Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Fun Parts

One of the best aspects of my job is the annual new plays festival I produce within my department. I've been doing it for a long time--loooooonnnggggg time!--and it is always fresh, exciting, challenging, and rewarding. My senior students (yes, undergraduates) write full-length plays from August to October, and, starting in November, we all start the train ride to performance. It is a ride that takes six months plus to complete.

This year, I have six students all busily writing. Three (at most) will get full productions, while the others will get two to three public staged readings with feedback sessions.

For those in full production mode, they will be working with a director, a cast, a lighting designer, and some other design help during the process. Each student will rewrite their play before and during the rehearsal process, and get a lot of mentoring in playwriting and directing areas from myself and other faculty. They will have two or three performances for audiences of about 125 spectators.

For those with staged readings, they will also get playwriting mentoring, a director, a cast, and two or three public performances of their script, complete with post-performance discussions sessions. This will help them move forward with the script.

My goal--in the end--is to familiarize the students with some form of production under guidence, so that next time it won't be so very unfamiliar and nerve-wracking. And to move them through the process from idea to performance (August to April) of writing, rewriting, and producing their own original work.

Along the way, of course, there are disappointments: three three who are produced are happy, the others with staged readings not so much... initially. Casting always produces the need for adjustment, as do staging realities. And this festival has gone from no support in the department, to too much (over-designing, over-supervision of students), to not enough again... This year we will have one designer, for lighting only. He is the best and an avid supporter of the festival (unlike his colleagues), but no extra student hands... unless I can recruit them. On the one hand: a blessing. Only people with great attitudes need apply, because it is a lot of work for little praise, recognition, or any kind of reward from above. On the other hand: will require more work from those involved. Like recruiting live music or composition or dance or film students to add texture to the shows.

In the end, this project more than any other is about process--and a little about product, too--but about the actual process of teaching something during a process. How to rewrite a play. How to direct an original play. How to work with a playwright and actors at the same time. How to produce magic with little budget, little help, and lots and lots of creative imagination and desire. Good lessons for budding playwrights, directors, actors, and designers.

I am sometimes torn between wanting more people to notice what we do--internally, like admin and colleagues--and sometimes happy few do. This is a situation in which the students do the work, whatw e're training them to do, and succeed or fail (and it is always somewhere in between, isn't it?) they LEARN.

And that's what teaching is about, from my point of view. Giving them the opportunity to learn.


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