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Jason, played by Michael Fraser, has a flashback with his father, played by Ledger Free, in Occupation Dad, a play written by graduate playwright student Tyler Whidden. Occupation Dad was one of the featured productions for the 2016 Ohio University Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival. (FILE)

Annual OU Playwrights’ Festival to address social issues

The 24th Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights’ Festival will feature different graduate students’ plays with social motifs relevant to society today. 

From April 26 to 28, the festival will include three full-stage programs and a number of different play readings. Most of them portray relevant topics, such as the place of women in society, immigration, mental health and gender roles, Trip Venturella, the producer and coordinator of the festival, said. 

“The pieces that are going to be on the show for this festival have all really brought out not only the artistic voice of the individual artist who’s written a show, but also the social concerns that I think a lot of people share,” Venturella said. 

The three full-length plays that will be performed include Vessel by Natasha Renee Smith, The Defiance of Dandelions by Philana Imade Omorotionmwan and La Mujer Barbuda by Cristina Luzarraga. 

“Their plays are really compelling,” Luzarraga, a third-year graduate student studying playwriting, said. “They’re all very different, but if you see them all at once back to back, there’s strong resonances between them about the struggle of being a woman but from totally different angles.” 

Luzarraga’s play called La Mujer Barbuda, which means “The Bearded Woman,” features two separate stories. One is about a female pilot forced to breastfeed in a cockpit because there is no paid maternity leave, which will intertwine with the other story about a bearded woman who breastfeeds. 

Her inspiration for the play came from reading Edward Albee when she was in high school, as well as visual art like “The Bearded Woman.” The Spanish painting, which Luzarraga’s grandmother showed her, depicts a woman with a long, dark beard breastfeeding a baby while her husband watches. 

“I was really taken with the painting,” Luzarraga said. “I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t have a way in. Then I read about the lawsuit being waged by women airline pilots who work for Delta about the lack of maternity leave and are forced to pump breast milk in the cockpit. That struck me as crazy, and I felt intuitively that it intersected with the bearded woman.” 

The play will work to destigmatize public breastfeeding as well as advocate for paid maternity leave, Luzarraga said. 

“The beard functions as a metaphor,” Luzarraga said. “The struggle of exhibiting masculine characteristics and career ambition while you’re also a mother.”

The play will also include a lot of dark humor, Luzarraga said. 

“If you get people to laugh, you lower their defenses,” Luzarraga said. “It can be effective when you’re trying to deliver a difficult or serious message.”

Jordan Puckett, a first-year graduate student studying playwriting, hopes to utilize comedy during the reading of her play, A Driving Beat, a story about a 14-year-old boy and his adoptive mother who decide to go on a road trip from Ohio to San Diego to visit the hospital where he was born. Writing about a teenage boy and his mom stuck in a car together for five straight days offers an opportunity for humor, Puckett said. 

The play offers several different themes — motherhood, family, growing up and how self identity compares to how others see a person, Puckett said. 

“The main character, Mateo, has brown skin and his adoptive mother has white skin,” Puckett said. “So they, even though they’re very close, they move very differently throughout the world, and that sort of becomes very apparent as they drive through America and get very close to the border.”

Puckett said theater is a great way to convey messages because it allows people to be empathetic with the characters on stage. 

“It’s this amazing tool where you can have audience members being empathetic with different people of social, political, racial, economic backgrounds than people they meet in their regular life,” Puckett said. 

With different social messages throughout the weekend, the Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival will offer the chance for people to explore those different backgrounds. The three stage productions are free for students and $5 for non-students, and all the stage readings are free. 

“We’re in unsteady times where a lot of things are happening,” Venturella said. “And everyone has worked very hard to create something that I think not only demonstrates a high level of artistic confidence, but also a high level of social awareness.” 


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