First Light Festival Shines on New and Professional Playwrights

Posted: March 15, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski and Ellen Acconcia

For five years, the Theater of the First Amendment has been spotlighting new plays with the First Light Festival. This year, for the first time, the festival will incorporate not only new plays of professional artists, but also those of two students brand-new to the writing business.

Dan Wright and Kim Eagan, winners of the First Light Festival Competition for Student Playwrights, will have their original plays performed by professional actors during the first day of the weekend festival, which takes place March 19-20 in TheaterSpace on the Fairfax Campus.

Last semester, about 20 students from Mason and Fairfax County secondary schools worked on plays to submit to the competition. TFA developed a mentoring program, consisting of Mason faculty and professional writers from the Washington, D.C., area, to help motivate the students and provide guidance. Eagan, a senior theater major, was the winner of the Mason student competition, and Wright, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, was the winner of the high school competition.

Both of the winning plays echo and were inspired by other works of literature. Wright’s play, Ulysses, is based on the Greek hero Ulysses, who discovers his son Telemachus has usurped all of his power as King of Ithaca. In the play, Wright says, “Ulysses attempts to reassert his power and enters a struggle not only with his son but also with some of his subjects.” The play will be performed at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Eagan says her piece, Blue Devil Slip, was inspired by a friend’s personal struggle with depression. The title refers to a Tennessee Williams play, The Night of the Iguana, in which two characters talk furtively about their depression, trying to give it “the slip.” It will be performed at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Both Eagan and Wright say their experience working with mentors last semester helped them tremendously with their plays. Eagan was enrolled in the Playwriting course at Mason and worked with playwright and associate theater professor Heather McDonald. “She really helped me get my thoughts and ideas organized,” says Eagan. “And I was able to tailor the assignments in class to my competition piece.”

Wright, who worked with TFA board member Kimberley Cetron, says she helped him not only with writing, but also with editing and structuring his play. “It was very helpful to have somebody with experience in drama to help me in a first dramatic endeavor.”

In addition to the student contest winners’ presentations, many other events and workshops will be packed into the two-day festival. First Light will open Saturday at 11 a.m. with a brunch hosted by members of George Mason’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and two short play readings. These one-act comedies, 1-800-NERVOUS by Barry Berkey and Tell Truth by Diane Ney, will feature performances by members of OLLI’s own Reader’s Theater troupe, and they will be directed by TFA managing director Kevin Murray.

Another festival highlight is a workshop of the new family-friendly musical from Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox, Lift: Icarus and Me. This musical tale, which will be performed at 1 p.m. on Sunday, is inspired by the myth of the high-flying Icarus and his inventor-father, Daedalus.

Following Lift is Paul D’Andrea’s Two-Bit Taj Mahal, the story of a small American town and the murder investigation that ensues when the citizens unanimously vote to kill the local bully. It will be performed on Sunday at 4 p.m.

The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías will close the festival on Sunday at 7 p.m. with its chilling story of treachery, subversion, and gossip that threaten a spirited book club.

Discussions and catered intermissions are included throughout the days’ events. Tickets are $10 per day. Charge by phone at 703-218-6500 or visit www.tickets.com.

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