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One-Act Festival Boosted by Student Collaboration

One-Act Festival Boosted by Student Collaboration

Nine exciting plays will come to the Lois C. Chiles Theater stage this week for the 2023 NMH One-Act Festival. 

This year’s production was created by 11th- and 12th-graders enrolled in theater courses. The plays were chosen by student directors who, as a prerequisite, have Acting 1 and 2 courses under their belts. They selected the plays from the New Play Exchange, a database of some 55,000 scripts by more than 12,000 writers. 

Theater Program Director Jared Eberlein has been at the helm of this annual festival since his arrival at NMH in 2017. The New Play Exchange, he said, is meaningful to the experience. “There are thousands of unpublished plays in the New Play Exchange,” he said. “The plays are written by living, breathing playwrights. The students have the ability to now work with these pieces created by people that we can actually reach out to.

AFour actors, include a devil and a greek god populate a stage in a scene from "Tow Yards of Satan. a

“When a scene isn’t working, they can say to the actor ‘Well, we need to try and make it work, because that's what's in the script,’” he continued. “But if it still doesn't work, the director can email the playwright and say, ‘Can you tell me more about this line that’s not working?’ And the playwright can either say, ‘Here's the explanation,’ or they can say, ‘Absolutely not; please do not change the words.’ Either way, they've got to figure it out, because it’s a collaboration.” 

Cooperation, the students said, is essential to each element of the One-Act Festival. Directors work together to decide the sequence of the productions. They are also responsible for constructing a creative vision and working with their cast to communicate that vision. Directors also work together to market the festival. 

This year, for the first time, show directors were also offered a new collaborative opportunity: working with costume designers as well as scenic and lighting designers.

Ben Liu ’24, director of “37 Scenes and a Watermelon,” said that face-to-face communication with Technical Designer Alvin Wang ’25 has been critical throughout the process. Liu said that the “very experimental” play he chose requires extensive dialogue as well as trial-and-error experimentation with Wang. “It’s basically 37 scenes separated by lights up and lights off, so there's many things to talk about, not only with my designers, but also with the stage manager, to get the timing correct,” Liu said. “I really have to communicate well.”

Jade Kong ’24, a self-described “magician of time management,” said that she wanted to choose a big and bold play for her directorial debut. “I came into the process thinking, ‘I want to get the most out of this.’ … I wanted to pick a more complicated play,” Kong said. “So I asked Jared: ‘What do you think is the maximum number of cast members I can direct?’” 

A gill and boy sit on a picnic blanket with a bottle of wine on stage.

With Eberlein’s support, Kong took on a 10- minute play with three cast members and five set changes. “Which means that either I need to get a lot of people who move the set constantly, or I need to figure something out,” she said. “Luckily, I have Alvin, an amazing set designer who helped me figure something out.”

Kong’s costume designer, Lola Wiemeyer ’24, also helped her to realize her hopes for the play. Wiemeyer said that the experience has offered her the kinds of challenges she yearns to take on. “I've probably been in the costume shop for eight hours this week,” she said. “But it’s made easier because everyone in the shop is so excited and really wants to connect with their director's vision.

“Being able to design and make my own dress for one of Jade’s actors has fulfilled a childhood dream of sewing and being able to use this as a creative outlet,” she added.

Participants in the one-act productions agreed that the project had left them with a sense of inspiration and confidence. Eberlein credits their success in part to the supportive ecosystem of the community. “Kids here do see it as a privilege to be able to have time to create things and to work on things like this,” he said. “I think that having both academic time to devote to this and friends in their dorms who can encourage them … is really important.’”

“Two yards of Satan” Director Jasper Neff ’25 agreed. “I’m realizing that I am capable of being in a position of leadership, of having this responsibility, and seeing that I am creative and I do have good ideas,” she said. “I’ve gone from ‘Oh, no, I have to put on a whole play,’ to realizing ‘Oh … I can do that!’”

The NMH One-Act Festival opens on Dec 7 and continues through Dec. 9 in the Chiles Theater. Performances are at 7:30 pm. Reserve tickets.

Photos by Matthew Cavanaugh

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