The three plays featured at the School of Drama’s annual Langston Hughes Festival of New Work, which begins this Thursday, cover a wide range of subjects –– one is a school shooting comedy, another a drama set in the Harlem Renaissance and the third an anachronistic interpretation of Lewis and Clark’s journey. But all explore the theme of American identity.
“They all take place in the U.S.,” said Christopher Puglisi DRA ’20, one of the three playwrights. “And all are sort of dealing with issues of identity politics and race, in a way, and the political landscape that we’re in.”
This year, the festival will feature “Shoot Her, Shooter” by Margaret Douglas DRA ’20, “Blues for Miss Lucille” by Puglisi and “Rock Egg Spoon” by Noah Diaz DRA ’20.
Each fall, three teams of students in the Yale School of Drama receive $500 to produce original plays in three weeks. The project culminates in the Langston Hughes Festival of New Work, at which the second-year playwriting students present their plays to an audience. The festival gives playwriting students the opportunity to see their works come to life and provides other School of Drama students with the experience of producing their colleagues’ works in progress.
As the three students in the second-year playwriting cohort of the School of Drama, Douglas, Puglisi and Diaz were tasked with writing an original play during the summer. Each took different approaches. Douglas got the idea for her dark comedy last fall in a class, whereas Diaz spent most of the summer developing his concept before writing his first draft in four days this semester. Puglisi researched his play’s subject and time period for about a year before he began drafting his piece over the last few months.
The budget of just $500 pushed production teams to find creativity in simplicity. Douglas explained that the festival is a “development opportunity” rather than a polished production.
“They are purposefully un-designed, bare presentations so that the students can carefully develop the play’s writing before going down the practical creative routes that a fully-staged production needs,” said Caitlin Griffin, Sr. Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at the Yale School of Drama.
The monetary constraint was not a significant challenge for the production of “Shoot Her, Shooter” or “Blues for Miss Lucille,” as both plays focus on a single setting and have limited characters. Yet, Diaz told the News that he found scaling his play to the simple level of production to be a challenge. “Rock Egg Spoon” features six actors, four of whom play more than eight characters.
“My play is quite large,” Diaz said. “It’s big in scope. It’s an epic. It’s not long necessarily, but it’s three parts.”
He added that the production “[traverses] 1804 to the present.”
All three playwrights said they struggled with the three-week time restriction. Douglas said that comedy “is a matter of precision” that requires time to perfect, while Puglisi explained that the time period forced his team to “really focus on what is essential to the story.”
This year’s festival differs from previous years in length and format. Last year, the festival produced one play per weekend over three consecutive weekends. This year, the plays will be produced in “rotating repertory.” Starting Thursday and extending through Wednesday Dec. 5, the Iseman Theater will host two different shows each day but Sunday. Each play will be performed four times throughout those seven days.
Another School of Drama festival, the Carlotta Festival, has employed this system since its inception in 2005. The Carlotta Festival showcases the work of third-year or graduating playwriting students at the School of Drama. This is the first year the Langston Hughes Festival will adopt this format.
Students in the School of Drama’s Theater Management, Stage Management and Technical Design and Production departments will manage the Hughes Festival’s rotating repertory.
This year’s playwrights said they look forward to continuing to revise their plays after the festival.
Plays featured in previous Langston Hughes Festivals have been produced in Yale Repertory Theatre and other professional venues.
Lindsay Daugherty | firstname.lastname@example.org