Harper Joy Theatre
Photo by Emily Johnson '18

Written by

Two days. Fourteen plays, written by students, put on by students, faculty and staff. It’s Whitman’s 7th annual Instant Play Festival.

Flash back three weeks, and students settle in a small Olin classroom, their notebooks splayed on the desks, which are arranged in a circle. They are preparing to hone their skills writing on deadline, as their pens will be put to the ultimate test in a matter of weeks.

The Harper Joy Theatre has brought playwrights Karinne Keithley Syers, Scot Augustson and Jessica Litwak to campus to work with students on the art of creating a script.

In the workshops, students write scripts based on prompts, and then perform them with other students.

“I love that you used an idea that you had, but you went somewhere new with it,” Scott Augustson said to one student playwright after they read a practice script they had written in class.

The workshops last for three weeks and, for the student playwrights in the room, serve as practice for the actual festival.

On the evening of Sept. 26, the participants received a prompt from Assistant Professor of Theatre Jessica Cerullo, and they wrote through the night in preparation for the performances on Sept. 27 and 28. Actors and directors received finished scripts in the morning and rehearsed all day.

“Oh, it’s okay, you don’t need to be off book for another 20 minutes,” director Erin Kirkpatrick ’17 joked to her actors. However, there was some truth in her statement, as the practices started at 10 a.m. and went until staging and lighting started at 2 p.m.

Some writers sat in on the rehearsals, helping the director make decisions for staging and mood. Some directors gave strict directions, but others waited for the actors to make decisions for their character themselves.

“Do it again,” Tyler Schuh ’16 said to Adjunct Professor of General Studies Jamie Warren. “This time you have three additional double-A batteries.” The cast laughed, and Warren tried again.

The performances started that evening and stretched until the evening of Sept. 28. They included a four-person band that used a group of adjectives to compose a small piece of music to perform before each play. A few of the plays included: In Your Bones, written by Linnea Valdivia '17 and directed by Gabriella Luther '16, which took an inside look at eating disorders; Almost Certainly Sordid, written by Lauren Rekhelman '17 and directed by Professor of Classics Dana Burgess - a murder mystery starring a French inspector; and they are my story, written by Chris Cahoon '16 and directed by Erin Kirkpatrick '17, which tells a story of love and redemption in a time of sorrow.

"It is a herculean task," Cerullo said. "Plays written in 10 hours, put on their feet in eight hours, performed fully memorized with lights, live music and costumes in front of a packed audience. It has the power to connect those who volunteer to participate in meaningful ways. And, of course, there is also the audience, who watches knowing the circumstances under which the performance has taken shape. They, too, I hope, feel that they are witnessing something special. After all, it isn't just a play they are coming to see but a community of volunteers, in service to one another, boldly stepping into the light."

The Harper Joy Theatre 2014 season includes other works such as Top Girls, John Muir Wolf, a movement-based show titled Actually Just Kind Of and Almost, the annual One Act Play Contest, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Three Tall Women and Hair.