Arts & Culture

Audience suggests what should survive at ‘Writing is Live!’

MFA students benefit from audience feedback at interactive TAPS showcase last weekend

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2015

Diane Exavier MFA ’17 rearranged her actors in response to audience members’ feedback at the “Writing is Live!” workshop last weekend held by the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies.

The Department of Theater Arts and Performance Studies showcased works in development by first- and second-year MFA students as part of the “Writing is Live!” workshop Feb. 7 and Feb. 8. Showing the early stage of the creative process of playwriting, the program aims to provoke a conversation between the writers and the viewers, inviting the audience to become part of the process, said Paul Margrave, publicity and box office coordinator for the TAPS department.

First-year MFA students presented their works for the first time, giving them a chance to sound out their scripts to a live audience, Margrave said.

During the program, Diane Exavier MFA ’17 workshopped her play titled “We Have Everything You Need for the Problems You Might Have,” which tells the story of an underwater city’s inhabitants trying understand how to love in the midst of an apocalypse.

“One of our assignments for our playwriting workshop was to create a play based off of a map of a fallen city,” Exavier said.

Exavier said she wanted to experiment with the technique of presenting texts, even in unfamiliar forms. Playing with language, translations and poetry, she explored how to present texts without explanations.

“I wanted to let the audience imagine for themselves, even if they don’t know what each word exactly means,” she said.

Though the focus was on the readings, Exavier also incorporated film features in her work. She first had her actors try to narrate a silent film, a compilation of shots she made using her iPhone. In her first reading, the actors faced each other with the screen in between them, causing some confusion among the viewers. Taking this audience reaction into account, Exavier had all of the actors face the screen with their backs to the audience. This lack of interaction with the viewers better emphasized the sense of disconnect in the reading, she said.

“I just wanted to experiment and see what it’s like,” Exavier said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘what if the projections were on the bodies of the actors?’ It’s something I wouldn’t have imagined if I had not made those changes.”

For the next step, she plans to focus on set design, considering what kind of space the play should inhabit. “I’m thinking more of an installation or gallery space where audience can move around and even grab things… and make everyone feel like they’re underwater — we’re all submerged.”

As an extension of the first-years students’ staged readings, second-year students develop their works by considering elements such as stage, costume and lighting. Though they do not yet create a fully realized production, they “see what it looks like away from the page and on the stage,” Margrave said.

Richard Burkhardt MFA ’16 said his work, “Above the Noise,” co-written by Jermaine Golden, serves as an exploration of a cappella music. The piece focuses on a boy entering college and hoping to join an a cappella group. The musicality and theatricality of the piece accentuate the absurdity of the story, he said.

Burkhardt said his actors face the challenge of constantly switching “back and forth from speaking and singing,” he said.

Exavier and Burkhardt agreed on the advantages of having the audience give feedback to the writers.

Usually, working with friends or acquaintances who are not actors is less helpful because “they already know me,” Exavier said. In contrast, she welcomes conversations with groups of people who are unfamiliar with her work. The audience at the workshop rendered it “easier to see what parts were working.”

“We got more feedback than we could possibly use,” he said, adding that he and Golden plan on sorting through the audience responses to see what they could apply to their work.

Unlike in previous years, the third-year students’ full productions will be pushed back to May, around Commencement, Margrave said. The production will take place at AS220, positioning the thesis productions in a theater setting within the local community, he added.