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Theatre Lab Plays A Lot

Variety. That is an appropriate word to describe the entertainment awaiting those attending the Berea College Theatre Laboratory’s production of “From Page to Stage - A Festival of Original Plays” each evening beginning at 7 p.m. from Feb. 26 through March 4 at McGaw Theatre. At the festival BC will host the world premieres of 10 student-written plays and the performance of eight plays by playwright Susan Lori-Parks.

Nina Yarbrough and Stephanie Radford practice "No Comment" by B.C.'s Brandie Wagers

The student’s plays have subjects that run the gamut from death and war to the uses of language and the burdens of being a celebrity. They were written by students in Professor Shane Ayers’ recent playwriting course. “I was most pleased with the overall quality of the student plays because many had never written a play before,” said Ayers. Theatre department director Deborah Martin adds, “As one of the directors, it’s thrilling to work with an untried script. Hearing the words spoken after only reading them is a revelation in the quality of the work.”

While BC students have written their own plays to present in the past, this is the first time, in Ayers’ memory, that the theatre department has produced this many at once – all never before seen. “It provides our students with the opportunity to work collaboratively in seeing a new work born onto the stage. The student performers are getting to be the first ever actors to create these characters for the stage.”

Performing the works of playwrights whose presence is constantly felt is both fulfilling and demanding, Martin remarks. “An additional challenge is mediating the emotional stakes of both student playwrights and student directors. Each has taken ownership of the project and thus the challenge becomes one of true collaboration.”

Nina Yarbrough, a sophomore theatre major and second-place winner of the Thornton Wilder Playwriting Contest last year, is one of the featured playwrights. She wrote the one-act play “Duel Coronation” that will be performed at the festival. According to Yarbrough, the two characters “man” and “woman” are symbolic of black men and black women. “The play is about confronting the truth and deciding whether or not we can handle it …. This is their knock down drag out fight over their issues with race, relationships and the breakdown in communication between black men and black women.”

The writer says, “The best thing Professor Ayers taught me was to listen to my voice; listen to the characters and the rest will follow …. I love theatre. I love using it as a platform to say something and to make a statement …. There is nothing quite so powerful as a good script.” Yarbrough hopes to make playwriting a career and has dreams of being “remembered as one of the greats.”

Esther Greene, a senior theatre major, is directing “Apple Pie and Bananas,” a script written by Mark Cashwell that deals with sexual orientation. She and Cashwell communicated before auditions to discuss ideas and the themes he wanted to get across to the audience. “It’s difficult to work with a living playwright because they want their ideas to translate into the direction, and sometimes (we) won’t see eye to eye, which can cause some conflict. But it’s fun to work with something that’s never been staged before and have to come up with your own ideas about how it should look,” says Greene.

There will be no scenery and rehearsal blocks will be used to represent chairs, walls, tables and other essentials. All actors will be clothed in black slacks and white shirts or blouses. “This is a wonderful opportunity for student directors and actors to play against traditional realism and use their imaginations in creating space,” explains Martin. “It also pushes our audiences to fill in the environmental spaces as well.”

The Parks’ plays are part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s 365Plays/365Days cycle and will also be premieres of those plays. Parks wrote a play every day for a year and since November, the dramas have been performed around the world by different theatre companies. Berea College will be producing plays written during week No. 16. “We are only one of two campuses in Kentucky who have been given this amazing opportunity,” says Martin. Parks wrote “TopDog/UnderDog,” which was produced here in fall 2004.

The department head believes it is important for Berea College to produce untried works as well as the familiar. “Supporting emerging theatrical voices ensures that we have contemporary theatre for the future. We cannot continually produce only the classics. These are, in essence, the classics of tomorrow.”

For more information about the festival or to purchase or reserve tickets, contact the theatre box office at (859) 985-3300 or e-mail deborah_martin@berea.edu.

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