The play's the thing

SYLVAIN-JACQUES DESJARDINS | Teaming up to produce the tenth annual McGill Drama Festival (MDF) turned out to be beneficial for the University's Player's Theatre and Tuesday Night Café. By combining their efforts, the two theatre troops managed to put on twice as many shows as in previous years -- a dozen in all -- and to play to mostly full houses from March 8 to 20.

"Some people told us we were taking on too much by putting on that many plays in two theatres," says Player's Theatre president Larysa Kondracki. "But it turned out to be a wonderful success. We were blown away by the results."

Liz Truchanowicz, Tuesday Night Café production director, was equally pleased with the collaborative effort. "It was fabulous," she says, "and student response to our plays was great."

Financed by the Students' Society of McGill University, the festival even managed to return some money to the student organization's coffers. "The MDF is one of the few SSMU-funded events that is projected to make a profit," Kondracki says. Nearly 100 students volunteered their time as actors, directors and technicians to ensure the 12 student-written plays went off without a hitch. Indeed, a sampling of two plays, The Fish Tank and B4 I14 N39 G48 O76 (Bingo for short) proved that MDF student actors could keep an audience howling with laughter by delivering their well-penned lines with gusto and charm.

A total of 20 plays were submitted to the MDF. The final dozen were selected according to recommendations made by a New York Times freelance theatre critic known by one of the festival organizers. "The names were removed from the plays to ensure the procedure remained impartial," says Kondracki, noting there were some "real gems" in the bunch.

An English and drama major, Kondracki had two of her plays produced by the MDF; one she co-wrote with a friend, the other, Bingo, she directed and wrote alone, based on her experience of working in a bingo hall during summer holidays. She says that seeing her plays come to life at the festival was "a lot of fun."

Matt Allen, who wrote and directed Henry V Was A Wanker, says having his work produced gave him an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't in a play. "It was nice to see my words go from my head to the stage," says the English and drama major who plans on becoming a professional writer. "And it was interesting to see how an idea can progress from the different interpretations a director or actor can bring."

For law student Jessica Freiheit, writing and directing her play, Drowning, provided an artistic diversion from her academic studies while fuelling her desire to carry on with her creative writing. "It was an awesome experience," she says, noting the best part of the MDF is that it offers students who are not studying in the arts a chance to "do stuff they would never have the opportunity to do otherwise."

Directing a piece for the MDF also taught Freiheit that she should perhaps stick to writing when it comes to plays. "I wouldn't recommend directing your own play to anyone," she says, laughing. "You're too close to your work and tend to be too self-critical." But writing her play, and having it produced, proved a worthy experience as it allowed her family to see another facet of her talents. "People," she says, "never know what you're thinking until you actually write about it."

Truchanowicz, an anthropology student, says her love of theatre persuaded her to volunteer for the MDF and to assist in the direction of one play. "I'd never directed before," she says, "and it turned out to be very exciting and a great learning experience."