Theatre @ York’s playGround pushes the fringe

The Department of Theatre’s annual juried fringe festival, playGround, is a student-produced seedbed for the next generation of theatre artists. Eleven original plays, plus excerpts from three other new works, will be presented in two dynamic programs running Feb. 9 to 12, in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, 139 Centre for Film & Theatre on York’s Keele campus.

Well-known for its uncurbed spirit and risk-taking mindset, playGround showcases new, innovative 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.

Left: The cast of The Dinner Table Gnome, a play by Erin Ciona

Rain Chan and Sylvia Vuong, both fourth-year students in the Theatre Studies Program, are the co-artistic directors of this year’s edition of playGround. Together they selected the most promising ideas from the over 60 proposals submitted. They also have been active in all stages of development and production, including co-directing the Play it Forward segment comprising three five-minute plays.

“Every year the artistic directors do something different with Play it Forward,” says Vuong. “We wanted to foster creativity for three emerging playwrights, with workshops and dramaturgical feedback. Rain and I decided to work on them together, as a joint project.”

“It’s been an excellent learning experience collaborating with Sylvia,” Chan says. “I can see why it’s so important to share the artistic direction of the festival and Play it Forward, because we bring different skills and styles to the table. When one of us is at a loss, we’re able to look to the other for support. We’re in constant communication about what we’re working on and what’s still to be done. I joke that it’s basically like we are married.”

“I describe it as having a second brain,” says Vuong.

Right: A scene from Double Date Us! by playGround co-artistic director Sylvia Vuong

The duo bring to the project several years of experience as playwrights and directors. Voung’s play The Boat People, which ran in playGround last year, has since been workshopped and performed in downtown Toronto and is slated for production in the Hamilton Fringe Festival this summer. In 2009, Chan directed a production for playGround at York and also participated in the fu-GEN Asian-Canadian Theatre Company’s Kitchen, a 12-month incubator program that brings together a small group of playwrights to meet and develop new or existing work. (Fu-GEN was co-founded by former York theatre student Nina Lee Aquino and alumnus Richard Lee (BFA Spec. Hons. ’00). Vuong is taking part in fu-GEN’s Kitchen this year, parallel to her work with playGround.

“While playGround has lots of laughs on the surface, there’s serious substance here,” says Vuong. “The playwrights are taking on some of the critical issues of our day. And I encourage everyone to buy their tickets early, because shows have been known to sell out!”

Left: The Cockatrice & Feather Song features ‘Joe’, a woman and her garbage

The playGround 2010 festival features works covering a wide range of genres and topics, from societal dating customs and questions about our roles within the political system to performances incorporating movement and hip hop. Featured productions are:

playGround Series A

  • The Cockatrice & Feather Song by Derek Gingrich
    Joe has been tracking cockatrice across Canada for the past two years. Now he has a chance to slay his first beast but a woman and her garbage stand in the way.
  • Malady by Brittany Dinsmore
    Alex awakens in the psychiatric ward of a hospital with no notion as to how he came to be there. Now he must battle his inner demons to discover the truth behind his mental illness and the destruction he has left behind.
  • Hip Hop David vs. Goliath by Ryan Chessman
    David comes to terms with the worms handed to him by rap. As he struggles to define how divine his skill, he battles the modern "hip hop" Goliath, if you will.
  • Flies by Nicole DeAngelis
    What happens when three complete strangers get trapped in an elevator? Chaos.
    A short play about three humans feeling a lot like trapped bugs.
  • La Loca by Alex Kentris
    In 16th-century Spain, Queen Joanna has been imprisoned for 40 years by her son, Charles V. On the day of her death, through the filter of her madness, Joanna relives her life within her mind, from her youth in Castile to the unendurable loss of her husband.
  • Intermishap: RE: GIFT by Travis Lahay
  • Play It Forward
    Writers: Christopher Douglas, Suzanna Derewicz, Deborah Ring

playGround Series B

  • The Dinner Table Gnome by Erin Ciona
    A family dinner gets out of hand when Mom puts a gnome on the table…while everyone is eating. Inspired by the playwright’s family, this is a tribute to her dad, brother and wonderful, gnome-collecting mother.
  • Idealism of the Unknown by Katy Murphy
    We all have to deal with things that hold us back: great loss, a struggle with the person you love or your own personal demons.
  • Watch by Parker Nowlan
    Three men sit on a bench, each one watching the others. Watching the others watch. Watching time slip away, watching.
  • Revolutionaries by Alex Kentris
    Christian is a young, angry activist who is attempting to instill change. Faced with the apathetic people in his life, he is forced to question whether revolution is possible in our modern world.
  • Intermishap: Double Date Us! by Sylvia Vuong
    Love with no shame knows no bounds: introduce two single girls on the prowl with the use of the Internet.
  • Play It Forward
    Writers: Christopher Douglas, Suzanna Derewicz, Deborah Ring

The playGround Series A runs Feb. 9 and 10 at 7:30pm and Feb. 12 at 1pm. Series B runs Feb. 10 at 1pm and Feb. 11 and 12 at 7:30pm. Admission is $7 for each series. For tickets, call 416-736-5888 or visit the Theatre @ York Web site.