Student directors, writers and actors hone skills in 'Playhouse Shorts'

Hosted by the student theater group Duke Players, Friday night's "Playhouse Shorts" featured the work of student writers, directors and actors.
Hosted by the student theater group Duke Players, Friday night's "Playhouse Shorts" featured the work of student writers, directors and actors.

Last Friday night, a corner of Devil’s Krafthouse was turned into a theater. In a series of short plays, students acted out a wide range of characters from a “real deer bartender” dressed in a deer onesie to a llama, with a few simple props like chairs and tables borrowed from the restaurant.

Duke Players, a student group that runs theater productions on campus, organized the event on Friday, called “Playhouse Shorts.”

Sophomore Valerie Muensterman, a current member of the group, started the event last April for students who are interested in playwriting and performing.

“We realized that there are a lot of playwriting classes and a lot of students interested in them, but there are not a lot of outlets for them to perform,” Muensterman said.

Having written and performed plays before, she wanted to provide more opportunities for students to workshop their writing and understand the process of playwriting — so all of the plays presented on Friday were written, directed and performed by Duke students.

The members of Duke Players chose from the plays that they received and held an audition to select students for Friday’s performance. On the audition night, the members made teams of writers and directors based on their interests in different genres. After the auditions, the team members negotiated among themselves who they thought would be the best for their casts.

The rehearsals for the performances, each of which was about 10 to 15 minutes long, only took about a week. Involving both Theater Studies majors and non-theater students, the rehearsal was a flexible process that did not require as serious of a time commitment as rehearsals for longer plays. But such freedom gave more room for students to experiment with different elements of producing plays.

“[The short rehearsal period] is really about the process, more than about the performance itself,” said senior Sophie Caplin, who is a member of Duke Players and helped organize the event. “It gives people to practice skills and get an idea of what [theatrical productions] are like.”

Meanwhile, while working with directors and actors, writers whose plays were selected could change their scripts at any time until the day of the performance. With the constant revision of their scripts, the actors did not have enough time to memorize their scripts and had to perform with scripts in their hands — and yet, this openness had its reasons.

“There are things that seem natural on paper that just do not work as well when you see them being performed,” said sophomore Caroline Waring, who wrote one of the plays performed at the event. “Something that is incredible about playwriting is thinking about pauses that people have in their conversations. In plays, they are a bit more obvious, because [the actor] will physically pause and nothing will happen, while the audience sits in silence.”

The rehearsal also enabled students to direct each other’s plays and learn from different perspectives on their works.

“Giving people chances to direct is one of the most challenging things about producing plays in general,” Caplin said. “There are not a lot of opportunities for people to practice [directing].”

Waring added that the experience of not directing her own play helped her figure out different interpretations of her words. Muensterman, who directed Waring’s play, transformed and improved the expression of the words by adding nonverbal elements.

“What was a lot of fun was to take [Waring’s] language and think about it in a physical way,” Muensterman said. “I tried to think about how the movements of the characters could be either echoing or altering the things her language was setting up.”

When students finally performed the plays, the openness of Devil’s Krafthouse, where everyone can come in and go out, gave the actors a chance to easily interact with more people.

“I want people to leave thinking about the ways they can share their art on campus,” Muensterman said. “[The show is] really like a back-and-forth between the stage and the audience.” 


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