Five breakout playwrights and directors assemble for UCSB’s New Works
NEW WORKS LAB
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays – Sundays, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater
Cost: $20 – $12
Information: www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu or (805) 893-2064
“I’ve always said it should be illegal to graduate from (art career-based) program without knowing how to create your own work,” UCSB’s David Stein says. “If they sit around waiting for a casting director to hire them they will sit around and wait!”
Stein has made his career on keeping directors, actors, and writers out of theoretical trouble by started the New Works program, which every quarter delivers five short plays created by students. No plays can be more than 25 minutes, and there is very little budget, but within those restrictions students create amazing works of theatrical art. And for the audience there’s also a sense of watching potential stars of tomorrow emerge.
The five plays are broken into two nights and two programs, the “Mountain Side” and the “Ocean Side,” which repeat several times during the week’s run, featuring works by Jason Bowe, Audrey Sherev, Jennifer Johnson, Harry Davis, and Olivia Nathan.
“The whole idea of New Works lab is ‘Give It Your Best Shot’,” Stein continues, and to do so with mentors like himself. “I’m the guy there with the flashlight helping guide them, and they’re willing to look where I point it. Not that I know what I’m looking at but with the idea that maybe with a little bit *more* light, between the two of us, we can figure it out.”
Stein’s mantra is “Don’t solve the problem – Play with the problem,” and they do. Otherwise, Stein and other faculty stand back and wind up being surprised by a combination of new ideas and “old souls” inhabiting young bodies.’
Jason Bowe’s “Radicals” for example could only be taking place now. A father and son attempt to find a common ground after the younger has taken part in a clash between anti-fascist and alt-right protestors. And both have been radicalized by media and politics, hence the title. But not in the way you might think, Stein says, and not with the race of the actors. “It’s fascinating to watch,” he says.
“The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” is “every conversation I had as a young, sexually-becoming-active adult,” Stein says. “I’m amazed that (the students) have such a willingness to share their questions. They’re not sharing their solutions.” Harry Davis, the playwright, has created a piece for two actors that explores modern dating and the overwhelming existential questions involved in contemporary relationships.
Another duet is found in Olivia Nathan’s “Shelf Life,” which is set in a toxic future between a boy and a girl trying to figure out what kind of a relationship can be built in such an environment.
Not every student comes in with the world weighing on their shoulders. Others like Audrey Sherev see the inherent comedy in the form itself, and “Rewrites” is that beloved thing, the play-about-a-play. Her protagonist must save a troubled school theater production with a retreat into fantasy, medieval battles, and “terrible Scottish accents,” according to the program.
Finally, “Family” brings in a heavy subject based on the author Jennifer Johnson’s actual life as a member of the abusive, free-love based Children of God cult. “It’s a very moving true story,” Stein says, based on six siblings who struggle to connect with and confront the past. “These cults, they take no prisoners,” he says. “They play for life-and-death stakes. It’s really frightening. And this place looks at this all head-on.”
Stein says he’s happy not just with the resulting five works–in the future he hints there may be six in future shows–but with the collaborations out of which these plays grow, rewrite after rewrite. None of the playwrights, directors, or actors are working in a vacuum during the quarter; they sit in on the process of all five plays and out of that, everybody inspires each other. The only constant is that by the end of the process, nobody is hiding their ideas, and nobody is quiet. It’s all about the evolution of the art form Stein says.
“Had Shakespeare been happy with the Greeks we wouldn’t have had Shakespeare. Tomorrow somebody has to be creating the new world. That’s how we move forward.”