What to expect from the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival
It all started in playwriting class last fall. Eight students were each tasked with producing a full, original screenplay by the end of the semester.
Now a year later, three of those eight students—junior Chisara Achilefu, senior Scott Greenberg and 2017 graduate Danny Marshall—will have their plays read live during the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival’s staged readings. The performances mark the end of a long selection, casting and rehearsal process, during which each of these three plays developed into the fully fleshed out, if maybe not finalized, versions that will be performed.
As last year’s Hotchner festival proved with 2017 graduate Andie Berry’s play “Son of Soil,” there’s always a chance that one of these plays could be picked up and performed with full production as part of the Performing Arts Department’s spring schedule. So, go check out these works while they are still in their introductory stages—you never know where they’ll end up.
The story of a girl healing after the suicide of her friend by retelling their relationship to her therapist, “Super Boy” represents the struggles of overcoming the guilt of grief.
Achilefu first took playwriting because she loved writing and she loved theater, so naturally the two would come together nicely. “Super Boy” at first was just an assignment for Achilefu, but the characters—Emily and Joey—stuck with her, so she kept working with the material.
Through the process of rehearsal and editing, Achilefu realized that the therapist too was a compelling character that she hadn’t spent enough time with yet. By working through the Hotchner Festival’s process, Achilefu polished her narrative into a more cohesive message for how people should deal with grief.
“I’m hoping people will take away that it’s hard to get through difficult times, and we can acknowledge that, but it’s also good to look at the lighter sides of things,” Achilefu said.
When Greenberg had to turn in his final manuscript for playwriting, he had written 46 pages more than the recommended 50-page limit. With so much time and effort put into this 96-page behemoth, Scott knew that he couldn’t give up on the play just yet.
“Once you’ve spent that much time with a piece and it becomes that large of an endeavor, you’re just doing yourself a disservice if you throw it out the window,” Greenberg said of the writing process. “You have to keep going back in and working on it and tampering.”
The result for the staged reading is the story of a best man (Elliot) in conflict with his own emotions. Elliot wants to make amends with his best friends at an island wedding, but his brother is sick and dying back home. Faced with the tough choice of where his time would be best spent, Elliot also begins to lose his hold on reality, having visions where he’s a secret agent and isn’t completely sure if they’re real or not.
“If he messes this up not only is he not going to have a brother anymore, but he won’t have his two best friends,” Greenberg said. “I think that’s really hard and I very much have an opinion as to which side he should take and I hope everyone in the audience does too.”
A Washington University graduate commuting back and forth from Chicago for Hotchner rehearsals, Danny Marshall is very much the odd man out amongst the Hotchner playwrights.
Not only is he the only graduate student, but also he is the only writer who wrote a purely comedic performance. Based off of the personal experience of buying a used car, “Desperate Times” follows the shenanigans of three used car salespeople.
“I would say it’s rated R,” Marshall said. “It’s about communication between each other, and just about the environment they’re in and seeing what’s real, what’s not, how personalities clash and where allegiances really lie.”
Marshall is no stranger to the Hotchner Festival either, after acting in the festival three times during his undergraduate years. That doesn’t mean he was familiar with how to handle the process though, as he submitted his work on the day of the contest’s deadline.
Despite his initial seat-of-his-pants timing, Marshall has become more invested in the playwriting process after going through rehearsals.
“I wrote this intending I was never looking at it again,” Marshall said. “But I would love to keep looking at it, now that I’m more invested in it.”