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New Play Festival showcases original student work

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The Appalachian Online

Playcrafters held the annual New Play Festival Feb. 20-21, with one showing on Feb. 19 cancelled due to inclement weather.

The festival, with more than 30 years of history on campus, premiered four fresh plays each written, directed and performed by Appalachian State University students and alumni.

Featured plays included “Shelf Life” by senior interdisciplinary studies major Dara Epstein, “Remember Me” by senior theatre arts major Molly Winstead, “Dissonance” by Nicole Gardella and “Greatest Play Ever Written Ever” by junior teach theatre arts, K-12 major

Grayson Rieth and Alex James, according to the New Play Festival playbill.

“At the end of last school year we called for submissions,” said Luke White, senior theater major and president of Playcrafters. “We received about 10 plays and our [theatre department team] tried to figure out what would make an interesting night of theater. We aimed for something funny and also something more serious. We began with serious shows and ended with a bang.”

Each play director received their scripts in December and began rehearsals, White said.

“We knew most of the directors,” he said. “So we tried to offer a good challenge for each person.”

Senior theatre design and technology major Emily Siegal directed and choreographed “Shelf Life”, featuring two dancers forced to relive the trials of their past after reuniting as partners. Although the two main roles were originally written for a male and female, Siegal cast two women as leads.

“I had everyone I called back interact with each other so I could judge their chemistry, how natural and interesting they could be, and also how much they could hate each other which is something they needed do for this play,” Siegal said. “Rather than specially choosing a male or a female I looked at everyone and it ended up working a lot better with [sophomore theatre arts major Alexxa Guerrero and freshman theatre arts major Shayne Henkel] in the roles.”

Directing a play and choreographing were new experiences for Siegel, who has previous experience as a stage manager.

“That’s what I like about New Play Festival,” Siegel said. “I have technicians dancing and dancers acting. It’s definitely a place to explore.”

Rieth directed “Remember Me” in addition to his position as a writer for “Greatest Play Ever Written Ever.” The play follows a woman’s journey with her therapist as she explores her family’s history with dementia.

“[The protagonist’s] dad specifically has dementia and now she’s beginning to show signs and is dealing with that process,” Greyson said. “It connects the ideas of what it’s like to have a hereditary disease and knowing that it’s going to come regardless of what you do.”

Tyler Sullivan, a junior English major, directed “Dissonance.” The play is focused on two women, Claire and Morgan, portrayed by Madi Viterito and Fallon Mckeon, and their conversation at dinner.

“The conversation starts off very banal and everyday,” Sullivan said, “but eventually reaches a boiling point where domestic abuse comes to the surface. Claire realizes that Morgan’s been keeping a relationship from her for six months. As Morgan leaves, Claire grabs her violently, and it’s a moment of recognition and awakening of Claire being just as abusive.”

Sloan Hickson, senior theatre performance major, directed “Greatest Play Ever Written Ever,” inspired by Rieth’s own writing experience.

“The premise of the play is that [James and I] were sitting on the couch in our apartment,” said Rieth, “and we began to write down everything we were saying. We went back and revised it a little bit, but everything we wrote down for this play is stuff that we said in conversation.”

Hickson described the play as “satirically meta and very farcical, but a lot of fun to do.”

“It’s a series of short scenes as [the protagonists] develop the play they’re supposed to be writing,” Hickson said. “I learned a lot about comedic timing. Coming from a performance background, looking at something without actually being a part of it, while having influence from farther back was interesting.”

Hickson said removing himself from the acting perspective and learning his boundaries as a director was the most difficult part of his role. Both Rieth and Hickson agreed that the play’s actors and actresses are what move each play in a specific direction.

“This show is a great reflection of what our department does,” Hickson said. “The amount of passion the students have for creating something theatrical solely for the sake of amusement. We love doing this and credit should be given when it’s due.”

Next up, the department of theatre and dance will present “The Countess” by Gregory Murphy from Feb. 25 to March 1 in the Valborg Theatre on campus.

STORY: Kelsey Hamm, Intern A&E Reporter

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