Playwrights in Residence
As the spring drama season draws near, aspiring student playwrights ponder over how to transform their works into staged productions that can be viewed and appreciated by an audience of their peers in the Harvard community. For many, finding enough time, resources and publicity poses a problem. In hopes of broadening the opportunities for student playwrights, the Student Playwrights Project was recently organized. Cary McClelland '02 is heading the endeavor and, in his view, the Student Playwrights Project is an "an attempt to provide student writers on campus the opportunity to stage their work with minimum effort and maximum publicity."
In order to provide more opportunities, the Student Playwrights Project first needed to take into account some of the problems that student writers face. Time constraints during this early part of the season mean that many writers cannot pull together full scale productions of their plays. In answer to this dilemma, the Student Playwrights Project focuses more on the scripts themselves, putting together staged readings of the plays as opposed to full productions. "Readings are perfect, because they merely require a bit of rehearsal and minimum technical work," McClelland explains. "The advantages of staged readings are twofold: they allow the writer's vision to be more fully realized by adding the actions which augment the words, and they are simply more dynamic and interesting than seated play readings."
Josh Edelman '00 sees the Student Playwrights Project as the core force behind his play. "Without the SPP, [my play] would have stayed in my desk drawer. I could never get the people, the resources and the money together to do a full-scale production of this script without a lot of work on my part, and it's great to know that there's a way this play can happen without all that fuss," he explains. Edelman's drama, Barbary, which he describes as a "meditation on the violence, loneliness and emptiness of much of American society," will be featured in the Student Playwrights Project. Deviating from most of the plays, however, Edelman's is the only work that will not be performed as a staged reading.
Jesse Kellerman '01 feels that the project has allowed him less work and stress as a director in addition to adding a "fun and experimental atmosphere." However, he also concedes that the scenes in his play are not as intense as those in a full scale production. "It's hard to act truly and intensely when you're forced to refer to a script in your hand," he reveals. Nevertheless, Kellerman feels the advantages outweigh the shortcomings of the project: "It's much easier to identify and fix problems in language and timing when you hear the words being read." In fact, Kellerman has taken the opportunity to produce two different sketches, one of which is a drama called "Write-Up" and the other a comedy entitled "The Bird Conspiracy: A Prelude."
Not only does the Student Playwrights Project expand opportunities for student writers, it also gives the entire community a chance to experience and appreciate the creative energy in the playwrights' works. Unlike poets and writers who have the opportunity to submit their work to the various literary publications on campus, student playwrights don't have many avenues that allow them to exhibit their work to their peers. Edith Bishop '00 explains, "I think it's important that the theater community show support for playwrights. It's important to celebrate all parts of the artistic process." Bishop's play, Hurricane Journals, concerns one woman's efforts to comes to terms with the loss of her childhood through a friend's death. Combining extensive movement sequences with scattered journal entries, the play employs an unconventional mode of presentation. Bishop feels that viewing a staged reading of her play will help her to "better understand what aspects of my play need to be worked on after seeing the reactions of the audience and of the actors reading."
Overall, those involved greatly appreciate McClelland's vision. "I think they should make it an annual event," Kellerman declares. Including McClelland, ten playwrights are involved in the project. In addition to those mentioned, Edward Colby '02, Joe Gfaller '01, Harry Kimball '03, David Parker '03, David Kornhaber '02 and Ben Yeoh are participating in the project. Performances will held Feb. 24, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Loeb Experimental Theater. McClelland emphasized the importance that the Student Playwrights Project holds for student writers and the community: "This is the perfect time because it acts as an introduction to this spring's dramatic season. [It is] a season with more student written work being presented all over campus than I can remember in a long time."