Posts Tagged hollins university

Photos from “The Zookeeper’s Arm” in 24-hour play project

The cast of THE ZOOKEEPER'S ARM. From left, Paul Stober, Nicholas McCord, Amanda Mansfield, Ronald Blanks Jr., Bayla Sussman, and John Bergman. Photo by Susan K.

The cast of THE ZOOKEEPER’S ARM. Photo by Susan K.

For the fifth time in ten years, I was one of the writers to take part in OVERNIGHT SENSATIONS, the 24-hour play project put on by Mill Mountain Theatre and Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Everyone gathers on Friday night. The playwrights draw out of a hat the name of their director — I drew Maura Campbell. She drew the cast. Then I drew the genre (crime drama), the setting (the zoo) and the theme (“from the jaws of hell, I stab at thee”). Then the writers are whisked off to the Hollins library to write. By 8 a.m. Saturday, we’re expected to have a 10-minute script. The morning is spent going over revisions with the director, a production meeting — then the cast shows up for rehearsal at noon. At 8 p.m., the curtain goes up.

Here are some photos from this year’s festivities:

Read the rest of this entry »


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Video: “The Keys to the Universe Next Door”

Part 2 of my account of Overnight Sensations 2012, the annual 24-hour play project at Hollins University. (You can find part 1 here, along with background here.)

When I drew “science fiction,” my first thought was to do a baseball play. I figured it’s not what people would expect. However, I did baseball last year, when I drew horror (see “Strong As a Bull,” about baseball and steroids.). Still, I started quizzing the cast on whether they were right-handed or left-handed, just in case.

At that point, I hadn’t had a chance to study the bios of the seven cast members to see what special talents they had. Most of them I knew already. Then director Drew Dowdy whispered into my ear that Becky Marshall was an opera singer. Not just an opera singer, but an adjunct faculty members who teaches the History of Opera at the University of Virginia.

That cinched it. How could I let such a rare and exquisite talent go unused?

So my script dealt with . . . opera.

The basic plot: Twenty years ago, a scientist discovered how to unlock the door to an alternate universe. All it takes is a sonic key, and he used his opera-singing wife to sing the notes that open the door. Problem is, that door slammed shut — with her on the other side, trapped in a horrible alternate universe. Now, he’s trying to find someone with the same, clear voice to sing those same notes so he can rescue her. Hence, “The Keys to the Universe Next Door,” which attempts to channel H.P. Lovecraft.

The script (with help from Drew Dowdy’s expert direction) makes use of Becky’s incredible voice. We see Martha Boswell (who was in my piece last year) on stage, able to see and hear this universe, but with no one able to see or hear her.

The biggest challenge I found was dealing with a 7-person cast. That’s bigger than we’ve had in the past. I had several ideas which I liked but quickly discarded because I didn’t think I could make them work with seven actors. Even in my first draft, one actor had only three lines (I fixed that in the Saturday morning revisions.)

The audio here isn’t the best, but you’ll get the idea, I hope.

Here’s the full cast, and some still photos:

* Professor Arthur Wellington: Michael Mansfield
* Theodora, his daughter: Theano Mavroidis
* Martha, his wife: Martha Boswell
* Mrs. Marshall, an opera singer: Becky Marshall
* Cassandra, her daughter, and an aspiring opera singer: Emma Sala
* Agent One, a mysterious federal agent: Jason Burton
* Agent Two, equally mysterious: Blair Peyton


Becky Marshall and Emma Sala


Michael Mansfield, center, flanked by Blair Peyton (left) and Jason Burton (right)

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Photos from Overnight Sensations 2012

That's me, in the jester's hat, sitting in the back of the auditorium with fellow playwright Ben R. Williams (in black, foreground) and actor Mike Allen (in red). In front of us is actor Chris Shepard.

For the fourth time, I took part in Overnight Sensations, the annual 24-hour play project sponsored by the Playwrights’ Lab at Hollins University in conjunction with Mill Mountain Theatre and other arts organizations in the Roanoke Valley.

The drill is the same each year: The writers, directors and casts gather on Friday night (this year at Hollins, since Center in the Square is undergoing renovations). The writers draw randomly a director. The director draws a cast. And then we alternate drawing a genre, a setting and a theme.

Then it’s off to write. On Saturday morning, the directors and writers assemble for a production meeting at 8 a.m. About noon, the actors arrive for an afternoon of rehearsal and then at 8 p.m., the curtain goes up.

It’s always a fun show and a great chance to work with some talented people, from both around the Roanoke Valley — and the whole country.

This year my director was Drew Dowdy, whose work I’ve admired on Roanoke stages before but whom I didn’t really know. He turned out to be fantastic. Between us, we then drew “science fiction,” “nursing home” and “overcoming weakness.”

I’ll have more to say about the script I produced — “The Keys to the Universe Next Door” — in the next post.

Until then, are some photos –– courtesy of the Playwright’s Lab — from this year’s event: Read the rest of this entry »

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Video: Overnight Sensations 24-hour play project

For the fourth time in sixth years, I’ll be one of the writers in “Overnight Sensations,” the 24-hour play project organized by the Hollins University playwriting program in conjunction with Mill Mountain Theatre.

In previous years, I’ve written these scripts:
*2007:  “Stuck on You,” a farce about a glue gun gone bad at a prom.
*2010:  “A Vampire Soap Opera,” which is pretty much what it sounds like.
*2011:  “Strong as a Bull,” a horror piece about steroids and baseball — in the 1800s.

Here’s a video from last year’s ceremonies — that’s me in the funny hat. Most of the footage is from when we drew casts, themes, genres and so forth from a hat (not mine!)

I also have some still photos from the 2010 event (which produced “A Vampire Soap Opera”) here.

Finally, arts writer Mike Allen of The Roanoke Times has more about this year’s Overnight Sensations on his Arts & Extras blog.

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“Strong As A Bull” at Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke, Va.

In front: Martha Boswell (left), Shay Mullins (center) and Rebecca Osborne (right.) In back: Mike Allen, Wendy-Marie Foerster, Kevin McAlexander, Kyle Mason, Dwayne Yancey. Photo by Deborah Seagle.

For the third time in about five years, I was invited to be one of the playwrights in the 24-hour play challenge at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Va. (The “Overnight Sensations” program is coordinated through the MFA playwriting program at Hollins University, and draws from many of its students.)

On a Friday evening in July, all the participants gathered for a reception in the lobby and, after some ceremonies, the drawing begins. First, each of the writers draws a director from a hat. I drew Rebecca Osborne of Texas, one of the Hollins students. She drew a pre-selected cast. Then we drew a genre (I got “horror”), a location (I got “cemetery”) and a theme (I’m momentarily forgetting what mine was; I think it was “slow but steady wins the race” but maybe that was another year.”)

At that point, the writers withdrew to the library at Hollins to begin writing; by the next morning, we had to have a 10-minute script turned in. The cast showed up at noon, rehearsed all afternoon, and on Saturday night, six new shows were produced on the main stage at Mill Mountain Theatre.

With horror and a cemetery, everyone was expecting me to produce something about vampires or zombies or such. Instead, I surprised them with dark piece about baseball and steroids — in the 19th century.

The basic plot of “Strong As A Bull”: A mining company fields a baseball team (they really did that back then.) But when one player’s performance declines, the boss threatens to send him back to the mines. Rather than face a fate underground, the player tries a magic elixir from a travelling medicine man — which makes him strong as a bull. In fact, it starts to turn him into an actual bull.

You can find more photos from the event here.

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