Kristen Spencer’s time at Stony Brook is coming to an end. Shortly after the senior theatre arts major graduates next spring, the major program she called home the last four years will also come to an end within a few years. As a way of a proper goodbye, Spencer put together a showcase, the “Thanks For Theatre: 10-10 Minute Play Festival,” which will be staged Nov. 31 and Dec. 1 in Theater 3 at the Staller Center for the Arts.
“We felt very invisible as a student body on this campus, as theatre majors, when we were cut,” Spencer said. “And we’re like, you know what? If you actually knew what we do, you would know that this is the last thing you would want to get rid of.”
Spencer came up with the idea for the festival last semester and began working on it with fervor this summer. She recruited five other directors — four of whom are making their solo theatrical directing debuts — and began the semester long process of putting the production together.
“I love ten minute plays,” Spencer said. “Mostly because they are so much harder to write than anything else… you have to hit a whole entire story within just a few pages. For me, if someone can do that, that’s what talent is.”
Featuring ten plays, each ten minutes long, from five student playwrights and five previously published works, the festival is entirely run by students on a shoestring budget of $750, courtesy of the student troupe Pocket Theatre.
“I wanted a mix of people from different backgrounds and… different perspectives,” Spencer said. “And because most of them are new at this, it brought a whole lot of different things to the table that I didn’t think was going to happen with these scripts, but did, in a really good way.”
The directors have creative autonomy, but Spencer — when not personally directing “Hello, My Name Is Dwight Howard,” a play she wrote, and “A Tall Order,” by Louisville playwright Sheri Wilner — “has her hands in everything” and functions as an invaluable resource, according to those working on the festival.
“Whatever she can do to make this work, she’ll do,” said Jessica DiPaola, a senior theatre arts major. DiPaola is making her directorial debut with “Poof!” a play written by Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer winning playwright. “[Spencer] helps every one of us out trying to figure out what things work with our shows… She’s organized this whole thing. She’s dealt with all the issues we’ve run into.”
Throughout the process, Spencer balanced mentoring her fellow thespians without micromanaging their creative visions.
“She’s been very good at letting us have our free reign,” DiPaola said. “She’s come to rehearsals and hasn’t said a word. But if we need help or if we’re struggling, she’ll come and help us.”
The festival is new to the Stony Brook theatre community, so Spencer and the 40-plus members of cast and crew are operating without a roadmap. Yet, the production’s supportive atmosphere was credited by numerous first-time directors and actors as instrumental in creating a positive experience. DiPaola said the 40-plus cast and crew is “all doing what we can do to help each other out.” Junior theatre arts major Amanda Hanley, the director of “Mandate” by professional playwright Kelly Younger, echoed similar sentiment.
“It’s very collaborative,” Hanley said. “It’s ‘oh, I’ll help you out, you help me out’ and ‘yes, I can give you opinions on this…’ We’re all everywhere at once. It’s wonderful because that’s how we learn. It’s a great learning experience.”
Because of the budget cuts and the uniquely energized Spencer’s departure, students involved in the production were unsure if it would be an annual occurrence.
“I think there would be a desire to do it long term if we knew the department would be around long term,” said Hayley Wink, a senior theatre arts major and the stage manager for “Poof!” “But with the department dismantling I don’t really foresee this continuing even though I think that’s a disappointment to all of us.”
Despite the shadow of the budget cuts that will eliminate the theatre arts program’s major and minor tracks in a few years, the students involved in “Thanks for Theatre” have tried to maintain a positive outlook and focus on the work they are creating.
“I think all of our attitudes is pretty much that we’re going to do whatever theatre we can,” Wink said. “Whatever is around, we’re going to participate in while we can do it.”
Tickets for the festival can be purchased at the Student Activities Center ticket office. Student tickets are $3 and non-student tickets are $5. The performances, which are split evenly by an intermission, begin at 8 p.m. both evenings.