In its inaugural year, the Student New Works Festival showcased a litany of student-created performances, culminating in nine original pieces, all written and performed by Stony Brook theatre arts majors.

Spanning from Thursday, April 28 until Sunday, May 1, the festival offered an eclectic mix of short works ranging from 15 to 50 minutes long.

“The SNWF reflects the Department of Theatre Arts’ philosophy that the practice of making performance is critical to the development of a student’s individual voice and vision,” Mallory Catlett, the festival’s director and an assistant professor in the Theatre Art’s department of Directing, said in a festival statement.

Because each performance was created and directed by a Stony Brook student under the mentorship of theatre department advisors, the festival allowed students a platform to express and explore topics centered around their own personal interests.

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“I watched my first episode of “The Daily Show” when I was ten,” said Katherine Gorham, senior theatre arts major and head writer and performer of “Giving Headlines,” a theatricalized version of the “fake” news format popularized by the likes of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. “That’s where my comedy comes from: issues that I care about and being passionate about things I have no control over, so I found that there’s this perfect form already set up for people like me, who people make fun of for caring about the planet too much and what not, ” she added.

Starting off with a satirization of today’s polarizing political landscape and unbending party allegiance with a fierce office battle between lunch options of dog feces and tree bark, “Giving Headlines” established a playful tone. By siphoning political commentary through a comedic filter, Gorham aimed to break down the automatic defenses that flare up with political discussion, in order to allow for a more congenial discourse.

“My art uses humor, intimacy and investment to create paths to understanding,” Gorham, who aspires to be a comedic television writer, said in a festival statement. “I bridge the gap between the personal and the political in a way that is as entertaining as it
is informative.”

Paige Borak, a senior with a double major in psychology and theatre arts, combined her two majors as well as her own experiences with epilepsy to produce “On EPICAC,” based on Kurt Vonnegut’s short-story, “EPICAC.”

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After a narrated prologue that described the story of the suicidal short-circuiting computer, EPICAC, the audience of “On EPICAC” was led to a separate room for an interactive experience that drew connections between a computer’s short-circuiting and the brain while in the flurry of a seizure.

The room, dim with a pulsating strobe light, set a scene of a turbulent aftermath. Complete with overflowing receipt scripts marked with poems, a mannequin entwined in a maze of thread, a flood of Mountain Dew cans centered around a gas mask, overturned shopping carts encasing clothing with black smear and empty pill bottles surrounded by countless cutouts of prescriptions, amongst other bleak props, the space of “On EPICAC” portrayed themes of entanglement, hopelessness and frantic anguish. Borak attempted to encapsulate the chaotic, overwhelming feelings that plague both epileptics and people who are suicidal, an admittedly “almost unfathomable” mindset to portray.

“My work as a theatre practitioner creates, embodies, and observes people’s brains, including my own,” Borak said in her statement. “I look inward to expose myself to people, showing them my valleys and caverns, to give people insight into my own brain.”

With an intimate setting of no more, than 40 people, theatre arts masters student Sheng Zhong looked to infuse eastern aesthetics into her rendition of the Greek myth of Iphigenia, a young girl ordered to be sacrificed.

Depicted from the point of view of Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, the performance began with Iphigenia leaving remnants of herself in the leaves of a sandy setting. Soon, Clytemnestra entered, lamenting in the same leaves with a slow pace that established an ambiance of despair and lament.

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With the memory of her Clytemnestra’s daughter fleeting from her mind, symbolized by Iphigenia taking laps around the square stage, progressively faster with each loop, Zhong looks to capture “the emotions that people ignore or hide.”

“There is a law of conservation of energy in daily life: the more people get, the more people lose,” Zhong said in her statement. “I am interested in those lost parts of life.”

With puppetry, music, dance the exploration of personality disorders and improvisation appearing in other performances, the Student New Works Festival exhibited a wide-ranging collection of student run productions. 

“Since it is our first ever festival, we hope this will be an ongoing platform for the students to develop as artists and individuals,” Catlett said. 

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