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Festival debuts in-progress works

World premieres abound on campus this week as the Brown University MFA Playwriting program presents the 27th annual New Plays Festival from Feb. 11 to 15. The festival consists of work written, directed and performed by Brown graduate and undergraduate students in conjunction with the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium faculty. The program also includes a presentation of works in progress by MFA candidates and a panel discussion with faculty.

"Exquisite Corpse," a play by Mia Chung MFA '10 kicked off the festival Wednesday night. "Mo'Reece and the Girls," by Jackie Sibblies MFA '10, premiered last night.

For the two playwrights, the festival is yet another step in the development of scripts they began writing a semester ago.

"The first year of graduate school, the first semester in writing workshop, you're writing the play that you'll put up this semester," Chung explained. "It's kind of designed to put a fire under your butt and also see what you can learn and discover in a really fast process."

Playwriting program faculty matched each writer with a graduate student director, keeping their reasoning for the specific pairings opaque.

"It's a mysterious process," said "Exquisite Corpse" director Michael Perlman MFA '10. "This year there are four first-year playwrights, two first-year directors and two second-year directors," he said, adding that the heads of the program were like "puppet masters" for the production teams.

Though the playwrights and directors had their own defined roles, the festival's structure put an emphasis on collaboration.

"It's definitely considered a workshop production for developing the play," Chung said. "I have to say, it's a hugely beneficial learning experience to be able to develop your play and have rehearsal with directors and actors who know it's your process. I'm definitely not done with the play."

She added that throughout rehearsals and the early part of production, she "had a draft that had lots of holes in it," with notes reading "scene to come..." scattered throughout the document.

Chung may not have been exaggerating when she said the play isn't necessarily "done." Actors received "new lines until 3 o'clock" in the afternoon before opening night, she said. But Wednesday's performance showed little evidence of last-minute revisions, instead coming across as polished and professional.

The opening-night atmosphere fit the festival's collegiate spirit, with an audience that included professor-types with floral, woolen scarves and graduate students in tailored canvas jackets, perfectly suited to the unseasonably warm night.

The New Plays Festival runs through Feb. 15, with performances and events in the McCormack Family Theater at 70 Brown Street. A limited number of tickets are available for reservation on the Musical Forum Web site. If a performance is sold out, e-mail to be added to the wait-list.


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