“A Festival Of One Acts” is one big success

Against the odds of limited rehearsal space, a meager budget and marginal technical support, “A Festival of One Acts” succeeded in presenting a diverse set of student-run plays. The festival had a four performance run, April 19 through 22, alternating nights between the two different showcases. Each theatre major in the graduating class of 2006 was responsible for directing a one-act play during their final semester at UVM. This capstone course is a collaborative opportunity for students to bring together all the aspects of theatre. According to Sarah Carleton, Associate Professor and Director of UVM’s Theatre Department, the idea behind this festival is for the students to chose a play that excites them, and then to allow students the freedom to explore the script through casting, staging and design. Senior theatre major and director of “Fat Pig,” Leigh Branson explains that during their four years, students are taught how to deal with all the elements that go into to making a production work. Student directors are in charge of casting, costuming, staging, hanging the lights, and working the light board. Leigh believes that this prismatic educational approach is a unique and an effective way for the theatre department to prepare students to be independent and capable of directing a play. Running a bit over three and a half hours, “A Festival of One Acts” demanded a lot of attention from its audience. There were five one acts in the Thursday/Saturday performance. There were also six one acts on the alternating nights. Beginning with Steve Martin’s “WASP,” a farcical, fantastical commentary on upper-middle class suburban life in the 1950s, student director Will Todisco kept his audience captivated. The steel-gray makeup gave his actors an Edward Scissorhands feel and the minimal set he chose gave off an unsettled feeling that was integral to the plays thematic goals. Another gem was “Fat Pig,” by playwright Neil Labute. Dealing with issues of obesity, body image, and even concepts of bravery in contemporary America, this play was intense, comical, and nerve-racking. Leigh said that this was an honest script and the actors gave honest performances due to personal ties to their characters. The penultimate performance, “A Marriage Proposal” by Anton Chekhov, did a marvelous job of holding the audience’s attention well past ten o’clock at night. Taking a risk with thick Russian accents and modernist humor, director Theodore Szadzinski was successful at eliciting laughter from his audience during the dialogue-rich banter on stage. Actors Kate Emmerich (Natalia Stepanovna) and Chris Vaughn (Stepan Stepanovitch) were incredible with the tongue-twisting language, and created an aggressive and nervous union together on stage. The other two acts, “Closer,” by Patrick Marber and “Chamber Music” by Arthur Kopit had promising qualities as well. “Closer” director, Christopher Michael Cohen experimented with a split-stage set design for the final, rapturous scene, which gave the audience the feeling of really knowing everything that was going on in the lives of the characters. “Chamber Music” was the largest cast, totaling eight characters allowing director Angela Renee Lavalla of experimenting with an assortment of costumes. Perhaps because it was the final performance or because of the gaggle of characters it entailed, it was the most difficult to follow. However, Lavalla’s choice to experiment with a historical-psychological script was daring and appreciated. “A Festival of One Acts” is a brilliant way to showcase four years of student work. According to Sarah Carleton, this is a liberating and invigorating experience for the students. At the end of their college careers these students are in charge of everything from the bottom up.