Junior Joel Willison was absorbed in a fidget toy and had his head down while watching this year’s Playground. Willison hates watching plays that he’s written or directed, and this year a play he wrote titled “Dot” was selected by the organizers of Playground to be performed.
Playground is a bare-bones production of student-written plays. Students with little to no theatre backgrounds are invited to write, act, direct and produce works for the Knox community. This Playground, held on the Feb. 2 and 3, was performed at Taylor Lounge instead of the Studio Theatre due to Rep term rehearsals. Though the location added another layer to the informality, Willison was still sweating while he watched “Dot.”
“I was so awkward. I was awkward the entire time, but I don’t really watch for what’s on stage. I watch for what the audiences’ reaction is,” Willison said. “If they laugh I take a note of that, if they make any kind of reaction, good or bad, then I want to pay attention to that,” Willison said.
In spite of his nerves, Willison believes the play went well and that he learned a lot from watching it live. Freshman Matthew Nevin agrees that Playground can be a great learning environment. Though Nevin wasn’t in Playground this term, he performed in Fall Term and also came to watch both nights of the event.
“It’s kind of like doing a club and it’s a more social term commitment. We do maybe two or three rehearsals, but you don’t need to memorize lines for it. It doesn’t take up too much time,” Nevin said.
Nevin isn’t a theatre major, but likes acting as a hobby. He’s glad there is a platform on campus that would allow for less polished work. Due to the accessibility of Playground, sophomore Cathy Satyal was able to perform in Willison’s play despite being a novice.
“I’ve never ventured into theatre before. I kind of just auditioned on a whim because my friend was like ‘let’s go.’” Satyal said.
For Satyal, being able to read her lines from a binder made the experience less daunting; she also appreciated that the character she was playing was similar to her. In the play, her character wears mismatching socks, curses a lot and is South Asian like Satyal.
In “Dot” Satyal’s character meets a boy during freshman orientation week. Though she dislikes him at first, they eventually fall in love. The full play consists of three arcs that follow the characters into adulthood, but for Playground the performance stuck to the initial college arc.
“Once I got on stage it was actually fun. The play was really funny. The character I auditioned for was so much like me, so [acting] was easy,” Satyal said.
Despite enjoying the play, Satyal was still nervous the day she was supposed to perform. Before going on stage, she was wracked with doubt. Satyal was luckily able to pull through.
“I realized if I push myself to do something, even though I think I can’t–I will do it,” Satyal said.
Nevin believes that Playground is the perfect place for people to gain more confidence. He believes it’s an opportunity to learn the skills needed to act without too much pressure.
“Playground is the perfect place to start, it’s more laid back so it really is more like an entry way into the allows acting, and since Playground is also student written you’re helping students promote their work to the college community,” Nevin said.
Willison was especially grateful to be able to watch his work come to life and have the campus critique his writing. The ‘talk back’ portion of Playground when audiences are welcomed to give feedback was particularly important for Willison to see.
“You grow to love these characters you’ve written and you’re seeing them on stage, sometimes it’s what you like and sometimes it isn’t, but watching people put work into it the fact that they chose to stick with the play and thought it was good enough to perform, was really humbling,” Willison said.
Next term will not feature a Playground, but in its place will be the New Plays Festival. Willison describes the production as “Playground on steroids.”
“Anyone who has even been connected to Knox, whether you’re a janitor or an alum from 1951, can submit a play. [The organizers] got 51 submissions … From that we’ll choose some, and then have two or three plays each weekend,” Willison said.
Auditions to act in the New Plays Festival will be held on March 21 and March 22. Students interested can contact Production Manager Megan Molloy.