Iowa New Play Festival returns to live format to present four distinct premieres

Returning to a live event for the first time since 2019, the Iowa New Play Festival highlights the University of Iowa’s graduate playwrights.


Gabby Drees

Cast members take notes in a “It’s Like Riding a Bike” rehearsal at David Thayer Theatre at the Theatre Building in Iowa City. “It’s Like Riding a Bike” is one of four full-length productions in the Iowa New Play Festival, running May 2-7.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

Art Borreca, co-head of the playwriting program at the University of Iowa, describes his place of employment as “The Writing University.”

The Iowa New Play Festival acts as a culmination of that idea, he said. The annual festival, which features a repertoire of events including four full-length productions, a number of readings, and guest artists from a variety of disciplines within the world of theatre, provides an opportunity for new theatrical work by graduate and undergraduate students to be showcased in a workshop setting.

The festival will take place in the Theatre Building from May 2-7. This year marks the festival’s return to in-person performances for the first time since 2019. The pandemic caused the 2020 festival to be canceled, and the 2021 festival was in a virtual format.

Borreca, who also acts as the festival’s creative director, said students with a passion for creative expression drive the show as a whole. Thanks to student work and desire for success, Borreca said, the university upholds that distinct and infamous writing legacy.

“This festival has been going on a long time, and I think continuing the festival tradition — featuring plays — is very much in sync with that overall culture of the university,” Borreca said. “The idea is that we bring students here who are particularly interested in writing and producing new work and experimenting with doing new things in theater.”

RELATED: Iowa Directors Festival returns, presents four unique shows

Borreca said the New Play Festival is also an educational experience. This year, the university has invited five guest artists from across the nation to share their knowledge and expertise with students.

Borreca said the guests are intended to give UI students a glimpse into a professional future in theatre. He also noted that, occasionally, relationships formed between students and guest artists can persist beyond the festival, creating opportunities in the future.

“There are advantages to where we are in terms of the ability to focus on one’s writing and one’s work,” Borreca said. “At the same time, it’s important to have that connection to the profession. The guest artists really provide that connection.”

This year, the Iowa New Play Festival will feature four shows from the university’s third-year graduate playwriting students — And Then, It’s Like Riding a Bike, Stars and Stones, and Basically Children.

And Then written and directed by playwright MFA candidate Jarek Pastor, follows a factory just after immense changes have been made to improve working conditions. The show explores what happens when institutions acknowledge their faults, and the employees’ hope for change. 

It’s Like Riding a Bike, written by playwright MFA candidate Jeremy Geragotelis and directed by MFA candidate in directing Ann Kreitman, tells the story of two siblings coping with their mother’s dementia.

RELATED: UI School of Music to tell a forbidden love story at sea with ‘HMS Pinafore’

Kreitman said during the process when playwrights were initially partnered with directors, she connected with Geragotelis. Their similarities drove a portion of the creative inspiration, making for a streamlined directing process.

Kreitman said both herself and Geragotelis love the community elements of theatre, which is partially why It’s Like Riding a Bike is a musical show. Kreitman said music has the unique ability to bring people together, whether they’re sitting in the audience or shining on the stage.

“We just create a healing and joyful experience for not just the audience, but the performers as well,” Kreitman said. “If the performers are enjoying this and creating this gorgeous music, it connects so easily to the audience. Music is just like that expressway to emotional connection. It’s the music really helps us bring the audience into our community.”

The performance balances a weighty topic. Kreitman said that thematically, said she hopes people see, thematically, the positives in the story, too. She said the show is really about reaching out and forging a connection with loved ones, and the goal is for the audience to see the love on stage, and the feeling to resonate and be realized in the real world.

“‘I’m going to show up every day, even when it’s hard, even when I don’t feel like it. I’m going to keep showing up every day to bring a little bit of beauty into this world,’ is what I hope the audience is inspired to do themselves,” Kreitman said.

Sarah Gazdowicz is directing the show Stars and Stones. Written by MFA candidate Emma Silverman, the performance takes a look at Jewish identity and the nuances that come with it.

Gazdowicz said that, above all, she hopes the piece leads the audience to realize that it’s OK to sit with and question one’s own identity, as it is a completely normal and natural part of life to question the self. The play is meant to evoke those thoughts.

“The biggest thing that we’ve kept coming back to with this story is this idea of the nuance and complication of identity, especially identity that is not overtly visual, which is one of the unique aspects of Jewish identity,” Gazdowicz said. “It is OK to live within questions about your own identity.”

Basically Children, written by MFA candidate Charlie O’Leary and directed by MFA candidate Natalie Villamonte Zito, tells the story of two college students who meet, fall in love, and discuss the intricacies of what it means to be gay.

O’Leary said that, throughout the writing process, his work has gone through many changes. What started as a satirical piece transformed into a sort of tragedy, and O’Leary said he wanted the audience to feel for and understand his characters.

“The first draft I wrote, which was about a year ago now, was a completely different play,” O’Leary said. “I would say, like, the first draft or two or three, I feel like I really missed the mark. It was a really cruel satire, and I just sort of made fun of all my characters, and I didn’t really invest in their emotional journeys.”

Basically Children is partially inspired by an event that happened in Massachusetts in August 2020. During the race for governor, a smear campaign was launched against one of the candidates, accusing him of pedophilia. O’Leary took this event, and while major changes were made, wanted to highlight the incorrect association between homosexuality and pedophilia.

Thematically, O’Leary said that outside of noting the aforementioned myth about homosexuality, he wants his audience to devise their own meaning from his work.

“I want my plays to ask questions more than provide answers,” O’Leary said. “I hope that a lot of the topics in the play just get the audience thinking about the sort of issues that I bring up from a bunch of different angles.”

O’Leary also noted that the nature of the Iowa New Play Festival is ideal for collaboration. While all of the pieces presented may not be fully fleshed-out, the workshop environment allows for growth and education above all.

“[Full productions are] not really the point of a New Play Festival workshop,” O’Leary said. “The point is to develop the script, to really make the story sort of as clear and strong as we can, and to provide opportunities, I think, for all of us to collaborate.”

Facebook Comments