Alrighty my dudes. This is it. The last show of the season. The 11th Annual Original Play Festival.
For me, I’ve always considered The Original Play Festival (OPF) to be peak student theatre. While we always talk about how every show we do is completely student-run, there’s almost always one aspect of every production that wasn’t created by students, and that’s the book and sometimes music of the show itself. But when you watch OPF, everything you see onstage was created by students. And I think that’s pretty awesome.
But enough about what I think, let’s move onto what some people involved in OPF think (and then we’ll go back to what I think, don’t worry my faithful readers, I haven’t completely lost my sense of self-importance).
Nina Tripodi, the OPF Coordinator, said, “OPF is so special because not only is it a lineup of shows coming together to tell their stories, but this show is probably the biggest collaboration in student theatre at Rutgers. The writers, directors, and actors all work together to create and tell a story for our audience.”
OPF is made up of five plays, each individual and distinctly different from the others. But although there is no connection between the plays, I wondered if there was an overlying theme of the entire production, as there sometimes is for Cabaret’s special projects. For example, the theme of If I Stay: A Musical Revue was about running away from something and returning home, the theme of Old Friends: A Musical Revue was about friendship and support, and the theme of Duets: A Miscast Concert was about Katie kissing as many people as she could get away with.
“This year's OPF didn’t set out to have a theme,” says Nina, “but I think a theme happened anyways. Someone once said during another production I was in that one of the things that makes theatre so special is that it’s fleeting, and for just the one moment we are on stage, we are connected to our fellow actors and directors and the audience, and then its over. I think these shows carry a similar message that's applicable in our everyday lives. There are people that we will meet and interact with, and no matter how long they are in our lives, the relationships and interactions we have with each other will change who we are.”
I’m not sure if that’s exactly John Lerman had in mind when he wrote a play about Eve (like, that Eve) giving birth for the first time (did Eve give birth multiple times? #replytweet), but sure, after watching OPF the other night, I see where Nina’s coming from.
I asked Grace Hazen, director of “Paradiso”, what she felt the most rewarding part of the process was.
“The most rewarding part, for me,” she said, “was getting to watch the show evolve throughout the rehearsal process. During our rehearsals, we experimented a lot and a lot of what we played around with ended becoming major game changers for the direction of the show. It was really fun to try different things and see what stuck.
Colee Bellmay, who is now performing in her FOURTH (and final :/ ) OPF, emphasizes how great an opportunity the show is for first-time/inexperienced creatives. “It gives students the opportunity to write, act, or direct for the first time at Cabaret,” she said, “all while being in a supportive and friendly environment.”
As an actor, OPF gives Colee (and the other actors) an experience that’s different from most other shows. “I love working with an original work,” she said. “It allows me to get an experience with new ideas that I wouldn’t get otherwise. Working with a playwright on a piece that they wrote is so fulfilling in the best way possible.”
“I love OPF #opf4life.” -Colee Bellmay, Actor, “Impasse”
Colee is one of two actors in “Impasse” by Erin Bogert, along with Paige Jarusiewicz. I already felt like having one playwright around would be scary for me as an actor, but Paige is in two plays in OPF.
“To be honest, the prospect of the playwright being involved in the process was pretty daunting at first,” Paige said. “Knowing that they wrote each character and moment with a specific intention and then knowing that I’d inevitably digress from that in one way or another was kind of nerve-wracking. As usual, though, I had nothing to worry about. The playwrights were invaluable resources throughout the process and being given the opportunity interact with and learn from them was a pleasure.”
“We all went into it with personal ideas of how the play can go and we got to bounce those ideas off of each other so we could up with a performance we were all excited to be a part of. I'm really excited for people to see what we have.”
-Nicholas Efstatos, Actor, “Coming of Age” and “Key Lime Pie”
I asked Mohsin Sharif, who wrote the play “Small Acts”, how it feels to see his play performed.
“It was such a strange but rewarding experience to have a particular vision for my own play and then see it realized in a very different but just as effective manner,” he said. “OPF speaks volumes about the importance of artists interpreting other artists’ work as each and every one of these productions is a unique representation of the marriage between director and writer.”
Jack Oliver is wearing multiple hats in this show, being the director of “Key Lime Pie” and the author of “Coming of Age”. I asked him how it felt to direct a show knowing and interacting with the person who wrote it, and how it felt to be on the other side of that.
“(It was) scary at times,” he said, “but that's part of shaping us as directors; making sure we're able to handle different scenes and enabling us to step outside our comfort zone. Being able to develop an increasingly productive relationship with Madhu Murali, the writer of Key Lime Pie, and being able to voice ideas and make changes as a team made this process easier than I could've ever imagined.
“I had a specific interpretation of my show, but having Sabrina take the show in a different direction showed me sides of the script I didn't fully understand initially. This year's OPF has shown me how much better a production can be with the writer and director acting cohesively.”
“Playwriting is one of my favorite bodies of literature, and watching my friend's remarkable ideas being afforded the opportunity to come to life is something so beautiful to me. I kick myself all the time for not being involved in some capacity last year.”
-Jack Oliver, Playwright, “Coming of Age”, Director, “Key Lime Pie”
You may have noticed that I haven’t told you much about the plays themselves, and that’s really because it’s very hard to say too much about any of them without giving away spoilers (something I have been hypersensitive to lately, as I’ve been watching Game of Thrones one day later than everyone else AND I’m seeing Avengers: Endgame tonight). But I genuinely enjoyed each and every one of these plays, and they all made me feel different Emotions, ranging from (but not limited to) happiness, sadness, nostalgia, worry, and hunger.
I will leave you with these teasers (which in no way come close to summing up any of the plays in this show): pie, ring, baby, The Beatles, friend, family, math, radio, Captain America dies.*
The 11th Annual Original Play Festival will be running at Cabaret Theatre this weekend on:
Friday, April 26th at 8:00pm
Saturday, April 27th at 8:00pm
Sunday, April 28th at 7:00pm
For tickets: http://sabo.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=4785
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/273790353566337/?event_time_id=273790363566336
Photography by Steph Bradli
*I don’t actually know if he dies or not don’t get mad at me please