Twenty-seven and a half hours.
That’s exactly how much time the participants in the Claire Donaldson New Play Festival were given last weekend to audition, be cast, memorize a script, learn blocking, and perform shows written by their peers.
“It kind of becomes a marathon of putting a show on,” said junior playwright and actor Matthew Stoffel.
The Festival, created in 2005, honors the late Claire Donaldson, a young playwright who graduated from Augustana in 2000.
“It’s rewarding to be able to keep Claire Donaldson’s memory alive through this festival,” Artistic Director Jayna Fitzsimmons said. “We honor her legacy through the celebration of our current students’ work.”
This year’s Festival featured five short plays written by Augustana theatre students: “Gotta Get Brad Back” co-written by junior Chris Wilkins and his brother, Ryan, “Aswang” by senior Katelynn Kenney, “Deliberate Mistake” and “Thought-vertising” both by junior Matthew Stoffel, and “Illuminati” by senior Zack Truelson. Saturday evening’s performance also included an excerpt from one of Donaldson’s works, “How Simon Learned to Laugh.”
According to the productions’ stage manager, senior Christina Olson, the Festival’s short time commitment was an ideal way to kick off the theatre company’s semester.
“It’s great for actors, especially the freshmen,” Olson said. “[They] don’t have to worry about a lot because it’s one weekend, and it’s not even the entire weekend. It’s a good experience for the actors to start out before getting into the big things.”
Freshman Amber Ellis, a performer in Kenney’s Aswang, found the preparations “challenging,” but was ultimately happy with the outcome of her first theatrical experience at Augustana.
“The most exciting part of this performance for me was being able to perform on the Augie stage for the first time,” she said. “I really enjoy theatre, and I was glad to get a main stage opportunity as a freshman.”
The Festival also gave actors and playwrights the opportunity to work with guest directors from the greater Sioux Falls area.
“[We] were able to bring in some of the most talented theatre artists in our community to work with these shows,” Fitzsimmons said. “It helps our students form relationships to the Sioux Falls theatre community and offers them guidance from other professionals in the field.”
The guest directors worked with the students’ scripts, allowing the young playwrights to see their plays staged and interpreted by another person, Fitzsimmons said.
“Part of the challenge and the excitement of playwriting is letting go of your script and just seeing what a director and a team of collaborating artists do with it without sticking your finger in there,” Stoffel said. “It provides this nice workshop sort of space for a playwright to see how actors work with their scripting, and also actors can see how the playwriting works a little bit.”
After auditions on Friday, actors broke off into groups, rehearsing in spaces throughout the Edith Mortensen Center and the Morrison Commons until midnight. Rehearsals commenced again at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. At 7 p.m., audience members began to fill the house in anticipation of the 7:30 show.
“Twenty-four hours creates a feeling of intensity, but it’s a really positive one, and it creates a great environment of camaraderie as we work toward a common goal,” said Fitzsimmons. “The most rewarding thing for me, though, is to see the student playwrights’ work come to life on stage and to see everyone—actors, directors, designers—collaborate and work hard to bring it to the stage. It’s a proud teacher moment.”