The visions of four graduate playwrights are about to come to life. The University of Texas New Theater Project has premiered 14 new plays collaborated on by playwrights, directors, designers and aspiring production undergraduates in its six years of production. Many of the plays have gone on to receive national acclaim and go onto productions around the country.
“I created the program in 2007 to give graduating playwrights a chance to showcase a play they had written during their time at UT,” Stephen Dietz, creator and curator of UT New Theater, said. “UTNT celebrates the collaborative contributions of our M.F.A. directors and designers, as well as talented undergrads both onstage and backstage.”
Different styles of presentations are exhibited in the 10-day event. This year, two of the works are fully staged productions and two are staged readings. Each playwright is assigned a director and production staff. The students bring their visions to fruition with the help of local actors and professional guest artists.
One of the plays exhibited this year is “70 Secrets of Marmalade Kittens,” written by Gabrielle Reisman, a graduate student in the theater and dance program, and directed by Jess Hutchinson, an M.F.A. candidate in directing. The play tells the story of Quinn, a woman who considers abandoning her family and rural life who turns to a pair of ceramic kittens for consolation and advice.
Reisman explores how a place can affect a character’s changing identity in her play.
“I am fascinated by the permeability of character — how one character transforms into another,” Reisman said. “Though the connection between people and place is an underlying theme in all my plays, I have become increasingly interested in the permeability of place: the way one location suddenly crashes into another, or how two locations live on the stage simultaneously.”
“70 Secrets of Marmalade Kittens” is set on a rural Iowa hog confinement farm, and the porcelain kittens act as a medium between the audience and the inner thoughts of the characters. The play jumps between the period before Quinn leaves and the effects of her abandonment 10 years later.
“The search for home is a thematic thread that is very much sewn through all of my work. Questions of how we seek out and claim the places we call home, and how we balance our geographic homes with the homes we build in other people have always been a core conflict in my plays,” Reisman said.
The kittens attempt to show Quinn that happiness can be achieved depending on the lengths she is
willing to go.
“I am one of the two kittens in the play. Our characters, the kittens, are the bridge in people’s lives. We talk to both the audience, Quinn, and a few other characters,” actor Stephen Mabry said. “We connect both the passion of the person to their inner needs as a human. The play moves fast and our characters help push the storyline.”
His kitten counterpart, theater and dance sophomore Alani Chock, agreed.
“I think the play shows the battle most of us have in our minds, between doing the things we really want to do in life, and our responsibilities,” Chock said.
Though both Mabry and Chock were experiencing their first college theater production, they were able to work on crafting and shaping the play.
“Since this is ‘new theatre’ we have been developing the play over the past few months and lines have been changed, altered, switched and omitted,” Mabry said. “Something that I have had difficulties with is remembering and un-remembering the lines.”
Because the script was constantly changing, the cast had to adapt to new lines and scenes. This posed some difficulties for the kittens that both speak in unison, overlaps and undercuts. However, this flexibility also gives the members the opportunity to transform the script.
“Our work in production has been to lean into and embody the fluid, transformational elements of the story that Gabby referred to as core to this play, investigating how we might both clearly establish separate places, different times, and then begin to blur the lines in a way that feels cohesive and authentic to the story Gabby has created,” Hutchison said. “There is magic in this world, and the potential for personal transformations that run even deeper than leaps across time and space.”
Printed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 as: Theater Project presents student collaboration