More Colleges Should Be Producing New Plays

More Colleges Should Be Producing New Plays

Anthony J. Piccione

OnStage Connecticut Columnist

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In just two months, I’ll be graduating from Eastern Connecticut State University with a BA in Theatre and minors in Writing and Film Studies. Since it’s a smaller and lesser-known school, many people may not ever know it, but if there’s anything about the theatre program at ECSU that makes it special and sets it apart from other many colleges in the New England region, it is its consistent support for newer and lesser-known works, including some plays that may be more controversial or experimental. 

Perhaps the best example of this – and also perhaps one of its best kept secrets, in my opinion – is the Phoenix New Play Series, which dedicates itself every year to putting on the newly-written plays of students at ECSU, with all the actors and directors also consisting entirely of students. 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Ebol-A-Rama, which was the 2nd of my one-act plays (my 10th play to be performed, overall) to be presented as part of the Phoenix New Play Series, along with three other one-acts. I had the opportunity to see my play brought to life in rehearsals, and ultimately in the standing-room only performance that occurred on March 5th, which was followed by a talkback with the audience that seemed to enjoy all four plays. (The others besides my own that were presented were The Bad-News-Diner Dinner by Kara DiMarco, The Lighter by Matt Bessette and Cheating, Charming Bastard by Robert Morgan.)

However, it was after the event was done that I got the one bit of feedback that still sticks out in my mind over a week later. It came from one of my best friends who was in the audience that night, who spoke of how impressed he was that all of the creative aspects of the show – the writing, acting and directing – had been purely the work of students at our school. My friend – who studies theatre at another college in the New England region – went on to say that his college theatre program had nothing like the Phoenix New Play Series.

“Really Really,” by Paul Downs Colaizzo at ArtsWest, chronicles a dangerous night when drunken friends cope with an allegation of sexual assault. (Michael Brunk)

“Really Really,” by Paul Downs Colaizzo at ArtsWest, chronicles a dangerous night when drunken friends cope with an allegation of sexual assault. (Michael Brunk)

As a playwright, this did two things to me: On the one hand, it made me feel more proud to attend a school that was perhaps more supportive of new plays than some other schools were. On the other hand, it got me thinking about why more colleges aren’t doing what ECSU is doing, and putting on AT LEAST staged readings of new plays.

As far as I’m concerned, it is college theatre programs that give us the best indication yet of what the next generation of actors, directors, producers, designers and stage managers will be like. So in addition to what they do for all those aspiration to succeed in those roles, shouldn’t this also be the most obvious place where young playwrights have the opportunity to hone their craft, and where potential audiences can be exposed to stories that have yet to be told elsewhere in the theatre community?

Personally, I don’t see any reason why other colleges can’t at least do what ECSU does with the Phoenix New Play Series, and hold an annual event that consists of staged readings of new student-written plays. Indeed, I’d love nothing more than to see ECSU get increased funding for its theatre program so that they could one day – at some point after I’ve graduated – dramatically expand the Phoenix New Play Series into something bigger. For the time being, however, they are able to do what they do with the Phoenix New Play Series every year at virtually no financial cost, thus leaving other colleges with no excuse for not doing the same, as far as I’m concerned.

Time and time again, I’ve heard the excuse from theatre producers and directors alike that potential theatergoers often aren’t willing to come out and see unknown works by unknown playwrights, hence why they are usually more likely to produce more well-known works. A recent column on this blog by Lowell Williams, for example, touched on this issue of the world we live in of the “Unknown Play by an Unknown Playwright”. 

However, I think it’s worth noting once again that our recent Phoenix New Play Series event at ECSU was not only sold-out, but it was standing-room only. This would seemingly indicate that – as long as appropriate marketing techniques are utilized – productions of new plays should have no trouble finding a decent audience, including on a college campus. So if there are any obstacles out there for colleges to become places for young playwrights to get their work presented before a crowd, concerns over potentially low turnout should not be one of them.

So to any college students or professors out there who may be reading this, here is the message that I will leave you with:

If your college theatre program is one of those out there that does what it can to put on new plays by new playwrights each year, you should be proud. I encourage you to keep doing so…if not more than what you’re already doing, if possible.

However, if you are one of those out there whose college theatre program doesn’t do much to support new plays, then maybe you ought to consider at least starting something that is similar to ECSU’s Phoenix New Play Series, for the sake of the next generation of theatre.

If my college can do what they do, I see no reason why other colleges can’t do the same. I hope more of them will consider it, and that over time, we’ll see more colleges become a place where new playwrights can have a chance to hone their craft before going out into the field, just as much as anyone else who is studying theatre.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook 

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