By Amethyst Martinez and Kaitlyn McCormick
The lights of the Yvonne Theater spotlighted a multitude of talents this past weekend as Rider students put on their first in-person festival titled Rider New Works. The production featured a diverse and innovative collection of eight 10-minute plays, all student-written, ranging from a murderous prom date gone wild, an unexpected wedding love triangle and a dramatic, unexpected run-in with an ex-girlfriend, all of which garnered laughter, surprise and emotion from audience members.
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the derailment of many students’ college experiences, especially performing arts majors who were unable to practice their craft in person, Rider New Works was born from the need for innovative virtual collaboration.
Due to performances being held over Zoom, the performance rights to many plays were not being granted to college students to perform virtually, because playwrights not wanting their work streamed online.
Robin Shane, assistant professor of theater and the producer of New Works, came up with the concept of holding a new works festival at Rider in the form of short films. After a successful festival last year, they decided to hold it again, this time in person.
“We need to allow the students to have a place to express their voices and the things that they’re thinking about,” said Shane. “As we were deciding on the season for this year, I and a couple of colleagues convinced the rest of the department to do and to take a chance on doing another night of 10-minute plays. … Some undergraduate institutions have student-produced plays, but they’re very rarely supported in this way by the department as part of the mainstage season.”
Rider New Works has given students the unique opportunity to get involved with playwriting, costume design, stage production and more. Sophomore technical theater major Blake Gonzales said, “Every single thing is done by students except for the directing and the actual production.”
Many students involved branched outside of the direct parameters of their major to exercise their creativity. Sophomore musical theater major Carly Walton was one of the many students behind the new plays being performed this weekend.
“It feels nice to be recognized for something other than performing. … I’m really interested in a bunch of things,” she said.
Walton’s play, “The French Lesson” portrays conflicts pertaining to queer couples, specifically in regards to closeting in relationships.
“I wanted to get representation for gay women specifically,” Walton said, citing the underrepresentation she typically sees in the media.
Gonzales wrote the play “Passed Connection,” a story about a woman talking to a man at a bar, only to lead audience members to a twist ending revealing that he was her ex-boyfriend who died tragically and she was just envisioning him.
Gonzalez said, “This is the first-ever production that I’ve had where I wrote it and completed it and actually got to see it put up.”
The festival also featured freshmen students, who normally are not allowed to audition for mainstage events. Liberty Ashe, a freshman acting major, had three roles in the production, including the role of a mustache-clad, boisterous high school football coach with impeccable comedic timing, which ignited the audience with laughter throughout “A King’s Choice” by senior English major Matt Zadera.
“I decided to audition for the show because I really wanted to get myself on stage again after the pandemic,” Ashe said. “The entire process has been so freeing and creative.”
Kyle Metzger and Rose Freeman were the guest directors of the Rider New Works festival.
Freeman, who directed the first half of the festival, said, “So many people were wearing multiple hats in this production, and that was something really exhilarating to see because it reflects a lot of what early-career or community-minded work has within the world.”
Metzger directed the second half of the festival. “I love working with college students because they are always willing to try anything, and that’s the most important thing about making art is to not be afraid to fail and take risks,” said Metzger.
The Rider New Works festival represented unique collaborations between students, who were able to tell their own stories for the first time in person after the COVID-19 pandemic caused struggles for musical theater as a whole.
Nicole Duffy, sophomore musical theater major, said, “It feels really cool to be the first person to ever do these plays because who knows where they’re going to go.”