Watching the audience react to her story with her own eyes, seeing characters that she created come alive with real-life actors — these are the reasons why Natasha Smith wants to be a playwright.
“If you’re a fiction writer and you put your stories out there, you never really get a clear sense of how your audience experiences it. You don’t get to watch them read it,” Smith, a second-year MFA playwright, said.
The MFA playwright program will put on its annual Seabury Quinn Playwrights Festival, which began April 12 and will end April 22. The event is a combination of works MFA playwright students have worked on all year that will be performed at different times over the two-week festival.
The main events of the festival are two feature productions or “workshop productions” produced by third-year MFA playwrights.
Catherine Weingarten, one of two third-year MFA playwrights in the festival, has been working on her workshop production, “This Is How You Got Me Naked,” since August. The play is inspired by her undergraduate days in Vermont where attending sex-themed parties sparked the comedic playwright in her.
“We had this party every year called 'dress to get laid' ... I wanted to write a play about it. I just remember as a freshman it was super terrifying, sort of crazy and in your face,” Weingarten said.
For Weingarten, her work is personal. Producing plays is a way to take her thoughts and bring them to life on stage. She said it’s a way to work through any issues that might be going on in her life in an artistic way.
Rachel Bykowski, a third-year MFA playwright wrote “Big Fuckin’ Giant,” the second and more serious workshop production appearing in the festival.
Bykowski said she “wanted to analyze toxic masculine culture,” and how objectification of women can ultimately lead to violence against women.
“A couple comments that I’ve already been getting, because the show (has) opened, is that they know people who have had these conversations … even some of the most vulgar and obnoxious, they have actually been at parties where people have said this out loud. I would like them to walk out of there thinking, I have seen this take place,” Bykowski said.
As Bykowski and Weingarten presented their final project as MFA playwrights during the festival, they made it clear that their productions are not “world premiers” — instead they are referred to as “workshop productions” for a reason.
“When you slap something with the world premier title, that usually means it’s the finished product, it’s done, you shouldn’t be making anymore changes,” Bykowski said.
The festival offers the third-year playwrights an opportunity to watch their work unfold on stage in a simulated “premier event,” without the “world premier” title setting limits to their production’s ability to grow and change.
After graduation, third-year MFA playwrights have the opportunity to continue to develop their Seabury Quinn Playwrights Festival productions into a work with the potential to gain momentum in the real world where they begin their careers as professional playwrights.
“I think it would be really cool to sort of be like, cult-classic (playwright) ... doing like weird plays at like midnight and having a lot of people show up to secret events,” Weingarten said.