Student playwrights debut in Theatre Lab’s New Play Festival

Students of Tom Atkin’s dramatic writing course showcase their plays at the unofficial start of the New Play Festival.


Lou Tyrrell, the artistic director and Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the Arts, and the founding artistic director of Florida Stage and Theatre. Photo by Mohammed F. Emran | Asst. Creative Director

Brittany Ferrendi, Contributing Writer

Finals are over for most, but other students are still hard at work within the university’s new theatre lab.

In the former location of Parliament Hall’s Red Mango Yogurt lies FAU’s Theatre Lab. The lab serves as an outlet for students and nationally recognized playwrights to debut their unproduced plays, but also to help get students involved in the arts. It’s where artistic director, Lou Tyrrell, and his team bring forth the New Play Festival, a six-day festival from Tuesday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 13.

“The biggest challenge is to attract the next generation so that they can understand that theatre should be a birthright, should be a part of their lives,” Tyrrell said. “That’s been the continuing challenge, to develop the next generation of theatre-goers and patrons of the arts.”

The first day of the festival consisted of monologues and short plays written by alumni and current students of FAU professor Tom Atkins’s dramatic writing for stage and screen courses. The other days will host famous playwrights, save for Saturday which will feature middle and high school students’ plays as well.

It began with Tyrrell making a short speech. “We wanted to represent Florida Atlantic University to the national professional arena,” he told the audience.

Behind him, nine actors were seated on stage dressed in black. The room went dark, and spotlights centered on the stage as each actor walked across holding cardboard signs with messages that all bore similar meanings: “No home, no food, no hope.” Some of them pleaded with the audience for money. Then at once, they all sat down. From there, each actor portrayed a different individual through each of the student playwrights’ monologues.

One monologue, “Jaime,” written by senior english major Candice Sanzari and performed by Brianna Handy, was that of a single mother dealing with a police officer and a traffic violation. She begged him to let her off with a warning, stating that she is just scraping by with her many jobs to feed and shelter her child, who suffers from terrible night terrors.

Another, “Joe,” written by Katie Dickerson and performed by Doug Wetzel, depicted a man working as a bag boy at a grocery store, refusing tip money from a customer and instead sharing a story of how he and his wife grew up and watched all of their children start families of their own, leaving them behind.

Soon after the monologues, the plays written by alumni and students began. The first of which, “Four Women” by alumna Jan Marie Cook, featured the first-person perspectives of women through their solemn, humorous, spiritual and hopeful journeys through pregnancy and childbirth. The women were played by Kimberlee Connor, Brianna Handy, Shannon Ouellette and Samantha Kaufman.

Candice Sanzari, senior and student of Atkin’s course, fell in love with the experience at the festival. “It filled my heart with joy to hear the audience,” Sanzari said. “It was nerve-racking but also really amazing just seeing something that you pour so much of your heart and soul into and seeing people bring it to life, and seeing how people react to it. It’s pretty, almost surreal, because you’re like, ‘I wrote this.’”

Sanzari’s play, Dead Weight, featured friends — played by Jordon Armstrong and Brianna Handy — bickering over the murder of their neighbor, who had previously had minor altercations with them. While the male freaks out over what his friend has done, she morbidly plans to hide the body by cooking it in a casserole to feed to their other neighbors.

After eight plays concluded, Atkins opened the floor to give feedback to the student playwrights.

Tyrrell said, “It gives us the chance to work with those plays to determine which ones we want to take to full production, and ultimately the community gets to be a part of the developmental process.”

Even before the plays are put on, Atkins and his Theatre Lab team have to approve the plays.

Tyrrell said, “We went to see their [FAU student playwrights] final presentation a week ago, and they get to continue the refinement of their plays, their new work, so that they have a second audience tonight in a different location.”

The students and alumni later sat down on the stage and listened as the audience communicated what they liked and what the playwrights could improve on.

Junior theater major Om provided his constructive criticism on the night’s performance: “The underlying theme is that a lot of people don’t really understand what it’s like to really struggle with the things they’re trying to portray,” he said. “This is antecedent to anything they’re [student playwrights] going to do. It’s your next step that defines you, it’s not the first one.”

The rest of the festival will include readings of unproduced plays from the nation’s most prominent playwrights, such as Allison Gregory, Steven Dietz, Carter Lewis, Chris Demos-Brown, Jennifer Lane and a keynote address by Marsha Norman.

Tickets are available by calling 561-297-6124 or from the Box Office in FAU’s Boca location from Monday through Friday from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Theatre Lab’s outreach program, “Future Pages,” which brings in middle and high school students to experiment with theatre writing, will perform on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and will be free to enter.

A full program can be found here.

Brittany Ferrendi is contributing writer of the University Press. If you would like to contact her regarding this or other articles, email her at [email protected].