Learning How to Play Right

The inaugural Harvard Playwrights Festival hits the stage in New College Theater

A group of actors sat in folding chairs, arranged in a semi-circle. They read lines from scripts resting on black music stands. “Talk of children at the age of 20 is a definite mark of crazy,” one actor said. He played a character named Nick, an English major with serious game. The audience roared with laughter, but he wasn’t finished yet. “You need to learn when to pull out...of a relationship,” Nick quipped.

Where could you have listened to the advice of such a sagely wisecracking (fictional) bro? Too bad, you missed out unless you attended Harvard’s inaugural Playwrights Festival, which was held April 23 through April 26 at the New College Theatre.

The festival of staged readings was the culmination of the semester-long efforts of undergraduates in English Camr: “Advanced Playwrighting 2,” a workshop taught jointly by Briggs-Copeland lecturer Christine M. Evans and Gideon Lester, the 2008-2009 director of the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.).

“[Evans and I] both felt that although seminars are good for introductory playwrights, in the end playwrights really learn best when they get to collaborate with directors and actors and dramaturges,” Lester said. “And they get to test whether their plays are really working in time and space and in the bodies of actors.”

Harvard students collaborated with directors and dramaturges from the A.R.T., who aided in the staging, character, and plot development of the 10 undergraduate plays.

“It was nice to come into an environment where professionals were working with us,” said Matthew I. Boher ’10, a member of the class (and author of the Nick character).

Ranging from hilariously awkward to wryly introspective, the works featured true-to-life dialogue and plenty of colorful characters. Sara L. Wright ’09 opened the festival with a play entitled “The Late Mr. Crawford.” Wright was greeted with thundering applause and warm hugs from teachers and friends.

“This is one of the most supportive environments,” Wright said after the reading of her play.

“We’re incredibly proud of our playwrights and really excited by this,” said Evans. “We hope that in future years, more student-written plays will get onstage among all the famous dead people’s plays.”