Playwriting Festival features nine plays written, performed by students


Courtesy of SJS Fine Arts

The Playwriting Festival will feature nine plays written and performed by students.

Aleena Gilani and Katharine Yao

Last year, intellectual property licensing laws that permitted only the sale of scripts intended to be performed in-person hindered the drama department from finding material for online productions. To help the drama department evolve, Theatre Directors Jamie Stires-Hardin and Bill McDonald and Johnnycake created the Student Playwriting Festival. On Oct. 22 and 23, the event will return for a second year, featuring nine plays written and performed by students. Although performances were shared virtually last year, actors will stage the shows live at the Black Box Theatre.

Since the Fine Arts Department has transitioned back to live rehearsals and shows, the authors of the chosen scripts were invited to watch rehearsals of their plays in-person and offer suggestions to the actors.

“The best thing about a play written by someone I know is that I can talk to them about how they want the characters to be seen,” said senior Ananya Agrawal, who is acting in three plays.

Stires-Hardin is directing six of the nine plays and has been working for the past couple of months with actors and playwrights.

“Ms. Stires-Hardin took my vision and grew it into something, and I loved watching that happen,” said junior Isabella Gidi, the only playwright to have two of her scripts featured in the festival.

Stires-Hardin believes that having the playwrights available to discuss their work also benefits the director and actors.

“We don’t get the luxury of workshopping the plays with a script that’s been given to us,” Stires-Hardin said. “It’s more collaborative.”

Last year, students were prompted to write scripts that could be easily performed online, but this year student playwrights have been asked to develop plays meant to be performed in front of live audiences.

“It’s going to be awesome being in-person this year,” Agrawal said. “The feeling of having people in the same room as me is so different. I can hear the murmur [of the audience] as I’m getting ready to perform.”

Attendees of all shows must wear masks. During theatre rehearsals, actors were asked to wear masks, but a recent update allows actors to be maskless on stage. Agrawal said that all actors in the production have chosen to perform unmasked.

During rehearsals, Stires-Hardin said that masks complicated performing, since facial expressions are a crucial part of theatre. Regular masks limit the audience’s view of the face to just the actors’ eyes.

“I always say that faces are eight inches by ten inches,” Stires-Hardin said. “These masks shrink them down to four inches by six inches. All we get are eyes.”

This limitation emphasized the importance of body language and gestures when acting. Stires-Hardin said that actors in rehearsals with masks had to focus on using their eyes and arms more to convey emotion and character in place of regular facial expressions.

After watching both masked and unmasked rehearsals, Agrawal is impressed with how the actors and Stires-Hardin have brought her characters to life.

“It’s like seeing the movie for a book,” Agrawal said, “but even better.”

The Student Playwriting Festival will take place live on Oct. 22 at 7:00 p.m. and Oct. 23 at 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.