There was no “standard” performance at Playwrights’ Workshop, which took place this past Friday and Saturday in Studio Theater.
Over the course of the two evenings, nine plays written, directed and acted by Knox students were presented in just over an hour each night.
On Friday, Oct. 4 at 7:00 p.m., the first five plays ranged in subject from arson in a small community to a little boy with a crush on a male classmate.
During the four Saturday night performances, audiences were kept engaged by issues of transgender identity, cereal cartoon lunacy and the railings of an evangelic priest preaching Randy Newman worship.
The workshop, which occurs at the beginning of each term with roughly a week to rehearse and prepare the staged readings, is known for offering newcomers a door into Knox theatre.
Freshman Ian Tully was unsure about the endeavor at first, after having auditioned for main stage productions without being cast.
He had almost committed himself “to just being in the theme shop for the rest of term, but then, on a whim, I decided that PW would be really cool because it’s writers, Knox directors, it’s a totally Knox production.”
Tully’s experience is not uncommon among workshop participants.
“Typically we expect first years to come out because Playwrights’ Workshop is a great way to get into the theatre department, but it’s always a joy to see fresh faces,” said senior and Playwrights’ Workshop Coordinator Jackie Hewelt.
Tully described the workshop as a “very laid-back experience” and “not a massive time commitment.”
For sophomore Megan Smith, a member of Knox’s Theatre Advisory Board, it offered an opportunity to gain more experience.
Acting in some pieces while directing others, she appreciated the insight into “how different people direct,” she said.
Playwrights’ Workshop is also “focused on the text, so writers can hear what they’ve written and how different people interpret it,” Smith said.
Freshman Rachel Horne, who attended both performances with her parents during Family & Friends weekend, appreciated the bare-staged reading and feedback format of the workshop as a viewer “because it made you more involved.”
Her father, David Horne, found that “the format gives you a real, direct connection to the text. [And] for me, theatre starts with the text.”
Workshop directors only have to focus on “dialogue, the sound of the script,” according to Hewelt, allowing them to focus on character dynamics and relationships. The stage remains bare, requiring minimal, if any, blocking or costuming.
The form is also uncommonly public, being focused largely on audience feedback.
“So many people stay, and critique, and offer their opinion because it’s a really great way for people to get involved in the theatre, even if they’re not participating in the theatre,” said Hewelt.
However, he noted that the workshops have difficulty gaining reputation, precisely because of what it is that they offer.
“Because it’s so accessible and so easy to get in to, I think people tend to take it for granted,” he said.
Hewelt recounted how, during his freshman year, “it was something significant — we were in Studio. … It was orchestrated, it was well thought out, audience feedback was great. There were two nights, maybe even three. And then something happened. It changed.”
He has seen a decline in respect for the workshops since then, accompanied by a low turnout at auditions. According to Hewelt, the workshops are often overlooked.
“People want to be cast in things where one, they’re getting an education, and two, they’re getting their face out there…and so, [people] go for the shows that have a big production,” he said.
Despite concerns over hierarchy in the theatre department, he was pleased with the smooth and well-received performances of Friday and Saturday evening, and continues to stand behind the Playwrights’ Workshop format.
“[People say] ‘that’s it, there’s not a lot to it.’ Because there isn’t a lot to it. That’s the beauty of it: people have their stuff read, you don’t have to do a lot with it, but you do so much,” he said. “The energy that you experience doing Playwrights’ Workshop — to me, that’s unmatched by any other thing that Knox theatre does.”