New Play Festival showcases UI students

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Beginning April 30, UI playwrights will see their works produced in the annual New Play Festival. The festival will include round tables, readings, and full productions of students’ plays.

The festival was started in the 1970s, right around the time that the M.F.A. program was becoming one of the best in the nation, said festival director Art Borreca.

There will be four full productions in the week, which will be attended by guest playwrights who will gather to give feedback on the plays. The guests are usually friends of the program and come from different academic departments and professional theaters.

Borreca said the Theater Department has a large focus on new works, and the festival is a way to make the productions and workshops of plays a public show. Plays are meant to be staged, he said.

“I can safely say this: I’m excited to see this group of graduating writers all having their work produced in the same festival,” he said.

Marisela Treviño Orta, a third-year M.F.A. student, will be the first playwright showcased, on April 30, with her play Shoe. Orta received a master’s degree in San Francisco in poetry before discovering her true passion, playwriting. While in California, she found an on campus job in a local theater writing poetry, doing photography, props, and programming. At this job, she got curious about playwriting, Orta said.

“It’s very similar but different,” she said. “Poetry is solitary. It’s just you and the poem, and then you put it out in the world. Theater is like, you can’t put it out unless you’re collaborating with others.”

Shoe was inspired by events in her life, she said, and she began to use writing as therapy. The story chronicles a daughter’s journey to escape an unhealthy relationship with her mother. She said she wanted to make a mean and horrible character but didn’t want her to be the protagonist. The setting draws from her experience, taking place in her parents’ hometown in Texas.

“In the rewriting process this semester, one of the big things for me was: How do I clarify this title so that it resonates in the appropriate way,” Orta said.

Another third-year M.F.A. student, Scott Bradley, is on his eighth festival, combining undergraduate and graduate years. An actor, director, and playwright, he spent around 20 years in New York after graduating from the UI before coming back to get an M.F.A.

Bradley said the play, A Kingdom Jack’d, will be lighthearted and include political satire written in verse, as well as sword fighting. He said he was excited to experience the dynamic energy that would consume the department for seven days.

The play is based on Shakespeare’s character John Falstaff and the play Henry IV. In Shakespeare’s plays, Falstaff is a immoral glutton and a thief, Bradley said, but he never gains too much power. A Kingdom Jack’d explores what would happen if Falstaff was given the throne, he said. His inspiration came after the 2016 presidential election, he said.

“I really felt it was important to respond to the social and political upheavals that are consuming the United States right now,” Bradley said. “But I wanted to find a framework that would hold those complexities that gave me enough distance to allow a fresh perspective.”

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