UCSB’s Theater and Dance Department is putting on its annual New Works Lab this month from May 10 to 20. The New Works Lab — a showcase of entirely student-produced plays — gives students the chance to have a year of mentorship and support before their original plays are performed at the Studio Theater.
The entire slate for The New Works Lab consists of six plays. Audiences purchase tickets for a night and watch either the Gold Bill or the Blue Bill. Each bill consists of three plays that run in 30 minute increments without intermission.
This past Saturday, audiences had the opportunity to watch the Blue Bill, which features: “Bad Blood,” “The Sex Dungeon Speed Dating Spectacular,” and “Enamored With the Ephemeral.” The productions were all student-directed, student-acted, and student-written.
Initially, the casual theatergoer might be taken aback by the fact that three shows are scheduled for performance all in one night. However, the plays are all action-packed, so the fact that there is no intermission seems natural. Each play contains minimal props. Once each play is finished, the cast members of that play carry the props offstage while succeeding cast members bring out new props which allows for a smooth transition between plays.
The first play titled “Bad Blood“ was written by fourth year theater major Jazmine Bang and directed by Nicole Zahner, a third year theater and communication double major.
“Bad Blood” centers on the emotional journey of Faye, a young woman who is half-Chinese and half-Hispanic. Faye feels alienated from both of her parents’ cultures and finds herself constantly seeking acceptance from both. Unbeknownst to her, however, larger powers are at work in her life.
As a baby, Faye was the victim of a curse placed upon her by Doña Thiche, the goddess of blood purity. If Faye cannot learn to accept her biracial identity, she will die on her 18th birthday. Although Doña Thiche is the goddess of blood purity, she herself is of mixed blood, and her fellow gods shun her because of it. As a result, she dedicated herself to the eradication of people who are of mixed race. “Bad Blood” is a gripping narrative with themes that center upon culture, acceptance, friendship, and the power of love to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
“The Sex Dungeon Speed Dating Spectacular,” written by theater graduate student Alessandra Albanese and directed by music major Mable Moll, is the second play in the lineup. The play introduces Billie and Charlotte, best friends and recent exes. Charlotte, who sees that Billie still has feelings for her, decides to set Billie up with six mysterious suitors who she found online. The play then parades the six suitors front stage and uses the suitors’ comedic chops to their full effect.
However, the tide turns when Billie finally meets someone she legitimately feels a connection with, and Charlotte must come to terms with her lingering feelings for Billie. This culminates in an explosive scene between the two women. Although the play’s title is meant to draw the audience in, the title itself is rather misleading as the play doesn’t revolve around the sex dungeon or even BDSM in general. Instead, the play uses BDSM as a vehicle to explore more complicated issues about love, loss, and what it takes to move on from a relationship.
The final play performed, called “Enamored with the Ephemeral,” centers on Al, a washed out former child star who is hired to play Kanye West in a biopic about the rapper’s life and career.
Al, while initially excited by what he views as the role of a lifetime, soon realizes that his “comeback role” has come with a price. He is forced to come to terms with the idea of “method acting” and the lengths to which people will go in order to achieve fame and notoriety. This play was written by fourth year film student Malique Gunn and directed by third year film studies and theater major Daniel Colohan.
“Enamored with the Ephemeral“ is a difficult play to parse through simply because of its purposeful ambiguity, but it also features some of the most innovative and unique technical effects of the night. A plethora of sound effects heightens the drama of any given scene. Because technology is an important part of this particular play, the director uses technical effects in a variety of ways, from having an actual, physical video-camera on hand during pivotal scenes to alerting the audience to time jumps by using the fast forward symbol seen on many remote controls.
The New Works Lab plays are by no means perfect, but they demonstrate tremendous narrative skill and a huge capacity for future growth. From heartfelt, emotional acting to ingenious use of technical effects, the New Works Lab demonstrated once again that UCSB’s theater program is a force to be reckoned with.
The New Works Lab will continue to run from now until May 20, with Gold Bill and Blue Bill performances held on alternating days. Check out www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/ for more information.