playGround fringe festival takes to centre stage on Tuesday

playGround, the annual juried fringe festival of York University’s Department of Theatre, takes the spotlight Tuesday, March 24 to Friday, March 27 in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, 139 Centre for Film & Theatre, on York’s Keele campus.

Now in its 17th year, playGround is a student-produced seedbed for the next generation of theatre artists. Well known for its uncurbed spirit and risk-taking mindset, it showcases original, cutting-edge student works, plays-in-progress and promising performance pieces. The works are conceived, written, performed and produced by up-and-coming playwrights, directors, designers and actors from all levels of York’s undergraduate theatre program.

Presented in two programs, playGround 2009 features 15 new works ranging from parody and black comedy to nostalgic drama and proactive investigation into contemporary society.

Final-year theatre students Renna Reddie and Dan Daley have been involved with playGround throughout their studies at York. This year they serve as artistic directors, and also direct productions in the festival.

Right: Dan Daley (left) and Renna Reddie have overseen the entire playGround process

They have overseen the entire playGround process – from coordinating a jury of eight of their peers in evaluating over 50 applications to select the playbill, to keeping tabs on play development and rehearsal, and handling the logistical and organizational aspects of producing the event.

“It’s been a fantastic learning experience,” says Daley. “So far, all the actors and creative teams are happy. We’re setting the bar high, aiming for professional-quality productions. As we approach opening night there’s an added sense of urgency to complete all the final details, both in my own shows and for the festival as a whole.”

For the first time this year, student dramaturges have been brought in as a resource for the playwrights. As an outside eye, the dramaturges can give feedback and help bring a playwright’s vision into greater clarity.

“This year we really wanted to focus on the development aspect of the works,” says Reddie. “In the applications, we wanted to know what kind of creative process the playwrights and producers were looking for, so we could make that happen.”

Starting with playGround is a strategy that worked for York theatre alumna and double Dora Award-winner Anusree Roy (BA Spec. Hons.‘06), whose latest play, Letters to My Grandma, germinated at playGround three years ago.

Both Reddie and Daley have been juggling playGround with a busy course load and professional theatre activities.

Reddie is a part of All I Ever Wanted, Gale Allen’s new collaborative creation for Harbourfront Centre’s HATCH: emerging performance projects program. Part burlesque, part pop song, part reality television show and part machismo stunt, the show pokes fun at our love/hate relationship with reality television. It runs March 27 and 28 at the York Quay Centre, which is located on Toronto’s waterfront. 

Daley has joined the team of theatre Professor Gwen Dobie’s Out of the Box Productions as assistant to the artistic director for the upcoming presentation of Sound in Silence. After a successful premiere in Victoria, BC, this remarkable exploration of how the deaf hear music is slated to launch in June at The Theatre Centre in downtown Toronto.

In playGround, Reddie and Daley are directing separate productions of Jennifer Krukowski’s play, Cold Cuts. Though sharing a cast, Reddie and Daley have not discussed their approach in staging the work, nor seen each other’s productions-in-progress. Audiences will need to attend both programs to experience fully how a director’s vision can shape a play. And at a $5 per series ticket price, why not catch both?

playGround Series A runs March 24 and 25 at 7:30pm and March 27 at 1pm. Series B runs March 25 at 1pm and March 26 and 27 at 7:30pm. Admission is $5 for each series. For tickets call 416-736-5888 or visit the Theatre @ York Web site. 

Productions featured in playGround Series A are: 

Stadium Tour by Colin Fallowfield, 91 Days Theatre Company
Three young men complete their childhood dream of seeing each and every baseball stadium in one summer. But the winds of change are blowing and this could be the last hurrah of their friendship…or are they just living in a baseball metaphor?

True Lies: The Play by Shaun Coughlin & David Dines, MDG Productions
Finally, the trend of adapting blockbuster movies to theatrical productions comes to York University. Not to be confused with Spider Man: The Musical or Legally Blonde: The Musical, MDG Productions presents True Lies: The Play, a hilarious parody of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis movie featuring 75 per cent more killing in 10 per cent of the time.

Dirt Deep written and directed by Dan Daley, Intentus Intellego
When we live dirt deep we’re only seeing a small part of the meaning to our lives. We are seeing it through a shallow perspective that can only lead us away from truth. So why not go deeper? Everything we take for granted, every hope and aspiration we hold dear, and at an age when life seems to offer so much – what happens when it all comes to a stand still? Do we continue to strive forward or do we wallow in the mud? This is the story of two pairs of strangers who meet in a half-awake world hurtling through time and space towards chaos.

Paper Doll
by Sarah Vjestica, Waifs and Strays Productions
A movement piece about the cycle of anorexia.

The Specimen by Daniela Vena, Theatre in the Raw
Set in the world of the not-so-distant future, this play explores the relationship between a captured human, Eve, and her "defective" robotic guard, Version. In a time where The Wireds reign supreme, Eve tries desperately to escape her prison. Searching for a way out, her only hope will be the machine Version, a robot with one tiny manufacturing defect: human emotion.

Brothers Bound by Gregory Cruikshank, directed by Taryn Gelber, Mirrorworks
A story of the ages about the family ties that bind, or don’t….
Can a glimpse into the childhood of Moses and Rameses help to clarify or cloud the story of the Israelites? Does a brotherly bond surpass the importance of a nation? What happens when you fail to maintain a promise?

Cold Cuts by Jennifer Krukowski, directed by Dan Daley
Set in the town of Pensacola, Florida, home of the first drive-thru funeral home, the play explores the various stages of consumerism as a cop searches for truth among the dead.

Also in the series:
Black Dog by Peter Counter, Preachin’ Blues Theatre
Filler Exclaimers by Fraser Stevens, Puzzle Piece Productions

Productions featured in playGround Series B are:

The Boat People by Sylvia Vuong, directed by Mel Hague, Rice Cake Productions
When the dust settled in Vietnam in 1975, the American troops went home to their families and a collective cheer rose up from the people of America: “Our boys are coming home.” In the destruction that was left behind, countless families in Vietnam were forced to leave their homes in search of new lives. A young man named Hau gets on a boat. His destination is unknown. His goal is to give his family a new beginning.  

A Reverie by Alex Kentris, White Rabbit Productions
What happens when you wake up to find Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Sappho, Tennessee Williams and Pyotr Tchaikovsky seated in your living room, discussing nature and art? Jonathan can tell you.

iFamily by Lina DiMaria, Acanthus
Annabelle returns home one day to discover that her parents have been replaced by the latest and greatest fad to hit North America. iFamily is a comedy that explores the tantalizing tactics used by advertisers and the consequences of consumerism.

Cold Cuts by Jennifer Krukowski, directed by Renna Reddie
(See Series A for synopsis)

Growing Up by Chris Douglas, directed by Rain Ing
Growing Up is a short play about a young gay man faced with a tough question about where he comes from. He looks at his past and considers his future in order to figure out his present.

Also in the series:
Untitled by Amy Sawka, Le Fromage Perdu
Sit by Hayley Kellett, SideCar Productions