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What shouldn't you do if you're a young playwright? Don’t bore the audience! I mean, even if you have to resort to totally arbitrary killing on stage, or pointless gunfire, at least it'll catch their attention and keep them awake. Just keep the thing going any way you can.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, The Paris Review, fall 1981
The theatre students of UNC Greensboro seem to have taken the legendary playwright’s words quite literally with their production of Fall Briefs 2013. Unfortunately, the high-energy production, although far from boring, lacks the substance necessary of distinguishing a theatrical experience from a college dorm party.
The unconventional production consists of eight original short plays written by student and alumni playwrights. Each of the pieces, roughly 10 minutes, tackles a diverse spectrum of subject matters ranging from infidelity within Santa’s marriage, park rapes, a disgruntled tooth fairy, and protesting corporate (ahem) genitalia. Twelve student actors alternate between each short with a refreshing creative liberty in terms of casting. The Brown Building Theatre provides a black box that is malleable to the ever-changing settings of the pieces.
To its credit, Fall Briefs 2013 is very astute to its own youthfulness and speaks directly to its young demographic of peers. This is evident before the show begins when the audience is instructed not to shut off their phones, but to use social media throughout the show hashtagging #FallBriefs2013. There is even a contest where the first audience member to post a picture on Twitter wins the award of a Starburst candy.
Once the production is in motion, the time between each play is used to stimulate the audience with various generation-specific isms such as footage of viral videos, the encouraged posting of “selfies” onto the web, and a full-on dance break showcasing the popular trend twerking, where several audience members are pulled from their seats to dance.
The audience of almost entirely young students seemed to greatly enjoy these moments of niche market innovation; however, for any observer — now “otherfied” if not privy to contemporary pop culture or the rapport of specific students — the interactive components can then be alienating or exclusive. It is as if there is an inside joke, not meant for you to understand.
Interactive theatre, when done effectively, serves to eliminate the boundaries of institutionalized spectator vs. spectacle relations, bridging a union among the two. Therefore, as a production ensues, pretense and reality become indistinguishable, which can then be exhilarating and transcending for the audience. However, as it is often the plague of participatory theatre, a lack of consistency or intention can make the production appear messy and disjointed.
The transitional interludes of Fall Briefs 2013, although entertaining, serve no clear purpose and therefore undercut the integrity of the individual selections. The experience quickly becomes saturated with gimmicky devices used to keep the audience engaged, while imparting a disservice to the shorts plays which have the potential to stand for themselves.
That being said, there are a few selections — not upstaged by the gratuitous transitions — that show the fresh insight one looks for in young playwrights. The most noteworthy, and piece de resistance of the night, is Samantha Leary’s “Reach Grasp.” The stage is bare as two actors dressed in black are spotlighted with an exchange of single word lines that convey a full sensory of emotion. Leary is able to capture the intensity of language with linear story telling that is honest, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and inspiring. With the use of a handful of words, the waves and subsequent end of a love story unfold upon you. In quiet juxtaposition, “Reach Grasp” shines with maturity decidedly absent from the remainder of the production.
The evening, blatantly not for the masses, does have strong appeal for a very particular theatergoer. Nonetheless, seeing young actors and playwrights — the future of theatre — excited about their craft is pleasing to those of all ages.
Fall Briefs 2013 continues through Sunday, September 22. For more information on this production, please view the sidebar.