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Festival exposes playwriting process

‘Writing is Live’ will feature over 10 plays by MFA students and undergrads this month

The evolution of a play from simple words on a page to full staging, costumes, lighting and set is a lengthy process for playwrights. The month-long, fourth annual “Writing is Live” festival, which began Jan. 31, allows students in the MFA Playwriting program and undergraduate playwrights to showcase their works at all levels of development, from bare-bones table reads to large-scale productions.

All six candidates in the three-year MFA Playwriting program will debut original works over the first two weeks of the festival, said Vanessa Gilbert, producing artistic director of the festival and adjunct Theater and Performing Arts lecturer. The last two weeks of the festival are reserved for undergraduates to experiment with original pieces. Some actors and technical staff members are part of the Brown/Trinity Repertory MFA program, but others include Brown undergraduates, Rhode Island School of Design students and Providence community members, Gilbert said.

First-year MFA students will showcase their works via script-in-hand table reads at the McCormack Family Theater, second-year students will debut more embodied pieces with minimal staging and design element­s and third-year students will premiere full productions with the support of technical staff, Gilbert said.

“It’s ultimately about making a community around new writing,” Gilbert said. “This festival allows people a first look at writers that will go out and be professional playwrights.”

Victor Cazares GS, a third-year student in the MFA program, will debut a dark horror-thriller called “Ramses Contra los Monstruos” Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. in Leeds Theater. The piece attempts to humanize the drug war in Mexico and was inspired by Cazares’s upbringing on the border in El Paso, Texas.

“It’s an exploration of drugs, Mexican B movies, monster movies, telenovela, lots of gratuitous sex and poetry,” Cazares said.

Margaret Namulyanga GS, another third-year student, is showcasing “He Is Here He Says I Say” Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. in the Rites and Reasons Theatre. The play revolves around a Ugandan woman struggling against abuse and searching for the courage to persevere. Namulyanga said her experiences at Brown shaped her path into the playwriting world.

“Brown has helped me find my voice as an artist and more so as a person,” she said. “I’ve been more relaxed and confident in my third year showing at the festival.”

For the first time, “Writing is Live” will give several undergraduates the opportunity to premiere pieces through Rites and Reasons Theatre and the Production Workshop.

Theo Peck-Suzuki ’14.5 took a research-to-performance method playwriting class in the fall taught by Elmo Terry-Morgan ’74, associate professor of Africana Studies and artistic director of the Rites and Reasons Theatre. Terry-Morgan helped organize Peck-Suzuki’s play “Grasping at Oranges” into a semi-staged piece by finding him a director and submitting his work to the festival. It will run Feb 16 at 3 p.m. in the Rites and Reasons Theatre.

This is the first major play Peck-Suzuki has debuted, he said. The subject matter, a young man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, was inspired by Peck-Suzuki’s family members’ afflictions with anxiety illnesses, he said. Peck-Suzuki said he hopes that after seeing the show, the audience will be able to understand the disorder and sympathize with the sufferers.

“(OCD) is one of those things that’s misunderstood or misrepresented,” Peck-Suzuki said. “It’s about my character’s journey through the process of becoming ill, leaving school, getting treatment and his halting gradual recovery.”

Zach Rufa ’14, a concentrator in the Writing for Performance track of theater and performance studies, is both stage managing first-year MFA students’ readings and showcasing his own short plays.

“I’m focusing on writing and less on production,” Rufa said. “I’m having a few short pieces of mine read to hear some things and polish them. It’s nice as a writer to hear your work read aloud by good actors.”

Though Rufa said he still has to finalize the exact pieces he is showcasing, most have to do with loss or despair. He said he does not yet know the exact date of the performance, but it will run at the Production Workshop the week of Feb. 26.


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