This week, the doors of the new University Hall Theatre open for the first time, as a series of staged readings showcase the work of six student playwrights. New Voices, New Stories runs October 5 and 6, at 7:30, allowing writers the opportunity to see their work rehearsed and performed in front of a live audience for the first time.
The six short plays were chosen from entries last spring, with selected plays revised and strengthened working with Ginger Lazarus, who teaches Playwriting and serves as dramatrug for New Voices. This year features UMass Boston playwrights Patrick McCarthy, Katey Pestilli, Allister Quilon, Carol LaDuke, C.A. Hughes, and Matthew McDade.
McCarthy ’17, returns to New Voices for the second time with Paragraph 175, a short play he says explores “love and hopeful redemption in a Nazi concentration camp.”
At New Voices, actors perform the new plays after four rehearsals with director Robert Lublin. They’ve rehearsed, but perform “on book” and without sets or elaborate costumes. The format can be a meaty exercise for actors. Working with entirely new works, with the playwright in rehearsals – is a different challenge when compared to published plays with histories.
For the writer, it can initially be “really weird,” McCarthy says. “It’s a little surreal to hear somebody’s voice speaking what I’ve only ever heard in my head and with my own voice. It’s a chance to hear it, gauge the audience’s reaction, before going into a full production. You get to rework things that don’t work out quite like you envisioned.”
“I haven’t had to rewrite a lot,” he says, “but there are places where you find the wording is weird for the actor. Sometimes hearing it out loud you notice you’re being repetitive. I cut a word here and there. sometimes a whole sentence.”
Last year, his play No Second Chance was selected as a Region 1 finalist in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The play was about a boy who’d cheated on his girlfriend and had to spend all eternity re-living his last moments fighting with her and her brother. As a finalist, he spent days at the annual festival working with a faculty-level director, conducting auditions and casting it, with days of intensive rehearsal prior to a festival performance.
McCarthy’s theatrical work and aspirations run the gamut, and he’s active on the page, stage, and backstage. Also an actor, he’ll perform at New Voices in C.A. Hughes’ Through the Window. Last year, he landed a small role in a production at Merrimack Repertory, and spent the summer doing scenic painting, including for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare on the Common.
Meanwhile, he’s begun working on writing full-length plays, but is unlikely to abandon writing short plays.
“It’s nice to have a little contained story, get to the meat quickly,” he says. “It’s a full story, but because it’s short you’re already at the climax when the play begins. I’ve found it to be a good way to test things, try different styles.”