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University of Iowa News Release

April 18, 2005

photo: Lee Blessing

Iowa New Play Festival Is A Whirlwind Of Theatrical Discovery

The Iowa New Play Festival, a tradition unique in college theater, will spotlight more than a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop in productions and readings May 2-7 in the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

The UI Department of Theatre Arts concludes each spring semester by dedicating all its acting, directing, design, stage management and technical resources to a whirlwind festival that offers student playwrights the productions and feedback that are essential for their development and offers theater-goers a feast of theatrical discovery.

A new play, written by a student in the Master of Fine Arts program in playwriting, will be premiered each evening of the 2005 Iowa New Play Festival, with performances at 5:30 and 9 p.m. The daytime will feature readings in Room 172 and roundtable responses to the evening productions by a roster of distinguished guests from the world of professional theater.

The evening productions will utilize all the Theatre Buildings major performance spaces.

-- Monday, May 2, in E.C. Mabie Theatre: Christina Pippa's "Cell Cycle," in which a college student seeks answers to the War on Terror and her family's battle with cancer through scientific research.

-- Tuesday, May 3, in the David Thayer Theatre: "The Extinction of Felix Garden" by Sarah Hammond, described as "An ecological, zoological, fire-starting, feline love story about death and adaptation."

-- Wednesday, May 4, in Theatre B: a workshop production of Marnie J. Glazier's "Hum," about personal, historical and magical journeys.

-- Thursday, May 5, in Mabie Theatre: "Waking Nicodemus" by Anton Jones, a drama in which ghosts of the past meet the youth of the future when a Six Flags amusement park threatens to replace Nicodemus, Kan., the first black settlement west of the Mississippi.

-- Friday, May 6, in Thayer Theatre: In Melissa Leilani Larson's "An Experiment in Sainthood," a martyr struggles with her own faith while providing inspiration to Joan of Arc.

-- Saturday, May 7, in Theatre B: A couple attempts to repair their crumbling relationship in Michael Hayden's "How Do You Sleep at Night?"

Tickets for all the evening productions -- $6 for the general public and $4 for UI students, senior citizens and youth (all tickets $2 for the Wednesday "workshop" production) -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. May 2-6, tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Theatre Building box office.

All the daytime events are free, and the public is invited to participate.

-- Monday: an introduction of the festival guests at 11 a.m., and a 2 p.m. reading of Chris Levya's religious farce "Holy Schmidt!"

-- Tuesday: A "Cell Cycle" roundtable at 10 a.m., and a 1:30 p.m. reading of "The Humanities Division," a drama about people who have trouble letting go of bad situations, by Sean Lewis.

-- Wednesday: A roundtable on "The Extinction of Felix Garden" at 10 a.m., and a reading of selections from undergraduate scripts at 1:30 p.m.

-- Thursday: A "Hum" roundtable at 10 a.m., and a reading of Sam Hunter's "Abraham: I Am an Island" at 1:30 p.m.

-- Friday: A roundtable on "Waking Nicodemus" at 10 a.m. and a reading of "Curious Father" by Austin Bunn at 1:30 p.m.

-- Saturday: A roundtable on "An Experiment in Sainthood" at noon and a reading of Goodbye Geneva" by Sarah Hoeflich at 2 p.m.

The festival guests will be:

-- award-winning playwright Lee Blessing, a graduate of both the UI Playwrights Workshop and the Iowa Writers' Workshop who is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated "A Walk in the Woods";

-- actress and dramaturg Faye M. Price, the co-artistic producing director of the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis;

--  Tom Prewitt, associate artistic director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D. C.;

-- PEN/West Award-winning playwright Melanie Marnich, whose work has been seen at London's Royal Court Theatre, the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Arena Stage, the Denver Center for the Arts, the Magic Theatre and other venues; and

-- Adrien-Alice Hansel, literary manager of the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The Iowa New Play Festival began in the 1960s as Critics Week and developed into the more-public Iowa Playwrights Festival. The festival's name was changed to the Iowa New Play Festival to stress that the production of new plays was of educational value not just to the playwrights, but also to all students in the department.

Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights -- in addition to Lee Blessing -- who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater.

Among them are Rebecca Gilman, who has become one of America's most talked-about playwrights; Emmy Award and Jefferson Award winner Rick Cleveland, honored recently for his work on "The West Wing"; Darrah Cloud, whose "O Pioneers" was broadcast by PBS and was toured by the Acting Company; Todd Ristau, the editor of yawp.com whose work has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and the London West End; Charles Smith, playwright-in-residence at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and a faculty member at Ohio University; "Halloween 5" screenwriter Shem Bitterman; Obie Award winner David Hancock; Victoria Stewart, whose work has been commissioned by South Coast Repertory, the Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Commonweal Theatre Company; and Keith Josef Adkins, whose plays have been commissioned by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum and the Actors Theater of Louisville.

Many of the plays developed through the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and presented in the festival have gone on to successful professional productions, have been honored with theatrical awards or have been invited to theater festivals.

For example, Peter Ullian's "In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower" was selected by Harold Prince for development as a musical, and as "Eliot Ness in Cleveland" it premiered in Denver. Naomi Wallace's Iowa Playwrights Festival scripts "The War Boys" and "In the Heart of America" have been given major productions in London. Kate Aspengren presented "Dear Mrs. Martin" in the festival, where it was seen by a representative of the Samuel French publishing house, leading to the script's publication and availability to theaters throughout the country. Levy "Lee" Simon won the American College Theatre Festival Lorraine Hansberry Award for "The Bow Wow Club," which premiered in the festival. And Robert Alexander's "A Preface to the Alien Garden" has had several national productions, including Trinity Rep last season.

Some of the productions and readings contain material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether a particular show or reading is appropriate for them should contact the department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.

The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu