Street | Cover Story

Spotlight on: The Freshman One Act Festival

Shakespeare’s plays have five acts. Movies have three acts. “Waiting For Godot” has two acts, and not much happens in either of them. One act? No problem — just ask Theatre Intime.

Starting tonight, continuing tomorrow and concluding on Saturday, Theatre Intime is presenting the Freshman One Act Festival, otherwise known as “OAF” (because “FOAF” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, according to Intime General Manager Wesley Cornwell ’16).

This year’s festival is Theatre Intime’s 14th, featuring four one-act plays completely produced and performed by freshmen. The plays themselves are selected from professional collections in Firestone Library. According to Intime Archivist Ben Schaffer ’11 (currently a Princeton Ph.D. candidate), Intime’s first OAF took place in the December 2000 season, immediately following renovations to the Hamilton Murray Theater, known to Intime insiders as “I2K.” (Theatre Intime has a knack for coming up with humorous acronyms.)

While the festival originally ran in December, it was moved to February to immediately follow Intersession in the 2003-2004 season. This schedule has remained unchanged for the past 10 years. It takes into account the broader theater seasons of other groups and sophomore and upperclassman participation in Bicker and other club activities at the start February. “Freshmen need something to do,” Schaffer said.

And OAF gives freshmen a lot to do.

THE FORMAT, AND WHY

Each selected one-act play usually runs 15 to 20 minutes long and is overseen by its own director and stage manager. A production team supervises all four one-acts. All directly involved are freshmen, and though some have worked with Theatre Intime and other Princeton theatrical groups before, for others, this will be their stage debut. “I’d never acted before,” said Ellie McDonald ’17, one of the stars of Garth Wingfield’s “Please Have a Seat and Someone Will Be With You Shortly,” directed by Julianna Wright ’17. “The whole thing was a challenge.”

This isn’t to say that the novelty of an all-freshman production demands an unapproachable learning curve. “There’s a nice balance between experience and inexperience,” Props Manager Rachel Xu ’17 said.

Moreover, the festival serves to integrate freshmen into Theatre Intime, much like Princeton University Players’ annual “Sex on Broadway” show brings new performers into PUP. “OAF primarily serves as our way to let freshmen introduce themselves to the theater community, whether that means showing off long-established skills as an actor/director/designer or trying something new for the first time,” Annika Bennett ’15, one of the Intime Community Liaisons, said. “It’s also a fantastic way for theater kids in the Class of 2017 to meet one another.”

But how does the One Act Festival develop from four directors’ visions into a complete four-part production? The answer: it’s a process.

HOW IT WORKS

First, the Theatre Intime board forms an OAF advisory board made up of sophomores to oversee the process and serve as advisers to the freshmen. Once selected, the advisory board solicits applications for directors and the production team in mid-October. Once directors are chosen, each sets out to choose a play for the One Act Festival. “One day before break I was in Firestone Library for four hours and explored 16 anthologies until I came away with three to four contenders,” Wright said, referring to her preferred one-act plays.

Afterward, the directors submit their top choices for review. Around the same time, the board pairs stage managers with directors, keeping compatibility in mind. Auditions for acting roles take place the week after fall break. An audition session typically lasts 20 minutes per person, with five minutes reserved for each director. However, every director may observe the entire process, so as to see each actor’s full range.

When it comes to casting, each director submits an ideal cast list. Since actors and actresses can’t be in more than one play, the issue of overlapping roles has to be resolved by the directors. The unique process of four directors haggling over the same pool of actors may sound like a Theatre Intime version of draft day, but the result is usually not so cutthroat. “This year we were done in five minutes,” Wright said.

Rehearsals started after Thanksgiving break, taking up 90 minutes every day, a regular schedule that builds confidence and camaraderie in the Theatre Intime program.

CHALLENGES

One of the unique aspects of the OAF is that directors have to make do with a lot less, and not just because the plays are short and the casts are small — each act must rely on a production budget of zero dollars and zero cents. Of course, Theatre Intime and the University theater department’s resources are at the director’s disposal, with many props, lights and the Hamilton Murray Theater available for use.

Sometimes it can be beneficial when resources are limited. According to Costume Designer Katie Awh ’17, “Inspired choices come from necessity.”

The freshman production team must be creative and resourceful in addressing the various challenges that arise. “It’s very rewarding to find solutions to problems, and there’s something gratifying [about that],” Xu said.

THE PLAYS

With four plays in one show, it’s worthwhile to discuss what you’ll be seeing onstage at OAF — and how the plays’ themes can unintentionally intersect. Garth Wingfield’s “Please Have A Seat and Someone Will Be With You Shortly” involves a pair of strangers in a waiting room who have to “break down all the walls,” according to Matt Blazejewski ’17, who plays David in the production. Nadia Diamond ’17 will direct Jane Anderson’s “The Last Time We Saw Her,” starring Anam Vadgama ’17 and Erik Massenzio ’17. It chronicles the interaction of Vadgama’s character confronting her boss, played by Massenzio. David Ives’ “Sure Thing,” directed by Richard Peay ’17, promises to be a lighter affair. According to Stage Manager Marni Morse ’17, it’s “not that deep” and skews “cute and funny.”

Morse is an Opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.

Lindsay Price’s “Wait Wait Bo Bait,” directed by Alana Jaskir ’17, features an ensemble cast of six players. According to Awh, the characters in this one-act are “not distinct characters themselves,” but “caricatures” written to demonstrate a point, as they explore the concept of waiting. In fact, all four one-acts in this year’s festival feature themes of waiting. “It’s all about waiting — waiting for the right time, the right person or just for the sake of waiting,” Blazejewski said.

This thematic unity is not intentional, but rather the product of coincidence. “It just so happens that we have the overarching theme of waiting,” Cornwell said. Last year, the OAF covered themes of loneliness, love and comedy, so this year’s thematic unity is something of a novelty.

The Freshman One Act Festival has had its share of ups and downs as well. A ‘Prince’ review from 2010 called the festival “a mixed bag.” “It depends on the directors, actors and the scripts that they chose,” Cornwell said. “Some really shine, and some are weaker.” Regardless of potentially uneven performances, however, the One Act Festival is always a big draw for freshmen looking to see their classmates begin their theater careers.

On the topic of waiting, McDonald said, “In a more subtle way we’re all just waiting for our debut.”

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