At one point in junior theatre arts major Kristen Spencer’s “At the Table,” a character referred to in the play as Cool Guy walks on stage and begins a monologue.
“When I come knocking, you always, always let me back in like a fool,” Cool Guy says. “I’ll always have a space reserved for me in her mind.”
The girl he is mocking responds with her own monologue, facing the audience. She is one of the three actresses sitting at the center-stage table throughout the 45-minute episodic play. On the verge of tears, she fires off a rapid stream of consciousness, all the while Cool Guy is leering and flicking alcohol from a bottle at her back and down her spine.
“Kiss me there, lick me there, use me there, abuse me there, all over,” she says, shivering from the liquid. “So that it hurts more when you leave.”
The uncomfortable, intense interaction is one of many weaved throughout Spencer’s play, which will be on full display next weekend at the 2nd Annual Student New Works Festival. “At The Table” and six other student productions will be staged from Thursday, April 27, through Sunday, April 30 at the Staller Center for the Arts.
The other plays range from a dramedy of palace intrigue based in Shakespearean England (senior theatre arts major Amanda Murphy’s “Most Lamentable”) to an actor-less ode to technical theater, music and visual art (junior chemistry major and theatre arts minor Ruchi Patel’s “Pigment”) to a metaphysical exploration of sentience and loss through the perspective of a boy and his dog (senior studio arts and theatre arts double major Nihar Sonalkar’s “Hunger”).
“It’s at the heart of what the mission of the theater department is,” festival director and dramatic writing professor Ken Weitzman said. “Giving the students a platform to actualize their creative vision, their creative voice.”
The festival is the product of THR 484: Projects in Theater, a class offered by the theatre arts department. In the fall, theater students submit proposals to a faculty committee for productions to be developed in the spring.
“What we want to do is create a very varied festival in form and content,” Weitzman said. But the department also wants the students to be practical in their planning. “How well thought out is the application? Make them ask themselves some hard questions and present it in a way you might present a grant proposal.”
According to the syllabus, students are expected to hold auditions and recruit a technical crew within the first few weeks of class. They hit the ground running, relying on the wealth of knowledge they’ve gained over their academic careers (all the students this year are either theatre arts majors or minors) and working toward a final production they visualized before the semester even started.
“It’s a very cool process because we actually can produce and build up the play from scratch,” senior theatre arts major Yu Cui said. Cui is the writer and director of “A Nelsonville Tale,” an exploration of the lasting psychological effects of sexual abuse on victims.
All the student artists develop their work from scratch over the course of the semester. Some are inspired by existing works; Cui’s production refers to the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Other works rely more on the artist’s own experiences, like senior theatre arts major Eloisa Baez’s “El Cuco.” Her play combines personal experiences with theatrical stylization in its portrayal of “the boogeyman as a physical embodiment of anxiety,” according to the playbill.
Junior theatre arts majors Emily Gaines and Sydney Gaglio are co-directing an experimental performance piece titled “Within a Box.” Unlike most of the others, Gaines and Gaglio produced a previous version of their play last semester through Pocket Theater, a student-run theater troupe.
Now, through the class and the festival, Gaines and Gaglio have honed it down and refined it with the hopes of publishing a toolkit for peer educators and social workers to put on their own productions of “Within a Box.”
“It’s really great to have the support of the department for our personal work,” Gaines said. “I think there’s a lot of potential that people don’t realize.”
Exact times and locations for the festival’s seven productions can be found on the Stony Brook University Theatre Arts website. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for non-students.