The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 20, 2007

Students Act Around the Clock

The culminating performances of last weekend’s 24-Hour Theater Competition were loaded with quotable lines and themes that extended into ten-minute metaphors, ruminations on life and, most importantly, good laughs. Part of this year’s ArtsFest, which lasted from Thursday to Saturday, the competition helped to demonstrate what could be done with space devoted solely to student projects and showcased the creative energy of the artistic community on campus.

A sense of discovery pervaded the event, which featured experienced theater and playwriting majors as well as veritable rookies. Many of the participants had had extensive high school experience in theater, and the atmosphere was that of a high school retreat.

This youthful energy, however,  was peppered with hints of collegiate concerns. Writers would emerge from Warner for a cigarette, talking of politics and transubstantiation.

Participants showed up at 10 p.m. on Saturday with only an inkling of the hoops they would have to jump through.

“We try not to think about what we’ll write. It’s the spirit of the thing,” said College sophomore playwright Alex Huntsberger, whose play ended up winning the competition.

Upon his arrival that night, Huntsberger and other competing playwrights were then presented with their actors, directors and restrictions. Everyone proceeded to array around Warner Main with furious abandon. The explicit obstacles writers and directors had to cross consisted of a random prop — Huntsberger had to work with a feather duster while others had to incorporate such objects as a trowel and a pair of maracas — and a line that needed to be used in the script. Both the line “You’re going to kill somebody with that ‘---’” and the prop, used to varying effect, served to cast the scripts toward hilarity and absurdity.

Indeed, Huntsberger employed ideas he’d picked up studying Theater of the Absurd, a playwriting style with roots in Dadaism, avant-garde art of the 1910s and 1920s and nonsense poetry. It arose after WWII, championing the idea that life cannot be rationally explained; it is absurd.

Huntsberger made a concerted effort to move away from the psychological realism taught in screenwriting classes and evident in College junior Tom Curtin’s work of the night. Curtin, developing intricate metaphors and probing the extents of loss, wrote the only truly sober script of the evening.

College sophomore Hillary Carter bemoaned the general prevalence of realism in official theater department productions. Carter, a repeat competitor and the writer of the evening’s Tijuana love story, said that one of the best aspects of the competition is that it “draws in people who do not regularly take part in theater events.”

Also the treasurer of the Oberlin Student Theater Association, Carter emphasized the dearth of space for student projects. Although South Hall’s basement has has recently been opened up for student activities, the fear is that with such a large admission, other events may not be possible without more space.

Carter’s sentiments were echoed by OSTA Co-chair College sophomore Chris Sherwood. Sherwood, who impressively ran the entire competition, which was organized by a team of four students last year, had to remain in Warner for the complete 24-hour gamut and slept fitfully at the door.

“Theater is about interaction. It’s great to see new faces interacting with theater regulars,” Sherwood said.

He also noted how active Oberlin’s creative community is, displayed by its heavy participation in ArtsFest; writer Josh Morris, Conservatory senior, and director Alyse Frosch, College junior, sprinted over from the experimental theater performance, while Warner had just been home to the Spring Back dance performance. Warner, usually a dance space, was completely given over for the event.

Carter noted that if there was a whole building just for theater, there would be much more potential for student projects to get off the ground.

The goal of ArtsFest is to demonstrate the extent of Oberlin’s interest and energy in its student artistic communities, which oftentimes are stymied by a lack of resources. Though the weekend was fraught with weather problems and subsequent cancellations, events such as the 24-Hour Theater Competition revealed the true potential of Oberlin student productions.


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