Festival of plays brings exciting opportunities to students

Peyten Wiese, Reporter

SDSU students in theater had an opportunity to practice their skills and learn some new ones last week when accomplished playwrights came to campus to lead workshops and show off some of their work.

Playwrights from across the country submitted their plays to be performed in SDSU’s Festival of New Plays. Over 350 plays were submitted, and four were chosen. The plays ranged from comedies about escape rooms to pieces about hardships, both in relationships and in their countries.

The plays were performed as staged readings. After the performances in the Fishback Studio Theatre, there were discussions with the playwrights, directors and audience members.

The directors and playwrights asked the audience questions about the show and vice versa, providing the playwright with opportunities to get feedback on their work.

Amy Tofte, Kirsten Benjamin and Deb Hiett, three of the four playwrights, flew to Brookings to watch their plays in the festival and to be a part of the discussions after the performances. They also held workshops for students on topics including playwriting, dramaturgy, auditioning in Los Angeles and more.

Tofte, the author of “Da Vinci’s Cockroach,” is a native of Brookings. Seeing a play performed in the place where she was born and raised was surreal for her. She described it as a “full circle moment.”

The inspiration for “Da Vinci’s Cockroach” came from her curiosity about understanding why people create terrible things. 

She is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter who won a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is directing her first original feature film, “Contact Tracing.”

Tofte said she comes up with her plays when she “[has] an idea that drives me crazy, and I need to write it.”

Her advice to aspiring playwrights is to be as involved with plays and theare as possible. 

“The most important thing is to write,” she said. “Write plays. Read plays. See plays. Do plays.”

Hiett, the playwright of “The Escape Thingy,” is an accomplished actress with many credits. She has acted on “The Office,” “NCIS” and “The Good Place.”

Hiett said she finds the process of collaborating in theatre as an actor very rewarding.

“The ability to work with so many creative and successful people lifts me up as an artist and inspires me to keep going,” she said.

Hiett added she has many outlets of creativity.

What’s wonderful about all the different things I do is that they exercise all different parts of my brain,” she said. “I find them all so rewarding on so many different levels.”

The playwright of “Memories of Overdevelopment,” Caridad Svich, was unable to come to Brookings but held a Q&A over Zoom for students to attend. Attendees asked her questions about her playwriting process. She won a 2012 OBIE for Lifetime Achievement playwright award.

Benjamin, the playwright of “Grey,” reflected on memories of putting on plays in her backyard.

“I’ve always gravitated towards the arts… acting is a high you won’t get anywhere else,” she said.

After running Excelsior Talent Management, she returned to the creative side of the industry as a playwright and actress.

She encourages others to do what they love. 

“Don’t let fame be your goal,” she said. “That will ultimately hold you back, but if it’s passion, you can do it for the rest of your life.”

The first three nights of the festival included the four staged readings. On the final night students performed in the 24 Hour Plays.

Playwrights for the 24 Hour Plays had from 11 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday to write 10-minute scripts for students to perform that weekend.

The directors and actors arrived at 8 a.m. Saturday. They read the scripts the playwrights had just written and started rehearsals with the pressure of the curtain opening at 7:30 p.m. in less than 12 hours.

Gerrit VonEye, a freshman theatre and music education major, was an actor in “All Hallow’s Steve.” He shared the struggles of needing to develop his character within a short period of time.

“Itt was tough,” he said. “I thought a lot about the history of my character and previous events that had occurred with other characters.”

Another actor from “All Hallow’s Steve,” freshaman theatre major Lewhat Tesfaldet, also spoke positively of the experience.

“I feel like I have grown as an actor in my ability to buckle down and get to work,” Tesfaldet said. “The time constraint really made me figure out a way to utilize my time.”

Both Gerrit and Lewhat enjoyed being able to participate in the 24 Hour Festival and can’t wait to be more involved in the theatre department.

Blake Fabre, a sophomore majoring in Theatre with an Education Specialization, directed “Breaking Out.”

“Through this experience, I learned a lot,” she said. “My eyes were opened to what a day-to-day in my future career might look like. I was so proud and impressed by all the actors, directors and playwrights.”

The next SDSU theatrical production is “She Kills Monsters.” This show performs Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.