Curtain going up on New Plays

Wheaton students take a break during a rehearsal of "Homing" for the upcoming New Plays Festival in the Kresge Theater. The cast and crew include:standing behind sofa, from left, playwright Hannah Lackoff and director Amy Gordan; and actors, sitting from left, Peggy Shannon-Baker, Zach LeClair, Vanessa DAmico and Lucas Walsh. (Staff photo by MARK STOCKWELL)

NORTON — It's obvious from the way she clasps her hands together, kneading the palm of one with the thumb of the other, that Kestrel Dunn has to work to contain her excitement.

With Wheaton's annual New Plays Festival coming up, it's not hard to imagine why.

Dunn is one of nine Wheaton students whose original plays are being performed in the New Plays Festival this semester, starting on Monday and running through Friday, March 2. The students, who took the advanced playwriting course from playwright-in-residence Charlotte Meehan last semester, have been working to write, cast and produce their plays since last September.

"We were writing scenes all last semester," said Dunn, "But it really came together over break. I probably spent about 10-15 hours total on my play during break."

The start of the spring semester this January only signaled an increase in the time needed to bring together a successful production for the students involved in the New Plays Festival.

"This semester we have four two-hour rehearsals per play, and then I've probably spent about four hours on my own doing revisions," said Dunn. "Before the performance, we're all going to watch each other's plays, so that's another ten hours…"

Dunn and her classmates are willing to make the sacrifice, however. "It's definitely a time commitment," she said, "but it's also something I want to do, so I don't mind it."

For Dunn, who took another playwriting course during her sophomore year, the process of writing and producing an original work has helped her to become more serious about playwriting.

"I'm more of a fiction writer," said Dunn, who is an English major concentrating in creative writing, "but I'm definitely much more into the whole process this time. It's been a really great experience."

This year's festival features nine plays, each written by one of the students from the advanced playwriting course, many of whom are also directing and performing in their classmates' works.

Senior English and theater studies major Hannah Lackoff, the student responsible for bridging the gap between the English majors writing the plays and those members of the theater department involved in their production, is also extremely excited about this year's festival.

"I think all of the plays are really outstanding this year," said Lackoff, who has participated in the New Plays Festival since she was a freshman at Wheaton. "Each of the playwrights has brought something really unique to the festival and I can't wait to see the plays performed."

"The New Plays Festival is my favorite thing that the theater department does," said Lackoff, who has been an active member of the department since coming to Wheaton, producing and directing several mainstage productions as well as acting in myriad other works. "It's a really unique experience that Wheaton provides that you just couldn't get elsewhere."

Lackoff is directing classmate Kestrel Dunn's "The Typewriter" - a play she says is "very funny disarming and awkward, and ultimately very real" - and shares the excitement of her classmates at having her own original work, "Homing," performed in this year's festival.

One of several students in the unique position of being both playwright and director, Lackoff has been able to view the festival's development from virtually every angle.

"My role as a playwright is completely different from my role as a director," she explained. "As a director, I'm there to run rehearsals and to try to steer everyone in the same direction."

Sitting back and letting someone else direct is a very different experience for Lackoff. "As a playwright, I sit and observe rehearsals, but don't actively participate in them," she said. "I'm there to make sure my work is being performed in a way that I want it to, but I'm not the person actually telling the actors what to do."

With regard to "Homing," Lackoff said that she is "really excited both about the actors and the director."

"Amy Gordon is directing my play," said Lackoff enthusiastically, "and we had playwriting class together last semester. It's nice to have someone in charge who has seen my play evolve since September. It means she's not only going by my final draft, but also knows my thought process throughout the whole project."

Dunn emphatically echoed Lackoff's sentiments. "This is the first time I've ever done the New Plays Festival," she said, "and it's really fun to see the progression, to see the plays grow and their evolution during the semester, to see the actors bring a new voice to something you've written. It's scary to let it go, but really exciting at the same time."

Paige MacGregor is an English and film studies major at Wheaton College and a correspondent for the Sun Chronicle. She can be contacted at macgregor.paige@gmail.com.

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