New Works Festival producers prepare for opening night

This weekend, the Theatre and Dance Department will show its fourth biannual production of the New Works Festival. Established in 2009, the event is a celebration of the future of live performance, providing students the opportunity to demonstrate their findings in the fields of theatre, dance, design, stagecraft, and production.

The festival is the culmination of a semester’s worth of work by students and faculty involved in seven classes across both the Theater and Dance Department and the Music Department. The show runs for three nights from April 21-23, featuring one faculty-written theater piece, three student-written theater pieces, and five student-choreographed dances.

To organize such an event has required hours of work by the 69 students and six faculty and staff members involved in the festival. One class in particular is charged with the task of producing the show. Comprised of five students and led by Professor of Theater and Dance Lynne Conner, the New Works Practicum gives participating students a unique opportunity to be involved in all aspects of producing a live performance.

Commenting on the work that the student producers do, Conner said, “The student producers have this incredibly long and always growing list of responsibilities that relate to all of the stuff that has to get done between now and when we start the show.” Part of what that means is that nearly all of the work that goes on behind the scenes is done outside of class time. Conner explained, “We’re heating up now, to where [the students] will all be spending 25 or 30 hours to make it happen.” As for how the class has been dealing with that daunting level of commitment, student producer Elisabeth Chee ’16 said, “We’re trying hard not to count the hours.”

The work that these students have put in go encompass a handful of a variety of different tasks. Student producer Emery Lawrence ’17 said, “The scale of the tasks ranges from making sure that there is a show to make to making sure that people know about it.” Conner elaborated, explaining the long hours as being the consequence of all of the rehearsals, technical preparations, and marketing plans needed to put on a festival of such magnitude. On top of that, each of the five students in her class are either directing and/or performing in at least one of the performances.

Dylan Shaw ’19, for example, is a student producer in charge of managing graphic design and making the show’s promotional video, while also performing in a piece and having written a piece as well. As a first-year, this list of responsibilities may seem particularly impressive. That’s because the mission of the New Works Festival is to encourage this level of engagement from all students. The four theatrical pieces that appear in the show were chosen through the New Play competition, which was a campus-wide event held this past fall semester. Conner said, “Anybody could submit. And in fact we had submissions for the contest last fall from all over the campus; that also included staff members and Professors Emeritus and so forth.”

As for Shaw, he said, “I submitted one and as a first-year I was really surprised that it was accepted. There’s a play by a junior and one by a senior, and they’re all original works that came out of the beginning playwriting course in the first semester.”

While the plays were selected through this competition, student producer Lawrence explained, “The dances came out of a choreography class. So the plays were a contest that any student could enter, but these are students that are taking choreography and it’s an assignment for them to contribute to the show.” Lawrence, who will be performing in one of the dance pieces, continued on to say, “The dances at Colby are very academic and intellectual, in part because of the size of the department. It’s not these huge 30 people numbers,” he continued, “It’s more like two people and a bucket and seeing how that can turn into a dance.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the festival is the level of collaboration and communication it has fostered between students and faculty. Chee explained, “It’s been interesting to be student producers working so closely to the managing aspect of the department, kind of trying to organize for our fellow performers and other students.” Furthermore, the festival will include an original piece by Conner called “Opening Will”, which is part of a larger piece called “Eat Cake”, a work that explores language, particularly famous language and words. Conner said that this particular scene “takes Shakespeare, and deconstructs it and reconstructs it. That’s about all I can say. It’s very abstract in a lot of ways, but then it comes together with the performance of three scenes from Shakespeare that will be very familiar to everybody.” Students will be performing the piece, and it will run along side the other student pieces in the show. Of the piece, Conner added, “It’s like a little musical I guess, but an unusual one.”

Though Conner’s piece is about 30 minutes long, the other theater and dance works will each be about ten minutes in duration. Those include theater pieces titled “Your Own Hell,” “Draft Seven,” and “An Aster Blooms in the Fall,” as well as five dance pieces yet to be titled. In reflecting on the role that her class has played in the festival, Conner said, “Producing is its own special skill, and something most students don’t get to do on this scale with this kind of budget and this kind of venue and so forth.” She went on to say, “We expect to see perhaps as many as 750 people over the course of the weekend, so the stakes are fairly high in that we’re doing this thing that’s open to the public and the public has expectations about quality.”

The festival will debut at 7:30 p.m. in Strider Theater on Thursday, April 21, and will continue the following Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are free and can be reserved at: https://colbytheater- anddance.tixato.com/buy.