Through February 7|
SHORT PLAY FESTIVAL CYCLE A Niagara University/on-line
The purpose of college or university theater programs is to train people for the future, whether as a director or an actor or the person who designs the sets.
In these times, that’s why you are seeing every theater program experiment with what can be done without risking COVID exposure, whether for cast, backstage people or even an audience.
Last fall’s attempt with on-line scenes from Shakespeare didn’t go well, with problems with camera work .
This attempt is a short play festival, in two parts, Cycle A and Cycle B, basically performers in adjacent on-screen boxes with no visible contact.
It’s a chance for students to perform and for student directors to get a crack at putting something on a (virtual) stage. There’s also some work for state managers.
While the overall work is by producer Doug Zschiegner, the selection of the plays in Cycle A clearly came from students surrounded by tech and all of the issues of living on and off the screen, with a phone in hand or on the pillow at night.
Take Katie Murphy’s’ “Just A Game,” about a videogame team: one member considering leaving to meet parental pressure to go to college, another who never went to college but makes a lot of money programming and the third member whose disappearance is danced around.
Apparently, Ty committed suicide and it is crushing the other two teammates, (Jeremy Vicario and Ryle Randall), who are on a Skype call to talk it out while avoiding the key issue.
It isn’t a game, it’s life.
There’s Russell Nichols’ “Going Viral,” about a gonzo talk show host who specializes in conspiracy theories, his own and his callers.
I think it’s supposed to be late night radio, where there’s a proliferation of these shows and Parannoyed Humanoid (Austin Marshall) would fit right in, dancing around where no one can see him.
Each of the three callers, (Sydney McKinley, Christian (CJ) Webster and Caitlin D’Ambra) comes from a different corner of the “out there” people looking for a little time on the air.
One is not only crazy but homicidal.
There’s also a look at young people’s path forward, Peter Hanrahan’s “Prize Inside,” a look at a young woman who has given up her life plans to spend six-years with a baseball player, hoping to eventually get a ring, a white dress and a big event (Samantha Campbell).
A game vendor, master salesman of Cracker Jacks (Zachary King) tries to persuade her to look at where she is, looking down from the stands, hoping for some recognition from her guy.
Since each of the eight pieces is only a few minutes, it’s a little hard to judge individual works, although some are clearly part of a longer story, like “Prize Inside” or Julie Jordan’s “Night Swim,” about two teens (?) debating whether to sneak out in the middle of the night to swim in a nearby lake when there is apparently a truly violent rapist loose in the community (Emily McDonnell and Carissa Clarcq).
These are the discussions of adults by young people on the cusp of that status.
These really are high content short plays.
For theater purposes, it’s hard to judge each because there are such limitations in the need to restrict each cast, usually two people, to the two adjacent frames.
Only director Spencer Dick with “Going Viral” takes advantage of that frame to decorate it, to create a proscenium effect.
For adults, Cycle A of the “Short Play Festival” is a chance to watch young performers work within a theatrical strait jacket while for young performers, much of this is life.
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