Seven graduate students of the Master of Fine Arts, or MFA, playwriting program will see their work from over the past year come together at the 27th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights Festival.
The festival will be available online through links on the OU playwriting website. Working through Zoom has primarily been how the playwrights have been preparing for the festival. Skye Robinson Hillis, a third-year graduate student studying playwriting, said theater live and in person is what sets it apart from everything else.
“There's really no accounting for what is lost in that,” Robinson Hillis said. “It didn't feel like we were making theatre.”
If You Go:
What: 27th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights Festival
When: Thurs., 12:30 and 4:30 p.m.; Fri., 4 and 8 p.m.; Sat., 12, 4 and 8 p.m.
Klae Bainter, second-year graduate student in the MFA program, said it’s hard to tell the difference between the first-year and second-year play readings. First-year students typically only get a sit-down read, and second-year students get more of a production. Zoom has leveled the playing field in this case for all of the playwrights.
“We're using what we have to make sure that the stories come through the way that we want them to,” Bainter said. “It's still focused on the story, words and the language and structure of the play.”
Robinson Hillis said she conceived the idea for her thesis play, The Martha Mitchell Effect, during her first year in graduate school. Rising third-year MFAs have to pitch their thesis ideas after PlayFest so that they can work on their idea through the summer. Robinson Hillis’ play takes place between 1972 and 1976 and depicts the experiences of the women who were involved with Watergate, and she said she hopes the audience will take away the awareness that women are always there.
“All the things that we think we know, from various historical events, there's so much more to it,” Robinson Hillis said.
Bainter will present his play titled A Perfect Day Away on Friday at 4 p.m. Derived from an essay by Bainter called 10 Things I Like, the play was originally a dramatized version of the list in a monologue format.
“When you write a monologue, that means that one person has to carry this entire play,” Bainter said. “The audience has to be willing to sit through one person carrying this entire play.”
Steven Strafford, a first-year graduate in the program, wrote A Wood Among the Waves. This play follows a family who is all facing different struggles including cancer, dementia and birthday party plans.
“It's a play that is ultimately about family and about whether or not you can get things from parents who disappointed you as a child,” Strafford said.
The highlight for many of the playwrights comes at the end of the festival when they receive feedback from mentors and professionals. Bainter said he got lucky last year when being paired with his mentor, Steven Dietz.
“I'm from Seattle,” Bainter said. “Steven Dietz is from Seattle. Steven Dietz was my biggest inspiration when I first started writing plays. I love his work.”
Robinson Hillis has had a similar experience and said they have been able to work with mentors from anywhere in the country since they meet on Zoom. The mentors are then selected and paired with a student depending on how they might work together. Robinson Hillis already happens to know two out of three of the mentors responding to her play.
“We've all been working on these plays all year, and we've heard each other's plays many times,” Robinson Hillis said. “After hearing them so many times, and being with the same people, you start to get the same sort of feedback. I'm excited to hear what other people have to say, people who are totally outside of it.”