This Thursday night there will the first of many performances of award-winning playwright James Still’s Appoggiatura will take place at Hatlen Theater as part of ongoing productions by the UCSB residency and performance program Launch Pad.

Appoggiatura will be the eighth theater production sponsored by UCSB’s Launch Pad, a program that invites guest artists to work with students in creating and producing theater performances on campus. While efforts to begin the program were first initiated in 2004, it was officially formed in 2010. Appoggiatura will run for seven “preview performances” from February 28 to March 9 with audience discussions after each show. Tickets are $17 for the general public and $13 for students, seniors, staff, faculty and alumni.

Appoggiatura centers on the adventures of three Americans in Italy: a grandmother, her college graduate granddaughter and a middle-aged man, all of whom have traveled to Italy during a period of personal uncertainty. The title derives from the Italian word “appoggiare”, which means to “to lean” or “to support” and musically refers to a note that displaces before becoming a main note. Appoggiatura reflects these ideas as it presents a journey of discord into harmony, as the family follows an Italian tour guide who fabricates history amidst street music.

According to Still, the ability to see his play performed at UCSB will be a pleasure.

“The climate here is wonderfully, purposefully insulated and isolated, in a good way. The focus here is obviously learning, research and immersion into life experience,” Still said. “In the professional theater, it’s often a lot more cutthroat than that, and for a new play, a first production can really be a make-or-break situation.”

Launch Pad allows professionals to hone their craft as they gradually learn from their mistakes, according to Still.

“Our culture tends to focus on the negative in a very curious way, and a play can be damaged by that kind of negative trail … what a play needs in the beginning is a safe place to evolve,” Still said. “One of the reasons I was drawn to Launch Pad was that I wanted the time to live with all that, as opposed to rush to judgment and always be writing in a panic, rather than writing from a more thoughtful place.”

Furthermore, the collaborative atmosphere of Launch Pad allows a circle of creative input between students, audience members, writers, designers and the director, with an overall goal of changing and improving productions as they undergo several performances, according to Launch Pad artistic director Risa Brainin.

“The audience is the other half of the play,” Brainin said. “We can sit and create the play, but we don’t really know if it works until the audience is sitting there, which is the fun part.”

Ian Elliot, second-year fine arts major, said performing in Appoggiatura has provided valuable experience in personally creating and developing characters.

“Launch Pad is interesting because it kind of forces you to create something in a short amount of time and trust your instincts,” Elliot said. “It’s different because you have to start completely fresh, and you have to learn how to trust yourself, and trust the choices you make as a character and performer, rather than relying upon a set script.”


This article appeared on page 6 of February 25th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.