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Theatre Dept. Production Gives Voice to Student Playwrights

03/14/13
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(L-R)Timothy Kopacz, Chris Gouchoe, Maggie Kearnan and Kyle Brown look forward to seeing their plays staged next week at Robsham Theater. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 13, 2013

The fresh voices of student playwrights will be showcased next week in “New Voices 2013,” a production of original short works by Boston College undergraduates.

Curated by Associate Professor and Theatre Department Chair Scott T. Cummings, “New Voices” will be presented in the Robsham Theater’s Bonn Studio on March 22 and 23 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. “New Voices” is part of the Theatre Department’s commitment to foster work by students and faculty. This year’s edition marks the fourth production of original student plays since 2005.

“‘New Voices’ is a great opportunity not just for student playwrights but for student actors to learn about the new play development process,” said Cummings. “We’re making something brand new, and the crucible of rehearsal prompts lots of changes and adjustments in the scripts. It’s an exciting process.”

The program includes six pieces: four 10-minute plays by juniors Kyle N. Brown and Maggie Kearnan and seniors Chris Gouchoe and Timothy N. Kopacz, and two pieces by students in the Workshop in Puppet and Object Theatre class taught by Monan Professor of Theatre Arts John Bell.

Cummings will direct both Kearnan’s “16 Gigs,” a comedy about an office romance, and an existential mystery play by Gouchoe titled “A Night in the Low Light.” Theatre Department Lecturer Theresa Lang will direct Brown’s “Let Me Go Ever,” about a bittersweet reunion between two ex-lovers, and Kopacz’s “Marcel at Alice’s,” about three female friends taking tea and tussling over paying the bill. 

Bell will direct his students — Kopacz, Kearnan, Christine Movius ’13, Eliott Purcell ’14 and Katie Donnelly ’14 — in a shadow puppet theatre piece titled “The Nightingale,” based on a medieval literature story, and in an object theatre experiment titled “The Wall.”

While “New Voices” is Gouchoe’s first foray into playwriting, Brown, Kearnan and Kopacz have had previous experiences, whether at BC or elsewhere. Chronicle asked the student playwrights to talk about their works, the creative process and the opportunities offered by “New Voices.” [Read the full interview at www.bc.edu/chronicle]

Give a brief synopsis of your play.

Brown: High school sweethearts Eddie and Robin reconnect during their mid-20s when Robin goes to an open house to see Eddie and the apartment he is moving out of.

Gouchoe: The play functions so that the audience doesn’t necessarily know what has happened to the characters, but the gist is that two high school boys wake up in an unfamiliar limbo and have to figure out how they got there.

Kearnan: “16 Gigs” is about a young woman who takes a risk by making a strange proposition to her office crush.

Kopacz: Three women are having a heated conversation over tea. We find out more about who they are, and who they are to each other. It plays with the idea of interior and exterior space as well as the monologue form.

What was your inspiration?

Brown: I wrote a one-act play last year. Scott Cummings found the dynamic between my protagonist and another character something to be explored further. I changed their circumstances and have spent a few months creating a new history for these characters, to the point where the Eddie and Robin from my first play are different people in a different universe with that same dynamic in the first piece. In a way, the play is inspiring itself through every step of the creative process, as the actors now find their ways to bring this relationship to life.

Kearnan: The past few summers I have worked as an intern in an office setting. The summer is when I have the most time to work on plays, so many of them are cubicle-themed.

Kopacz: Every day we speak and react to other people, whether or not we know it, in inflammatory and defensive terms, which are based on shared experiences. The women of “Marcel at Alice’s” have more unspoken at stake than they know; they maneuver around each as we do with our acquaintances and, unfortunately, close friends — in guarded terms that have the depth of an iceberg underneath water. I hoped to tease out some of those intricacies in a piece, which is as short as our daily conversation, about complicated relationships.

What’s the challenge of creating a work for the stage? How does it feel to see your play come to life?

Brown: A problem with any writing meant to be said in a realistic setting is writing on paper. You can say it aloud, think the conversations through, be natural about writing it, but nothing is more valuable than hearing it through other voices. That moment is the confirmation of not only your skills and faults in your language, but also your ability to develop a replicable moment of true life. To me, the play coming to life is surreal; and it is one of the great feelings I have had in my life.

Gouchoe: The challenges have been to concretize an unfamiliar world and abstract concept, and translate it to a bare stage and make it something that people would actually care about. It’s been an incredible learning process to see the work come to life.

Kearnan: At BC, I’ve tried to involve myself in all sides of theater production, including acting and designing, but writing is definitely the most personal. I’m always nervous about presenting my written work. It is strange to watch my thoughts translated from my head to the page, the page to actors, and the actors to an audience. I’ve had to learn to put criticism towards generating my best piece of writing. Talking to a director and actors working with my play has been an enlightening way to produce more focused and honest work.

Kopacz: The hardest thing about the creative process is trying to get everything in your head to play out for everyone else. I know the ins and outs of the story and the relationship, so it’s hard to see sometimes when those things aren’t coming across to the audience without directly asking people: “Do you get this?” It’s strange to see the words take on little lives of their own. It’s exciting, thrilling and a little confusing.

How has the rehearsal process been a learning experience, for you and for the actors?

Brown: The actors have enhanced the experience with how perceptively they think about the lives of these characters, and their feelings have been helpful to me in editing. This level of development has built some real moments for us, and has improved the quality of my writing and my play.

Gouchoe: When working with this new material, there is the possibility to continually shape the text as we rehearse, so every time we run the play I am finding ways to change what is written to mold to what the actors are doing on stage in their movements and speech, and they are getting the specific imagery from what I imagined.

Kearnan: I love watching the actors respond to my play. I think it is the best way to improve. I really appreciate how honest my actors and everyone involved with “New Voices” have been in moving the play forward. Everything the actors say is constructive not only for “16 Gigs,” but hopefully for any of my future plays.

Kopacz: I had input on who was cast, but was more interested in what Theresa Lang thought, because it’s as much her vision as my own. I’ve not been able to attend any rehearsals, as I’m directing a full-length production this semester. [The play, “All That Is Left Behind,” is an original composition of T.S. Eliot poetry arranged into a play that will be performed in an experimental style. The BC Dramatics Society production will be presented April 18-20 in the Bonn Studio.] 

Why is it important that BC Theatre provides students this showcase opportunity?

Brown: It’s another great way for us to practice our craft for the world beyond Boston College. I’m always proud to say how well BC Theatre prepares us for careers on the stage — as actor, director, designer, stagehand and/or producer—and this production adds to that list for me and my fellow playwrights.

Gouchoe: It’s an incredible opportunity to have the Theatre Department produce our work because beside the fact that it would never happen anywhere else with this much assistance at our age, we are given the reigns creatively to explore the characters and ideas in the world of the play in an academic setting that is critical and challenging, but incredibly willing to collaborate based upon substance and innovation—not the ability to sell tickets, which would be the case elsewhere.

Kearnan: Since taking playwriting courses at BC, plays have become my primary form of writing. Understanding the construction process of a play has helped me grow as an actor, director, designer and vice versa. I like being able to see a play from every angle. Without opportunities like “New Voices” to produce the plays I’m writing, I would never get a chance to improve. Plays are meant to be performed, so until they are given an opportunity to be read and commented on by actors, there will always be something missing.

Kopacz: I think it’s very important that BC provides as many opportunities for student writers as possible, because the only way you can hone and craft your writing is to do more. While this can be done on your own, it is ultimately useless without hearing it out loud, without performance. The performance of the text is half the feat, and the only way to figure out the quality/existence of a strong performance aspect is to stage it.

Admission to “New Voices 2013” is $15 for the public; $10 for BC students, seniors and BC faculty and staff. Go to www.bc.edu/theatre for ticket information and details about the plays, including cast and production team members and scripts. Tickets also are available through the Robsham Box Office or by calling ext.2-4002.