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UCSB New Plays Festival Turns Five

The Innovations of My Generation


In its fifth year, the UCSB New Plays Festival flaunts its dedication to exhibiting the talents of current students in 12 brilliant settings-six new plays and six solo performances involving a broad range of student actors, directors, and playwrights. The festival stays true to the voices of the university in both the dialogue and setting of the works, and in the creative energy of its participants. During the past five years, this festival has not only earned praise and interest, it has also gained some real, palpable momentum. In the communal spirit of the festival, students from varying departments and backgrounds have collaborated to create work that transforms the black-box space into such places as jubilant urban blacktops and decadent islands. There’s even a meta-theatrical piece that breaks all conventions of setting and brings the audience into the show.

Tony Breen

The UCSB New Plays Festival includes a musical set in Isla Vista.

From an initial pool of about 40 applicants, the 12 works are selected by a jury and then workshopped to assist the cast, playwrights, and directors in capturing the essence of each piece. Hank Willenbrink-who is the production dramaturg, a PhD candidate, a writer, and acts in the solo performance “The Adam Easton Letters”-describes this as “hammering out” the intentions of the writer. “We have approached it as a process of art under the guise of what we can do to help the play achieve the best that it can. [We strive] to find places where one could fall out of the story, and help [the playwrights] refine that toward the most effective way they can tell it.”

While theater always involves a unique level of collaboration between writers, actors, and designers, its real power lies in the event itself. There is something about live theater that cannot be reproduced in a movie theater or at home on the couch. Most other student productions are of well-known, frequently award-winning plays by famous authors, while the New Plays Festival allows the audience to share the same space as the authors and the students who have inspired them. Willenbrink describes this aspect of the festival vividly, saying, “These are people who are writing plays and walking among the other students, walking through Isla Vista on a Friday night. And when you see the plays, the playwrights are there in the audience with you.”

During the past five years, the UCSB New Plays Festival has changed from a relatively small workshop into a two-weekend, mainstage event. It has become a showcase of revolutionary works created by the voices of the American theater of tomorrow. The healthy dialogue it generates among people who aren’t necessarily typical theatergoers is evident in the increasingly high level of anticipation on campus for this constantly evolving event. In the first weekend of programming, there have already been standing ovations and sold-out performances, demonstrating both the current success of this artistic collaboration and its promise for the future.

The Rundown on UCSB New Plays

What’s distinctive about the New Plays Festival this year is the addition of solo performance cabarets and an original musical production. Naomi Izuka, the founder/organizer of the New Plays Festival, aided by two other staff members, selected the plays for the festival, and they are truly dazzling in their diversity. Izuka said of this year’s festival, “Somebody coming to see all the plays and all the solo pieces is going to be just astonished at the richness of voices. : We have a piece about a young Pakistani-American girl growing up Muslim in Orange County and kind of rebelling; we have a piece that is kind of Beckettian-like Waiting for Godot; and we have a piece that is a musical, which is sort of about Isla Vista, so we have this huge variety of work.”

Some highlights thus far include Amelia Harris’s Trivial Pursuit, in which carefully selected upbeat music sets the tone for a playful questioning of love, and Jason Warkentin’s 8 Life Lessons from Mork and Mindy, which is an existentialist piece the playwright describes as “two characters who negotiate their relationship and the ebbs and flows of love and pain with all things being equal, just a plane with nothing there except for God.”

Performances begin at every night at 8 p.m. in the Performing Arts Theatre at UCSB and will continue through Saturday, May 26; two sets of plays alternate throughout the week. For further information and tickets, contact the box office at 893-3535. Tickets cost $17 for general admission and $13 for students. - Sophia Kercher

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