Muhlenberg College ‘New Visions’ Festival Showcases directorial talents, Nov. 20-24Theater festival to feature two world premieres, plays by Lonergan and Rivera and experimental theater group The Neo-Futurists
By: Clarissa Shirley '22 Friday, November 8, 2019 03:10 PM
Allentown, PA (Nov. 8, 2019) — Six talented Muhlenberg College senior directing students will present their work as part of Muhlenberg’s “New Voices | New Visions” Festival, an annual showcase for directors and playwrights, featuring groundbreaking and innovative short plays.
Four plays will be presented together in a single evening, Nov. 20-24, in Muhlenberg’s Studio Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance. The evening includes two world premiere plays written by Muhlenberg students Patrick Daly ’20 and Caroline Dunn ’21, as well as short plays by established playwrights Kenneth Lonergan and José Rivera.
The fifth show will be offered in a new late-night slot and will feature selections from The Neo-Futurists’ avant-garde audience participation show “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” Tickets for this performance are sold separately.
“The festival is an opportunity for our student directors to work in a fully produced environment,” says Charles Richter, the festival’s artistic director. “All directors have a strong sense of concept. They have very specific creative visions for their plays and know how to present them to contemporary audiences.”
“Family Values” looks inside a mid-’90s sitcom, where raw emotions fight for attention beneath laugh-track superficiality.
Playwright Patrick Daly says he initially wrote the play as a passion project to explore the American sitcom. He says he was fascinated to find clips on YouTube of beloved sitcoms like “Friends” or “Full House” — but without the laugh track.
“I didn’t understand why people liked sitcoms so much,” Daly says. “Without the laugh track, everything just sounds really sad.”
Daly says he has enjoyed the process of collaborating with director Nora Germani.
“She has a wonderful grasp of little details I would have never considered while writing the script,” he says.
Germani has a long history of directing student-written work, including her own. Through her non-profit, student-run theatre company, Black Tie Productions, she has been involved in writing and directing two full-length musicals, “Reprise” and “Emerald City.”
Germani says “Family Values” is the first live theater productions she’s aware of that features a pre-recorded laugh-track. She says she’s looking forward to seeing how it affects the reactions of a live audience.
“The play is about trying to understand your family when you just can’t,” she says. “It’s much darker than a typical sitcom.”
“Beauty Runs on Light Feet,” offers a compelling snapshot of family life, in which a husband and wife struggle painfully to express what matters most.
Playwright Kenneth Lonergan won an Academy Award in 2017 for his screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea.” The revival of his play “The Waverly Gallery” was nominated for a Tony Award in 2018.
“Longergan is able to capture human complexity in such a compelling way,” Wahba says. “He’s a naturalistic writer. I’m drawn to plays that depict realistic behavior.”
Wahba says that Lonergan’s hyper-realistic writing style demands spontaneity from the actors.
“They continue to surprise me at every rehearsal,” he says. “They aren’t afraid to challenge each other and take risks.”
Wahba has worked with Axelrod Performing Arts Center, a regional theatre in New Jersey, for the past three summers. He also served as assistant director of “Ubu Roi” at Muhlenberg in the spring of 2018.
“I am inviting the audience into a bedroom as a private moment is shared between two people,” he says. “We are embracing the discomfort of this private conversation, to demonstrate the unsettling side to love.”
“Holy Sh*t” pits a single mother against her old nemesis, the nun in charge of her daughter's school, and asks whatever happened to good old Catholic forgiveness.
“It comes down to a sort of verbal tennis match between the characters,” says playwright Caroline Dunn.
After growing up in the Catholic school system, Dunn says she was interested in exposing the hypocrisy she observed in some leaders of the Catholic church.
“This was my way of retorting back to them to practice what you preach,” she says.
Dunn and director Heather Nielsen were brought together by their passion for producing work that highlights the female experience.
“It’s an entirely female-identifying team: the playwright, director and actors,” Nielsen says. “Women’s voices need to be heard more, and I’m excited to be contributing to that.”
Last spring, Nielsen directed the play “My California,” which also featured an all-female cast.
“It wasn’t until I started working with all-female casts and playwrights that I found my niche,” she says.
“Lessons for an Unaccustomed Bride” follows a naive young bride-to-be as she seeks help from the town witch, who knows more than the girl expected.
Playwright José Rivera incorporates his experience as a Puerto Rican artist into his work. His plays often emphasize family, sexuality and spirituality.
Director Frederick Marte has been working with the actors to highlight the play’s elements of magical realism. Although the play is written for just two characters, Marte cast an ensemble of actors who help create the play’s spiritual and supernatural world through movement and music.
“The actors embody spirituality in themselves,” Marte says. “I have the ensemble embodying two clashing belief systems.”
Marte says the language within the play itself has a musicality to it. The actors have been working with dialect coach Roger Ainslie to help them with their accents and with the rhythms of the play.
“Both of the actors already speak Spanish so they understand the cultural aspects of what they are saying,” Marte says.
Marte studied abroad for the past year in the Dominican Republic, which has a strong tradition of devised theatre. From this immersive experience, he has crafted a prologue for the production — an independent piece of performance art that responds to Rivera’s published work.
“We’re talking about something that is so relevant, despite the fact that it is taking place in a different location and time,” he says. “Many people have a hard time having discussions with those with different views or values; this play navigates through that.”
“Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” by the Neo-Futurists, a Chicago-based experimental theater group, will be presented as a separate “After Hours” event — an avant-garde theatrical performance, in which the action on stage is determined by the luck of the draw.
Audience members select short plays at random, to be performed from a repertoire of 30 possibilities. The plays range from existential slapstick to soul-baring monologue.
“It’s an hour-long theatrical marathon,” says co-director Ben Goldberg. “We’re going to see how many of them we can get through. Each night the order of performance will depend on what the audience picks.”
“Too Much Light” will be presented Thursday through Saturday at 11 p.m. Shows at 5 and 8 p.m. will be offered on Sunday, Nov. 24, for those who want to see the late-night show without the late night.
Co-director Matt Beaune says the plays vary wildly.
“There’s one called ‘Blind Date,’ where the premise is that a performer is blindfolded and goes on a date with an audience member,” Beaune says. “But there’s also one called ‘The Pitter Patter of Tiny Feet,’ where a man mourns the death of his hypothetical child after his wife fails a pregnancy test.”
Beaune says that Muhlenberg has a culture of late-night performances, owing to many a cappella and improv groups performing in the wee hours.
“This connects us to the work,” Beaune says. “The creators of the plays, the Neo-Futurists, often perform their work at late-night shows, so this worked out perfectly.”
Goldberg and Beaune are working separately with casts of eight performers, who will eventually unite when the show opens.
“While we direct separately, we have a unified vision,” Beaune says. “We’re asking for honesty — from the performers and the audience.”
The directors say the show is sort of like alien sketch comedy — sometimes funny, more thought-provoking than you expect, sometimes hitting close to home.
“Do you like ‘Saturday Night Live’?” Goldberg says. “Because it’s nothing like that.”
Performances of “New Voices | New Visions” are Nov. 20-24: Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8.
Performances of “New Visions After Hours” are Wednesday through Saturday at 11 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. All tickets are $5.
Tickets can be purchased online at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Studio Theatre in Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 West Chew St., Allentown.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, PA., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.