Fifteen minutes of fame for budding playwrights

Ramiro Rivera reads stage directions for a play during Theatre UAF's "Famous for Fifteen" event. Photo by Joshua Straub/The Sun Star

By Kelsey Gobroski
Sun Star Contributor

During ‘Famous for Fifteen,’ student playwrights can experience, sometimes for the first time, the transformation of their work from script to stage and hear what the audience thinks about it. Last Saturday, the Student Drama Association held the annual theater forum at Salisbury Theatre. Actors read from five scripts submitted by undergraduate theater majors Rhi Johnson and Sam German, masters students Greg Lyons and Tom Moran and history major Jeremia Schrock.

Over the years, the event has evolved to the informal ‘reader’s theater’ format. When ‘Famous for Fifteen’ started in 2004, the event had stage sets and memorized performances. When the Student Drama Association took over, it downsized the event, “focusing on the script rather than the performance,” said SDA President Jenny Schlotfeldt.

At Saturday’s performance, the six actors that performed all wore black. The stage was bare. Ramiro Rivera Jr., a theater major, read stage direction and the actors read their lines, sometimes for several characters in the play being read. Between readings the playwrights discussed their plays with the host and audience.

“The playwrights are the focus of the evening, definitely,” said Brian Lyke, SDA publicity officer and one of the actors for the evening.

Stephan Golux, theater professor of directing, hosted the discussions between writers and spectators about four of the five plays presented (Lyons, the fifth playwright, was out of town during the event). The audience asked for clarification and the playwrights asked for critiques. Responses bounced back from around the auditorium, with many of the fifty attendees participating. Topics included everything from character maturity to pop culture references.

Moran said that the opportunity for new playwrights to hear their plays read is the most important part of the experience. “You need to hear how people interpret your play. You need to hear how the audience reacts,” he said.

German, a second-time Famous for Fifteen participant, said that his favorite part of the experience was working with an adviser. He said he could see what was wrong with his original play, but needed his adviser to teach him how to manipulate the characters into a polished work. German has experience with film scripts, and the transition to theater format was difficult for him. “Film is all about stage directions; theater is all about dialogue.” he said.

The audience was treated to a variety of themes, from heavy to light, in the evening’s offerings. Johnson probed the tense situations in relationships coming to an end. Lyons showed the comical impossibilities of collaborating with strangers. In his play about a girl’s disjointed relationship with relatives, German said he wrote about “people who are out there … [people who want] to help you but don’t really know how.” Schrock explored the chasm between a man with polio and his WWI veteran brother. The night ended on a comic note with Moran’s piece, which exposed mischief in the fast food bureaucracy.

Famous for Fifteen is open to all, including students from outside of the theater department. German said an adviser can work with students to mold any script for the event as long as the script can reasonably transition into the reader’s theater format.

Lyke said new playwrights can also visit Student Drama Association meetings, or learn from watching other plays. “People should not be afraid of writing plays. If you have a funny idea for a story, and it’s a story you’d like to have read out loud, send it to us,” Lyke said.

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