Monday Feb. 27, beginning at 8:00 p.m., a crafted form of drama took place at the Ensemble Theatre. A group of UCSB students armed with only words shot their weapon of choice – play writing – into the Santa Barbara night sky. Their inventive stories were explosive and extremely compelling. The Ensemble Theatre and the UCSB Dramatic Arts Dept. exposed the Santa Barbara community to a one of a kind theater experience these last three weeks. Both collaborated to present a series of readings called “Emerging Playwrights.” UCSB actors, who made their pieces come to life with their vivacious voices and great animation, read Works by graduate and undergraduate playwrights. Afterward, the writers came on stage and invited the audience to ask questions.
“It is a really exciting foray into the world of new plays,” UCSB professor and award-winning playwright Namoi Iizuka said. “Hearing [the play] in front of an audience is exciting and full of advantages for the writers and actors.”
Four plays were read on the final day of the readings. Starting with the coming-of-age work, “Your Lovely Hobo” by Julia Halprin Jackson. The play takes place in Sacramento, Calif. and is about a seventeen-year-old girl struggling to graduate high school. The student, who “just wants to get laid,” is meanwhile dealing with getting over the death of her mother, her whale-obsessed boyfriend and one feisty grandmother. The second play entitled “Succubus” by Stuart Zinke is aptly about a the dating dilemmas of a Succubus – a female demon who has sex with men and then steals their souls – and a man who falls into her path. “Animal Crackers” by Chelsea Sutton, takes place at a wedding and depicts four single, young adults. The audience is reminded by one character, “Why do we call animal crackers crackers? Aren’t they cookies?” The characters appear extremely incompatible at first but with the epiphany of one skeptical character, we discover that they are not all that different from one another. The final play, “The Well” by Erin Phillips is about the relationship of two young sisters, and one cynical, evil-spirited sister who uses the well to dump just about every person and frustration that comes into her path.
All plays were intelligent, cogently witty and kept the audience robust with laughter with these new worlds the writers created. One might expect that a reading consisting of four plays where there is no action, scenes and few props to be tiring and dull. On the contrary, the energy of the actors, variety of the voice, style of the plays and the terrific writing enhanced the audience’s experience keeping them alert and interested. Involving the audience with the writers gave a new experience to the performance for all that participated.
“It was scary and exciting – totally nerve-racking,” playwright Phillips, a first year master’s student in Dramatic Arts with an emphasis in play writing, said. Phillips also read in the first two plays with amazing skill. Although some of the writers were understandably nervous at having their work read aloud for the first time, they all seemed to beam with genuine exuberance and excitement throughout the event.
“It was a real luxury. It gives you a lot of feedback as a writer, and it’s a privilege getting the audience’s immediate response,” Jackson, a fourth year College of Creative Studies Literature major, said about having her work read, adding that the opportunity to work with the audience was ” really helpful and it’s always surprising what people relate to [in her writing].”
Jackson also said, “[Iizuka’s] a really amazing teacher and she finds this opportunity for her students… and it makes it easier to grow as a writer.”
Not only was the reading of these original plays one of the most fresh and innovative drama performances that has been produced by UCSB, it was also brimming with talent. The students displayed microcosms of every day life, which proved extremely entertaining. If given the opportunity, be sure to look out for the event next year. Also, both playwrights Phillips and Jackson recommended students that have an interest in writing or drama check out the playwriting classes in the Dramatic Arts Dept.