jessica Cerullo chooses the writers. When others recommend a potential writer to her or when she herself believes that a student can succeed in the event, Cerullo will ask the student if he or she would be interested in joining the festival.

“Once I saw the festival, I was inspired by the possibility of writing for it. My junior year I was too busy as an RA to make the 10-plus-hour-a-week commitment. This summer I asked Jessica Cerullo if there was any way that I could be in the class. Luckily, there was an opening,” said senior playwright Maria Ptucha.

Each student enters the festival for different specific reasons, but all have a similar overarching motive: to have the chance to enjoy, experience and learn from the opportunity to be a playwright.

“In the Introduction to Film Making class, you write several short screenplays, but it is always a collaborative effort. I wanted to find my own voice and try my hand at crafting a play, and this seemed like the perfect balance of intensity and immediate results,” said Ptucha.

To prepare for such a creatively demanding night of writing plays, the student writers have been taking a crash course in playwriting. Two-hour workshops have been held every weeknight since the start of the semester. Three playwrights, one for each week of the workshops, have taught students a wide range of skills.

“Basically what we have been doing so far is going through workshops with two different playwrights and learning all the different things we can about writing, not just writing 10-minute plays but writing plays in general,” said Martin.

The playwrights leading the workshops are Karinne Keithley Syers, Jessica Litwak and Scot Augustson. Each playwright has difference expertise and focus in terms of creating plays. For the last week of workshops, Augustson will have students move from a bigger focus on writing and performance into speed-writing, a valuable skill for the upcoming play festival. For Martin, the variety of teaching perspectives is going to be helpful.

“I’m basically going to take all the tools that I learned from these workshops we have been doing and kind of just surround myself with different techniques. So when you’re writing in [such a short amount of] time, you have to be able to pull from certain things and have ideas that just keep flowing in,” said Martin.

Looking ahead at completing workshops and starting the actual festival, the writers are both excited and nervous. Writing a play is hard work, so writing a play for the first time in only one night and putting it on stage the next day is both nerve-racking and exhilarating.

“I’m ready in the sense that I’m excited, and I’m excited to see what other people come up with. But I’m definitely nervous because there is still that one part of me that thinks, ‘what if I write two pages of nothing? What if it’s really bad,'” said junior and first-time playwright Noelle Butler.

Despite the anxiety, students definitely feel they are prepared. Everyone is looking forward to the productions that will come out of the festival this weekend.

“We also talked about [pressure] at our workshops. We learned to think about it as if you’re going to come up with something, and it’s not about pleasing your audience, but about yourself,” said Butler.

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