Annual festival of new works brings together writers and directors
by Deneia Washington
For those who were interested in being involved in a production that gave participants hands-on experience, without the time consuming and stressful components of mainstage productions of Temple Theater, Short Stuff , a 10-minute play festival of six original works by students, was that middle ground.
In its third year at Temple University’s Theater Department, Short Stuff serves as a multipurpose platform for both rising playwrights and directors alike. President of Temple Theaters Sidestage Season, Alex Monsell notes Short Stuff as having little to do with the performance aspects of the pieces, rather, “it’s about the rehearsal process for the writer so that they can figure out ‘how do I figure out what’s good about my play?’, ‘how can I figure out what can be relevant about my play?’, and ‘how do I then actually go and take that action to the next step to perform it?’”
To select the six original works that would be a part of this year’s festival, the student directors, with faculty sponsor Professor David Strattan-White, discussed each play individually; not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of versatility. “We each choose which play we would want to direct right now as it was,” says Monsell. Professor White then makes the final call and assigns the directors to plays.
Short Stuff also serves as a great way for directors to work with new plays and playwrights. “If you’re working with an original piece, as we have, there are certain ways to give your notes and there are certain ways to talk to the writer and there are certain ways to talk to the actors,” says Monsell. “Because as a director, you don’t want to put too much of yourself into the writer’s head,” he adds.
Since the works in this play festival are original pieces by students, both playwright and director worked hand in hand to create a performance. However, Short Stuff makes it clear that the writer’s voice is primary and whatever the playwright wants takes top priority. Monsell states, the “writer’s vision has to be at the forefront, so it’s also pretty humbling, to especially myself as a director that what I want out of this show is not important. What does my writer want? How can I give him that?” He explains, “So in this environment, if I don’t understand something I have the writer right there and can ask him, chat it out, and say, ‘though I don’t necessarily see that, if that’s what you want, this is how I can get it to you.’”
That doesn’t mean that playwright and director don’t butt heads a little when it comes to the production, but it does ensure that directors try their hardest to humble themselves, compromise, and ask: “How do I make my vision their vision?” Because of this, writers were allowed in the audition room where actors were cast, making sure that the writers were happy with those selected for their piece. As actors normally do not have the opportunity to work alongside the writer, Short Stuff gives actors the ability to ask questions to the writers right in that moment, allowing them to understand why the dialogue was crafted a certain way and the feelings the writer associated with that dialogue.
Reflecting on this year’s Short Stuff, Monsell felt that the turnout this year was “insane” and even admits that he had to turn away some people at the door. Monsell also believes that pushing up the deadline for writers to turn in their pieces played a big part in making the festival successful. “Usually the deadline is October 26, and this year I made it September 26, which means that we had less submissions because people in general had less time,” says Monsell. “But those writers had another month to edit those pieces, so I think the final products were a little more polished than in the past.”
To Monsell, Short Stuff showed that the student voice is powerful. “We as artists, we as individuals, we as students have enough to say,” he says. “We’re still learning and we’re still students, but it fulfills all the parts of theater that makes theater great. It’s passionate, it’s moving, it’s funny, and, especially with six plays, you see that whole wealth,” he adds.
In terms of next steps to keep Short Stuff growing, Monsell would like for more first time writers to send in their work. “Short Stuff is the perfect environment to try out writing,” Monsell states. “With a safe environment and emphasis placed on writer’s edits, first time writers can really get the taste for the craft and learn if it’s something they would like to follow up with.”
Short Stuff is presented annual at the end of the fall semester.