Fourth annual UNO Playwrights Festival


Emma Seely, Managing Editor

On Sunday, Sept 15 the UNO Gallery on St. Claude Avenue hosted the first night of the fourth annual UNO Playwrights Festival. The festival offers playwriting students in UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop (CWW) an opportunity to showcase their work through staged readings, which provides them an important artistic platform. 


“It’s an extremely important opportunity, because when you are just getting started, nobody knows who you are,” says festival producer and playwriting student Teresa “T” Jacobson. “And when there are so many big names in playwriting, it’s hard to find someone who’s willing to take a chance on a nobody.”


These opportunities are important for playwriting students, who often find themselves lacking in chances to share their work with an audience. 


“This is the only showcase that we get every year, ” says Jacobson. “It’s nice to be able to get our names and our faces out in front of people while they’re hearing our stories.”


Justin Maxwell, the festival’s executive producer and an Associate Professor in UNO’s Department of English and Foreign Languages who specializes in playwriting, says that this event also serves as an important step in the playwrights’ creative process. 


“[The festival] gets work up,” Maxwell said. “And for students who are later in the program, who might want to show off a finished piece, it’s a chance to do that. For students who are newer in the program, who might want some audience feedback, it’s an opportunity for that. But essentially it’s getting work up on its feet.”


Maxwell sees another benefit to the structure of his students’ readings though, which he believes will help them prepare for their careers after graduate school. 


“[Post-grads] have to get actors, they have to get directors, they have to get people in the room to help them develop work. This [festival] becomes a sort of “live with a net” version of that, where they can have the experience of doing that, but they’re still well supported by folks like [Jacobson] and myself and this structure that we’ve built over the years.”   


Not only does the festival offer opportunity for playwrights, but it also offers students and members of the community a chance to see a variety of new work from rising artists. Each night of the festival holds two staged readings of work chosen by the featured writers. As Jacobson mentions, this creative freedom often results in a wide range of plays. 


“We allow each playwright to have an hour length of time that they can utilize any way they want. Becky [Retz] has three 10 minute plays in this one. So it’s a nice showcase for her because it’s three different plays. But somebody else could do like Anna [Tatelman] who has a musical that she’s doing, but it’s a full place. So she’s just doing a portion of that play.”


Maxwell agrees the UNO Playwrights Festival offers something for those who love the theatre, saying that this festival is a “great way to see work that’s brand new. And there’s a thread of folks in the theater community who want brand new work, even when it’s rough and raw.” 


But even those students who aren’t familiar with the world of theatre, or have previously felt intimidated by it, can get something out of this festival. This will hopefully inspire them to continue seeing more shows in the future. 


“It’s a chance to meet everyone involved in the [playmaking] process,” says Maxwell. “And to sort of see the skeleton of how it all works. There’s a new play that’s done or partially done, and actors and directors who are involved, but aren’t overwhelmed by it. Usually actors walk off the stage and they disappear. And you never see the director, but those folks are already here. And it’s easy to grab them and ask questions afterwards. It makes it really, really close and really intimate.” 


The festival runs for two more weeks, with each performance featuring the work of two new playwrights. Tickets are free for UNO students and cost $5 for all other attendees. All performances take place at the UNO Gallery, Sundays at 7:30 pm. 


“Hopefully they have a good time,” Maxwell says of potential festival attendees who are venturing their way out into the world of theatre for the first time. “This is a great place to start.”