Curtain rising on short play festival

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Showcasing theatre . . . Preparing for the Unesco Cities of Literature Short Play Festival, being hosted at the University of Otago from today, are (from left) programme director and dramaturg Amanda Faye Martin, writer-director-actor-dramaturg Tymesha Cousins, actor Dell McLeod, actor Terry MacTavish and Otago theatre studies programme head Prof Stuart Young. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The stage is set for a week of intensive immersion in theatre, with the Unesco Cities of Literature Short Play Festival 2019 starting today.

Hosted at Allen Hall Theatre by the University of Otago’s theatre studies programme, the festival features international and local keynote speakers, panel discussions, workshops and performances of scripts from as far afield as Baghdad, Heidelberg, Iowa City, Melbourne, Seattle and Edinburgh, and also Dunedin.

About 100 people, including visiting and local actors, directors, dramaturgs and 41 university students, are involved in presenting 26 short plays of 20 minutes’ duration, and one 50-minute play.

The plays range from Jacobean farce to a comic murder mystery, to works which deal with more serious issues such as the intersection of technology and romantic love, self-harm, family dysfunction and rising sea levels.

The plays will be presented in groups of three, at various times, daily from tomorrow until Friday next week.

Inspired by a similar event in Heidelberg in 2016, the festival is a partnership between the theatre studies programme and DunedinUnesco City of Literature, and is part of the university’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Under the guidance of theatre professionals, students have directed and produced work, and have provided much of the logistical support for the programme.

Otago theatre studies programme head Prof Stuart Young said the festival underscored Dunedin’s status as a cultural hub.

“Dunedin has a long and strong theatre tradition, and we are proud that theatre studies at Otago has both benefited from and made an enormous contribution to this,” Prof Young said.

The festival was a chance for a truly unique, shared learning experience.

“We’ve no doubt our students will benefit greatly from the experience, as will the visiting theatre professionals and the public.

“If you are interested in theatre and how it is made, this festival is a great opportunity,” he said.

Theatre studies playwriting fellow and festival programme director Amanda Faye Martin said more than 90 scripts had been received for consideration.

Working with fourth-year students, she had gone through a careful selection process to create the final programme.

“We wanted to be sure the plays were going to be workable, and would also appeal to a broad audience,” Ms Martin said.

“Throughout the process, it has been great to have the input of Dunedin’s wider professional theatre community as teachers, mentors, dramaturgs and actors.”

Performances of the short plays are open to the public, as are the workshops and panel discussions, with a full schedule available by searching the festival online.

Along with the many performances, the festival organisers are thrilled to have international theatre specialists Tanya Palmer, of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and Dr Fiona Graham, of the University of London, joining former Burns Fellow Victor Rodger as keynote guests.