Muhlenberg’s ‘New Voices’ Festival Showcases World Premiere Plays

Evening of one-act plays includes full productions

of new works by five emerging playwrights

Allentown, Pa. (Sept. 23, 2011)—Muhlenberg College will present the world premiere of five new short plays by emerging playwrights, during the Theatre & Dance Department’s “New Voices” festival, Oct. 1-5. The department produces a “New Voices” festival every other year as part of its mainstage season.

“‘New Voices’ is an opportunity for audiences to see some provocative new plays for the first time anywhere, by very talented young writers,” says Charles Richter, Muhlenberg’s director of theater and the artistic director of the festival. “It has great ‘I was there when’ potential for the audience—that 20 years down the road, they’ll be able to say they saw a prominent playwright’s very first produced play.”

The evening of one-acts is about two hours long, including intermission. It will be presented for six performances in Muhlenberg’s intimate 100-seat Studio Theatre. The evening includes plays ranging in subject matter from a dramatic crisis at the family dinner table to a bizarre business meeting.

Zach Trebino’s “…continuance…” explores the mother-son dynamic in an innovative, often-surreal piece, in which the characters act out a pivotal event from earlier in the mother’s life.

“A lot of my work is word-based; it’s an artistic experiment,” says Trebino, a 2011 graduate whose last project at Muhlenberg was directing last season’s mainstage production “Polaroid Stories. “I wrote the actual story that is being told by the mother first, and then about a year later added on the extra role-playing layer.”

Trebino directed a well-received production of Georg Buchner’s “Woyzeck” for the Philly Fringe Festival 2011, presented by his theater collective, Homunculus, Inc. One reviewer called the production “painfully good. … It worked exquisitely.”

Directing “…continuance…” is another returning alum, Vanessa Lancellotti, a 2010 graduate. In December, Lancellotti founded Punch Theatre, a physical theater company influenced by the commedia dell’arte performance style. With Punch, she has directed two original productions in the spring and summer of 2011: “The Skin You Leave Behind,” in New York, and “Architecture,” performed in New York and at the CrisisArt Festival in Tuscany, Italy.

“This is a great opportunity to come back to Muhlenberg and work with the next generation of students,” Lancellotti says. “I’m used to having to do everything myself with Punch, and it’s a luxury to be working with a great team.”

Lancellotti also directs Davis Alieniello’s “Make Your Acquaintance,” which Alieniello describes as “a glimpse of a very peculiar lunch meeting; ridiculousness ensues.”

To me, this play says a lot about the amount of energy we put into self-construction,” he says. “I think it prevents us from forming actual connections. We spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves in a bubble, hyper-self-conscious about who we are and how we come off.”

Shannon Leigh Wittenberger’s “Transcranium,” directed by Danielle Barlow ’13, examines relationships—but from inside the befuddled head of its protagonist. Either her boyfriend is real, and her psychiatrist is imaginary, or it’s the other way around. Or maybe neither one is real.

“There was this TV commercial, with a therapist talking to a patient about a giant imaginary pizza oven,” Wittenberg ’11 says. “The shrink says, ‘You know the pizza oven’s not real,’ and I started thinking, what if he responds, ‘The pizza oven says you’re not real.’ That was the starting point. The pizza oven turned into a boyfriend, of course.”

Eliana Sagarin’s “Fast,” directed by Amanda Lenti ’12, offers a retrospective of a friendship between two teenage boys, who turn out to be very different from one another.

“The play is a journey to unearth the ties that bind us to the people we care about,” Sagarin ’14 says. “I think Muhlenberg celebrates risks. In this festival, the diversity is so apparent and each play takes a risk in a different way.”

Kate Brenner’s “You Understand,” directed by Richter, depicts a modern family that rapidly unravels one night over the course of dinner—and the aftermath of the unraveling.

“I wanted the audience to ask questions about what should happen when things don’t go as planned,” Brenner ’13 says. “What lengths do people go to, to preserve their status quo?”

In addition to the five fully produced plays, the festival will feature staged readings of four other short plays, in a free performance Oct. 2 and 5 in the Baker Center for the Arts Recital Hall. The readings are directed by Bill Mutimer and feature the work of Dan Brennan ’11, Leah Holleran ’12, Josh Shapiro ’13, and Aly Trombitas ’14.

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranks Muhlenberg’s production program first in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.

“New Voices” performances are Saturday through Wednesday, Oct. 1-5, at 8 p.m., as well as Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

The “New Voices” Staged Readings performance is Sunday, Oct. 2, at 5 p.m., and Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m., in the Recital Hall, Baker Center for the Arts. Admission is free, and tickets are not required.

“New Voices” is for mature audiences. Performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre.

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