Frost and Dodd festival to showcase original student plays this weekend

by olivia harvey | 7/27/17 8:20pm

This weekend, the Frost and Dodd Student Play Festival will showcase the hard work and creative prowess of three Dartmouth undergraduates who have each produced an original one-act play. Two of these works, “Everything Falls Apart” by Jordyn Fitch ’20 and “The Making of the Making of the Moon Landing” by Elise Wien ’17, will be presented to audiences as staged readings while “If It Isn’t You” by Tess McGuinness ’18 will be performed as a full production.

The Frost and Dodd Student Play Festival represents the culmination of months of hard work and tight competition, bringing together the winners of two separate contests. The Eleanor Frost Playwriting Contest, won by McGuinness, is for full production shows, and the Ruth and Loring Dodd Playwriting Contest, won by Fitch and Wien, is for staged readings.

Wien will have her comedic piece “The Making of the Making of the Moon Landing” read this weekend. As a fiction writer, she finds a surprising amount of humorous writing material in the real world, such as the question of artmaking as a credited process.

“If you did the moon landing, that would be the biggest uncredited project ever done,” Wien said.

McGuinness also looks to the world around her for influence, and said she drew inspiration for the first scene of her full-length production “If It Isn’t You” from spending a Thanksgiving holiday around the piano with friends. The piece deals with time and the temporal nature of relationships, broad concepts that first occurred to her while working in New York.

“I’ll often just start writing random scenes, and then it’ll come together into an actual story,” McGuinness said. “I never usually plan out the entire story as a whole.”

The festival offers students many ways to participate outside of writing. Armando Ortiz Jr. ’19 is working in costume design, which he said presents an especially exciting challenge.

“It’s more difficult because you don’t have inspiration to draw from, and you’re like the pioneer in terms of the play,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz first became involved in theater as a freshman working on the wardrobe crew of productions like “Chicago” and “Don Juan Comes Back from the War.” His Theater 65 class led him to the festival, which allowed him to work as a costume designer for the first time.

“I think costume design in general brings life into the play,” Ortiz said. “Good costumes essentially bring emotion into people’s hearts.”

For Wien, participation in the process is extremely active. She noted that while writing a piece, she thinks about the script in a holistic sense rather than from the perspective of individual characters. The actors can then help her develop her ideas throughout the process.

“They start asking questions that I hadn’t previously thought about,” Wien said.

In terms of the relationship between the playwright and the actors, directors and people working behind the scenes, McGuinness has found the collaborative process to be extremely enjoyable.

“It’s been so much fun being a part of this process and having people a lot more talented than me, like the set department and the lights department, help me out,” McGuinness said.

The Frost and Dodd Festival is unique in allowing students to bring an original piece to life, an impressive feat — especially for undergraduates. This process has seemingly aided some participants in affirming their career choices and developing their skills. McGuinness’ play will be her first full-length production, and she plans on continuing to pursue theater.

“I think this process has made me really interested in producing television writing and producing and having control over the project as a whole,” McGuinness said.

For Wien, the end of this festival will mark the completion of three years of competing and succeeding. During her sophomore and junior years, Wien won the contest, and her work was performed as a full-length production. This year, her work will be read aloud. Wien’s senior thesis was also presented as a dramatic reading, and she noted the difference between the two types of performance.

“I think there’s a sort of finality to it that happens when [a play] is put on with the costumes and stuff like that, that’s different from a reading,” Wien said. “I feel like I’m more flexible to change things because people have to memorize, so if I want to change things last minute it’s a little bit easier.”

During her freshman year, she acted in a production and found the welcoming and mentorship-centered environment of theater appealing. According to Wien, Samantha Lazar, the dramaturge for the production, pushed her to refine and perfect her work.

“It’s a really great opportunity for growth to see your show put up,” Wien said.

As the words of these students suggest, the realization of these plays took a lot of hard work and an impressive amount of creativity. From the featured playwrights to the costume designers, this festival brings together students from across different years and with a variety of skills and interests.

The Frost and Dodd Student Play Festival will be performed Friday, July 28 and Saturday, July 29 at 8 p.m. in the Bentley Theater. There will be additional showings of the plays Sunday, July 30 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Wien is a former member of The Dartmouth staff. 

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!