Have you ever wondered what kind of amazing opportunities are proposed with student-run ventures? How about a student-run venture for a theater company? At Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre, events like the Night of New Works provide students with an opportunity to turn their dreams into realities. This specific event ended up providing opportunities for 17 Millikin students to either write, direct, or perform original pieces. As a student-run theatre company, the company members meet for class twice a week, as well as for company meetings, work calls, and rehearsals outside of class time in order for the company to run smoothly.
Pipe Dreams puts on a variety of events and performances throughout its season, including the annual Night of New Works. Led by Director of New Works Shawn Foote, this year’s Night of New Works featured a staged reading of a student-written play, as well as six other student written pieces, such as short scenes and monologues. The one act play featured this year was The Lost Hope by Ruth Zielke. Ruth and Shawn worked closely together during the Fall 2018 semester editing and revising the play.
Auditions for the staged reading were held two weeks before the event with a turnout of 29 auditionees, making it the largest ever audition group for a Pipe Dreams New Works event. Six students were cast, and rehearsals took place the week leading up to the performance on February 15th, 2019.
When developing a new piece of theatre professionally, one of the first steps is to produce a staged reading. A staged reading is a performance in which the actors read from their scripts and do not incorporate any design elements, such as costumes, lighting, or a set. This gives the playwright an opportunity to test the waters in front of an audience so that they can make any adjustments in their writing for their next draft before they start workshopping. Zielke says, “It was really thrilling to hear the audience reacting, to see people laugh and cry and nudge their friends about an inside jokes my words had reminded them of.”
Events like these are immensely valuable and a great example of the performance learning opportunities that Millikin provides for its students. Zielke says “As a playwright, it really helped me because it taught me what parts of my writing style is already connecting to people and what I still need to work on.”
Not only was the event successful in terms of participant engagement, but audience engagement was high as well. With a sold-out house, this event engaged both students from the School of Theatre and Dance, as well as non-theatre students. “More than anything though,” Zielke says, “it gave me confidence to actually want to share my work with other people and not just hide it out of fear that others won’t like it.”
This event allowed student playwrights, actors, and directors to gain experience similar to what they will come across in the professional world that they do not usually encounter within the School of Theatre and Dance. “If it weren’t for Pipe Dreams, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for playwriting or my talent for it,” says Zielke, “It has provided me invaluable experience I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else on campus.”
Company members of Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre often say that Pipe Dreams isn’t a class where you learn to run a theatre company, it’s a class where you run a theatre company. Using the scrum system, students in the Pipe Dreams class are responsible for completing small, manageable tasks to make each event a reality. For the Night of New Works students sold tickets in the University Commons, hung posters, and created marketing content for Facebook and Instagram.
Due to the success and popularity of the event, next year the Night of New Works is expanding into a three-day Festival of New Works, led by upcoming Director of New Works Mel Kumrow. This event will include not only scenes and monologues, but original songs, dance pieces, and slam poetry as well. This new festival aims to engage students outside of the School of Theatre and Dance, and to provide them with the opportunity to share their original pieces with an audience as well.
Millikin University prides itself in preparing students for professional success by combining theory with practice, and the Night of New Works does exactly that. Whether it’s a one-night event or a multi-day festival, the New Works program at Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre gives students the opportunity to learn about the development of New Works, and to experience situations similar to what they will encounter in their careers as theatre professionals.
By: Maya Dougherty, Daniel Tomlinson, and Nia Pagsisihan