Students, faculty and members of the New Haven community gathered for the annual Playwrights Festival last weekend, which featured readings and discussions of five original scripts by student playwrights.
The festival, which was initiated in 2003 by theater studies professor Toni Dorfman, provides student playwrights with the chance to receive mentorship from experts and have their plays read aloud. This year’s plays were selected from a pool of 42 submissions, and addressed a variety of issues relevant to campus life over the past academic year, including racial marginalization, homophobia, minority identity and fertility. Deborah Margolin, a professor in the Theater Studies Department, said the event is unique within Yale’s performing arts community.
“[The festival] serves the arts community of Yale College in a way that nothing else quite does,” Margolin said.
In addition to celebrating the work of student playwrights, Margolin said, the festival enables young writers to develop new work under the guidance of two mentors: one on campus, and one unaffiliated with the University.
Lucy Fleming ’16, who authored one of this year’s five selections, described the festival as a rare opportunity for the playwrights to hear their works read by a full cast — an integral part of the writing and revision process that is often difficult for student playwrights to arrange.
Alexis Payne ’19, whose play “On Rayton” was one of the five read at the festival, said the reading helped her evaluate her play’s script.
“This reading revealed a lot of the areas where I need to revise and expand the script,” Payne noted, adding that her director, Nailah Harper-Malveaux ’16, had a vision for the play that was “essential in illuminating the distinctions between what is written to be read, and what is written to be performed.”
Payne described her work as a repositioning of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, the story of a gay Black barbershop owner whose reputation is on the line following the racially fueled murder of a neighborhood boy.
Other plays drew on personal memories, scientific concepts and biblical stories as source material.
Stefani Kuo ’17, one of the student playwrights, said that much of the material for her submission, “Architecture of Rain,” was drawn from her own experiences. The piece reflects on the line between life and death, featuring a multifaceted exploration of the different dictionary definitions of the word “curator,” such as the lesser-used “someone who has a cure of souls.” In addition to constituting one of the work’s major themes, these definitions are interspersed throughout the play’s dialogue.
Fleming’s “Desert Play” intertwines biblical storylines from the Book of Genesis with scientific themes, such as the strand of DNA from which the play takes its initial inspiration. The disciplines that both represent — religion, on the one hand, and science on the other — are personified by two characters: a religious studies professor and a biochemistry student, Fleming said.
“Genesis had many authors, and our DNA has many sources,” Fleming said. “Likewise, there’s a lot of things in the biblical text that seem superfluous — like ‘junk’ DNA sequences — but could have many interpretations.”
This year’s festival, held at the Whitney Humanities Center, was sponsored by the Marina Keegan ’12 Memorial Fund.