UMass New Play Lab Features Both Professional and Student Work
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Saturday, December 2, 2017
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Saturday, December 2, 2017
This week marks the 5-year anniversary of the the UMass Amherst’s department of theater’s New Play Lab; a showcase that selects new works to be workshopped with students and faculty to assist playwright’s in their creative process. For the first time in these five years, New Play Lab will feature three shows, including one by NYC-based professional playwright Dustin Chinn—campus for a two-week residency—and two pieces written by undergraduate theater majors Tatiana Rodriguez ‘19 and Nick Cummings ‘19. In the past, Play Lab pieces have allowed playwrights to prepare and propell new works to debuts in professional theaters across the country.
Both Rodriguez's and Cumming's plays originated from their work in Professor Kim Euell’s playwriting course (Theater 425). As one of the acting Play Lab dramaturgs, Euell encouraged both students to submit their work for consideration. “Kim Euell has definitely served as one of my most adamant supporters and advisors. Without her, a majority of this may never have happened. I am truly appreciative of her guidance as a student and writer,” Rodriguez says. Cummings’s piece commenced from a writing exercise in Euell’s class. “It was just two people waiting outside a room and it ended up becoming the first scene of my play, “ he shared, “I then tried to see if could write these characters at different ages, and the more I did this the more a story started to form around it until I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do.”
Rodriguez has worked on Play Lab on several occasions as both a stage manager and assistant stage manager and was thrilled to enter the enriching environment of Playlab. Having been featured previously in the Five College WORD! Festival, this is the second public showing of her play Unconditional. After seeing multiple pieces regarding the subject of assault, rape, and/or abuse on college campuses, Rodriguez noticed a lack of narratives showing the aftermath of these actions and experiences. She elaborated, “The event might be over, but the trauma remains. Within each set of circumstances, there are individuals who are left to navigate the emotional, physical and psychological pain… It’s not focused purely on the event, or act of assault, it’s about life after, it’s about support and it’s about loving yourself unconditionally. In a way that only you can.” The Playlab process provided Rodriguez the unique opportunity to edit the play as the rehearsal process progressed as well as gain inspiration derived from the cast’s performances. As for what Rodriguez wants her audiences to take away from the show: “A conversation,” she explains, “I want them to reflect. And maybe to feel like the story isn’t ever going to be complete.”
Cummings’s play, Attrition, follows the friendship between two men at three vastly different stages in their lives depicting the complexities and multiple dimensions of love. Though there are only two named characters, six different actors will play them at different ages. Since rehearsals have begun, Cummings has added two new scenes to his play, “Hearing it aloud helps a lot with making the dialogue as fluid as I can make it,” Cummings stated, “the two new scenes I added created a new dynamic to the two character's relationship that hadn’t been featured in the text before.”
Most recently featured at the Ground Floor Summer Lab intensive at Berkeley Rep, Dustin Chinn’s political satire Snowflakes or Rare White People will take the Curtain Theater stage. Chinn was selected by the Play Lab team for his edgy political humor and unique writing style. Starting in New York City’s improv and sketch comedy scene, Chinn soon found himself immersed in the theatre world as a playwright. Inspired by articles that reported whites would become the American minority by 2042, Chinn’s piece depicts conversations around whiteness through the lenses of people of color in the 23rd century United States as white americans are under governmental protection and displayed as a living exhibit. Prior to Play Lab, Chinn has solely heard his piece read by older professional actors and believes having his text through the voices of college-aged students adds a fresh generational perspective. “They bring a different energy to the table, and the team has brought up issues about our future that are definite food for thought in terms of world-building exercises,” Chinn expressed.
The two-week Play Lab festival requires one more element to make its process a complete success: an audience! Audience members are encouraged to attend and be a part of the creative process in a series of talkbacks after each show. Dramaturgs Gaven D. Trinidad and dramaturg Kim Euell will foster these conversations to deliver feedback straight to the playwrights themselves.
Be a part of the creative process and come to UMass New Play Lab:
Snowflakes or Rare White People by Dustin Chinn: Dec. 1, 2, 7 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.
Unconditional by Tatiana Rodriguez: Nov. 30, Dec. 6, 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Attrition by Nicholas Cummings: Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $15 general admission for a choice of 2 plays. Theater tickets are available at the Fine Arts Center box office, by calling 1-800-999-UMAS or by visiting the box office online.