College theater departments have always been busy places, but the Multi-use Community Cultural Center's College Theater Festival, now in its third year, throws a stronger light on what happens on campus — not just acting, but learning about directing, theater tech, and writing plays. The festival runs Friday, May 9, through Sunday, May 11, and showcases student-directed or student-written short plays, giving needed exposure to young artists.
The schools involved in this year's festival include Monroe Community College, the universities at Brockport and at Geneseo, The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and Nazareth College. And the plays cover a range of characters and situations: from things familiar to contemporary students like classes, romances, and break-ups, to an encounter between soldiers during the Civil War. The lineup also includes a scene from Margaret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer winner, "Wit," performed by SUNY Geneseo students.
"I'd say everyone involved in theatre has had this idea," says MuCCC Artistic Director Doug Rice. "It was a matter of getting the pieces together."
Three years ago, MuCCC approached Lindsay Reading Korth, the director of Nazareth College's theater program, about organizing a college fest. The first festival was held in 2012.
"The first year, Lindsay was the key organizing force. Since then, I have been the facilitator, but really, the college professors and advisors do all the work with their students. And they all love it," Rice says. "There's a need to create an opportunity for theatre students and theatre professors from different colleges to mingle, and this creates that space. We also introduce the students to one of Rochester's black box theatres, and we hope it makes them a little more confident in joining the 'real world.'"
Each college can select up to two works — short plays or, as with "Wit", scenes from a longer play — according to a few possible criteria. "Since each college has a different curriculum, a single standard isn't feasible," Rice explains.
Student groups should be faculty advised, or if the institution prefers, the MuCCC College Theater Fest committee will recommend judges to review and select the works a school will present.
Two students will present plays they wrote and directed: Joe Jackson's "The Smell of Iron," and Jennie Conway's "Workshop." Jackson got the idea for his play in his MCC play-writing class with Maria Brandt.
"We were discussing elements of an interesting story, and one example was that of a faithful believer in God going to heaven, versus a hardcore atheist," Jackson says. "Obviously the atheist getting into heaven would be far more interesting."
In "The Smell of Iron," set during the Civil War, the two characters are an escaped slave and a soldier, both "gentlemen of war," as Jackson puts it.
"I try to write stories that achieve something philosophical, something people will talk about in a random car ride two weeks later," Jackson says. "Creating a character who represents hindsight, who also happens to be an African American fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, I believe achieved this."
Jennie Conway based "Workshop" on several of the writing workshops she has attended at SUNY Geneseo. "I've always thought this would work well as the basis of a play because there's always an eclectic group of students. This semester, I'm in the Creative Nonfiction class, and I was amazed at the courage that some of my classmates had to tell their highly personal stories to strangers and how they felt better after writing their problems out. I would like the audience to come away from the play knowing that writing can be a step towards healing."
Jackson and Conway have both previously directed their own work. Jackson produced, directed, and acted in his "Voices of Disparity" in last year's Fringe Festival. He'll appear in "The Smell of Iron" this weekend, and has found the double assignment challenging.
"As the playwright, I want to see what is not working. However, if I am acting in it, I lose insight on what the script itself is lacking. I also lose the added benefit of seeing someone else interpret the character," he says.
The festival performances are affordable and accessible to all audiences; two of the shows, involving actors and writers from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, will be ASL interpreted by "Stagehands" from RIT and NTID. After each performance the students and the audience members can hear the observations of a professional director — Jean Ryon of Geva, Erica Fee of the Rochester Fringe Festival, Danny Hoskins of Rochester's Children's theatre, and Marcy Savastano of Method Machine.
"This is a valuable platform that offers students the opportunity to show their work outside of their college campuses and also to collaborate with fresh minds," Conway says. "Students get to meet others with the same interests and forge new connections."
Monroe Community College: “The Smell of Iron” by Joe Jackson, directed by Joe Jackson SUNY Brockport: “Twenty Dollar Drinks” by Joe Pintauro, directed by Teresa Campbell SUNY Geneseo: “Workshop” by Jennie Conway, directed by Jennie Conway Nazareth College: “The Birdbath” by Leonard Melfi, directed by Francis Grunfeld
MCC: “The Smell of Iron” National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID): “Twilight Zone – poems from between cultures,” created by Dangerous Signs, directed by Luane Davis Haggerty SUNY Brockport: “Twenty Dollar Drinks” SUNY Geneseo: “Workshop”
MCC – The Sixth Act: “Meandering,” written by Jason Whelehan, directed by Maria Brandt SUNY Brockport: “The Boy Who Ate The Moon,” written by Jane Martin, directed by Sarah Melnyk NTID: “Twilight Zone – poems from between cultures” SUNY Geneseo: scene from “Wit,” written by Margaret Edson, directed by Meg Sexton and Kate Mandracchia
MCC – The Sixth Act: “Meandering” SUNY Brockport: “The Boy Who Ate The Moon” Nazareth College: “The Birdbath” SUNY Geneseo: scene from “Wit”