By Amy Wells
The School of Theater's annual Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights' Festival features a weekend of outstanding student work, including two full productions of student-written plays.
Held each year at the end of May, the festival presents a year's worth of work by graduate playwright majors. First-year graduate students present rehearsed seated readings of their work, while second- and third-year students present rehearsed, script-in-hand readings or full studio productions. This year's full studio productions are Nick Sgouros' "Annika Gold" and Dana Formby's "Inherit the Whole."
"The goal of the Professional Playwriting Program is to train playwrights to become craftspeople and artists who will contribute to the culture," said Charles Smith, head of the professional playwriting program. "To achieve this, we focus upon the theoretical study of dramatic structure, the practical application of that theory and the development of critical analytical skills. Student presentation of work to their peers plays a fundamental role in the development of those analytical skills."
Assistant Professor of Theater David Haugen is directing Formby's work "Inherit the Whole." Directing from a new script is filled with challenges and opportunities you won't find directing a published play, he said.
"You are working directly with the playwright to create a brand new piece of work. It is a highly collaborative process," Haugen said. "In this process with Dana, she has done a number of rewrites through the rehearsal period. The piece never sits still for very long because Dana will either see a part that doesn't fit and needs to be cut or she has new ideas that need to be added. Everyone involved has to be very flexible."
Public readings and workshop productions are a vital step in the development of new work for the stage, explained Erik Ramsey, assistant professor of playwriting.
"At a certain point, after a playwright has developed a full rough draft, he or she needs to hear how an audience responds to the play so the playwright can rewrite to hone the work toward a final draft that is ready for production," Ramsey said. "There is no better teacher than a live audience to show where a play is working and where it is not."
During the Seabury Quinn festival, each production receives audience feedback in addition to individual professional response and mentoring from a panel of guest artists.
This year's guest artists include playwright Darrah Cloud, Associate Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater Sandy Shinner, playwright Brain Dykstra and actor, writer and alumnus David Toney.
The guest artists, all nationally known in the theater world, interact with students throughout the festival week in a variety of ways. They formally respond to each new play immediately following the reading or performance and visit classrooms to talk about their areas of expertise. They're also happy to offer the playwrights their wisdom in a one-on-one setting.
"Whether in a formal setting or a chat over coffee," Ramsey said, "the guests provide both critical analysis of the student plays as well as valuable insight into the professional life of the working playwright."
The festival runs through Saturday, though performances of "Annika Gold" and "Inherit the Whole" will continue through next week.
The festival has been held annually since the 1990s. Its namesake is a former Ohio University faculty member who returns each year for the festival and currently resides in New York.
Information about guest artists and a schedule of events can be found at http://ohioplaywriting.org/festival.html.