Mosaic / April 17, 2019

From the page to the stage: New Plays Festival

Junior Mia Coletto wrote “You Probably Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do” during a workshop Fall Term. She was inspired by her own experiences working in a grocery store. (Pravaek Pradhan/TKS)

Junior Mia Coletto had no intention of submitting anything she had written to this year’s New Plays Festival (NPF). Luckily for her, a friend insisted that she submit, going so far as to draft an email to the NPF coordinators for her. All Coletto had to do was attach a play she wrote to the email; her friend even pressed “send” for her. Coletto was shocked and excited to find out that her play, “I Bet You Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do,” was one of the 17 selected plays to be performed in this year’s NPF.

NPF happens every three years, always after Rep Term. Students, alumni and faculty submit original plays to a team of readers, who then select the final lineup. Lasting around seven weeks, a few shows are put on each weekend in Studio Theatre. The shows, for the most part, are bare-bones productions with no blocking, props or costumes.

Coletto’s short play, running around 10 minutes, focuses on a woman who works in a grocery store and has a crush on a coworker. The show bounces between the protagonist, Evie, talking to her crush at the grocery store, and then retelling those conversations to her friends after work. Coletto wrote “I Bet You Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do” in Fall Term for a workshop, and never expected to see it on the stage.

“Everything I write comes from a little part of my life … this comes from having that experience working in the grocery store, having stupid crushes and bothering your friends with them,” Coletto said. “There are a few direct quotes from what I actually told my coworkers … just dumb things that I’ve said accidentally.”

Once Coletto’s show was accepted into NPF, it was turned over into the hands of senior Shannon Mindlin, who was selected to direct “I Bet You Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do.” This was Mindlin’s second NPF, but her first time directing for the festival. Mindlin directed a show last spring for Playground, but noted that that is a completely different experience.

“I think there are slightly more parameters [with NPF] because it’s more about the words, and it’s more about the playwright hearing if a play works,” Mindlin said. She explained that many professional theatres nowadays host NPFs to find fresh, new shows to put on. “We can’t keep doing the same Western pieces, we always need new content.”

Once Mindlin knew what show she was directing, she was able to begin thinking about casting. The audition process for NPF was as bare-bones as the final productions. Actors were given random scripts and asked to read scenes. Each actor was only given one script, since there were so many people to get through.

“A director asked, ‘Can you say ‘I miss you’ but desperately?’” recalled junior Hunter Bolger, an actor in “I Bet You Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do.” “I remember it was so hard in the moment. It was the first time I had ever auditioned for anything. I walked back to my room and kept trying to say it right.”

Sophomore Bennett Van Meter and freshman Hannah Hamlin rehearse “I Bet You Don’t Like Death as Much as I Do.” The two play love interests, badly flirting during work. The actors only had around four rehearsals before their performance. (Rafael Cho/TKS)

During the auditions, directors were able to ask actors to do something specific that would help with the casting of their show. In Mindlin’s case, she wanted to see if actors were comfortable cursing during performances. She asked actors to yell an expletive as loud as they could, which helped give her insight as to who could best bring the characters to life.

Once Mindlin cast the show, she had her actors participate in several read-throughs. This process showed her how the actors interact with each other, and what needed to be tweaked. The cast only had about four rehearsals until their performance, due to the conflicts of trying to schedule rehearsal time that worked for everyone.

“That was nice, though, because it didn’t become default for the actors,” Mindlin said.

The lack of rehearsal time was not a problem for the actors, mainly because they felt as though the characters Coletto provided them with were easy to inhabit.

“I think the characters are really natural for everyday life.,” said sophomore Bennett Van Meter, who played Evie. “Everyone has a friend who doesn’t know how to flirt that well, or is that friend … It was easy to channel them.”

Mindlin was told to only have minimal blocking for her production, which she found to be helpful in the long run.

“It’s been sort of freeing to just have some chairs and music stands and see what I can make,” said Mindlin. “It would be nice if we could have props, but it’s also nice to just have to mime because then the actors don’t have anything weighing them down.”

Bolger agreed that not having much blocking worked well for him as an actor. He felt more in tune with what the playwright was trying to say, and wasn’t thrown off by having to focus on something other than delivering lines. Freshman Hannah Hamlin, who played Evie’s work crush in the show, disagreed.

“[Not having blocking] was hard for me. I’ll read through it and I’m just reading,” said Hamlin. “It’s a secondary thought to be like, ‘Oh, I should be acting, too.’ [In a full production] you know what character you’re supposed to be and you have all those lines in you.”

Coletto had no contact with Mindlin during the rehearsal process, and only knew bits of how they were going because she had a friend in the cast. She was both nervous and excited to see the show performed. She noted that it was hard to hear her own work, especially the parts that she knew didn’t work. Each show has a talk-back afterward so the audience can give playwrights some feedback.

“I’m always happy to get feedback on stuff … Mostly it was just a couple lines that they didn’t like. As I was watching it I was like, ‘Oh god, oh no, I left that in there!’ So everything that the people … said I really agree with,” Coletto said.

Overall, she was glad she submitted her show. The process of writing, editing and then handing the script over to someone else all paid off.

“It was how I wanted it to be as I was writing it … I was really happy with the outcome,” Coletto said.

Lillie Chamberlin
Lillie is a senior at Knox, majoring in creative writing and minoring in gender and women's studies. At The Knox Student, she has worked as the discourse editor, co-editor-in-chief, and is now a co-mosaic editor. She is also a co-nonfiction editor at Catch. Her work has been published in the Galesburg Register-Mail.

Tags:  "You Probably Don't Like Death as Much as I Do" Knox Theatre Department new plays festival student work Studio Theatre

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