From left to right: Director Jeffery Matthews, playwright Leah Barsanti and dramaturg Michele Volansky workshopping Barsanti's 'If I Were You' and other Elvis Presley Songs in the Carson Room in Mallinckrodt Center. The play will make its world premiere Sept. 29 as part of The Hotch, WUSTL’s annual playwrighting festival. Photo by Beth Palmer.
In drama as in life, there is what we say, and then there is what other people hear.
On Sept. 28 and 29, three young playwrights will put their words to the test as part of the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival.
“There is a new level of learning that comes with hearing your work read aloud,” says Carter W. Lewis, playwright in residence in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, who coordinates the festival.
“When the words are on the page, they are often mistaken for prose,” Lewis says. “But when they’re spoken by actors in front of an audience, they become behavior. And that’s what playwriting really is — it’s writing behavior.”
Nicknamed “The Hotch,” the annual festival consists of an intensive two-week workshop, led by a visiting artist, which culminates in the staged readings.
This year’s workshop is led by renowned dramaturg Michele Volansky, a past-president of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.
This is Me
Students reading last fall as part of the 2011 A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. Pictured, from left to right, are Meghan Kenny, Gabriel Abramowitz, Will Jacobs and Sarah Palay. Photo by Jonathan White.
Readings begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, with This is Me, Wearing a Hat, by junior Aaron Zemach. Directed by Bill Whitaker, senior lecturer in drama, the play explores a society obsessed with recording and sharing every detail of life on “The Loom.” But when four students begin their years of government service, they must decide whether “The Loom” is connecting them or rendering them more detached than ever.
The festival will continue at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, with Howard Be Thy Name, a “coming-of-teenage” comedy about a family, a first kiss and a Googled Bible transcript by 2011 alumna Selena Lane. Directed by Henry Schvey, PhD, professor of drama, the story centers on Ava and Amerie, two young friends who aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be when they grow up, but figure now’s as good a time as any to decide.
Concluding the festival, at 7 p.m. Saturday, will be senior Leah Barsanti’s ‘If I Were You’ and other Elvis Presley Songs. Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in drama, directs the hysterical and sometimes heartbreaking tale of wannabe Elvises (or is that ‘Elvi?’) and wannabe Priscillas in the cultural wilds of California.
All three readings are free and open to the public and take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-5858 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.
Volanksy has worked on more than 150 new and established plays with some of the nation’s leading companies. These include Actors Theatre of Louisville (1992-95), Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1995-2000) and Philadelphia Theatre Company (2000-2004). She is also author, with Bruce Graham, of The Collaborative Playwright (2007).
Now chair and associate professor of drama at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., she also serves as an associate artist for the annual PlayPenn New Play Development Conference in Philadelphia.
The festival is named in honor of celebrated alumnus A.E. Hotchner (AB and JD ’40). An acclaimed novelist, playwright and biographer, Hotchner is perhaps best known for his memoirs Papa Hemingway (1966), about his close friendship with Ernest Hemingway; and King of the Hill (1973), about growing up in Depression-era St. Louis. (The latter was adapted to film by Steven Soderbergh in 1993.)
As a student, Hotchner participated in a similar playwriting competition led by then-professor William Carson, famously placing ahead of classmate Tennessee Williams.