April 29, 2011
Iowa New Play Festival opens May 1 with Janet Schlapkohl's 'Rogue's Dance'
The 2011 Iowa New Play Festival, the most ambitious new-play festival in collegiate theater, will open with Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Janet Schlapkohl's "Rogue's Dance," directed by David Hanzal, at 5:30 and 9 p.m. Sunday, May 1, in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
Like her recently produced "Triangle," which was prompted by the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Schlapkohl has taken on the challenge of serious historical material in "Rogue's Dance" -- with a lot of music and dance thrown in.
She tackled the questions, "What does it mean to be a deserter?" "Or to be deserted?" by following the journeys of the women left behind during the Irish Potato Famine and Mexican-American War, and the men who stole their hearts.
The production uses text, live music and dance to tell the stories of Maggie, Bridget, Patrick, James, Rosa and Mamma, whose worlds collide and connect through events beyond their control and understanding.
"I became interested in the topic when I was researching the subject of deserters, part of a script I was working on for a piece on the Vietnam era," Schlapkohl explains. "The Mexican-American War was highly controversial, seen as an immoral aggressive land grab by our nation; the protests reminding me of protests over Vietnam.
"This lead to much more research on the San Patricios or Saint Patricks Batallion. These were 500 men who not only deserted the American army just before and during the Mexican-American War but also took up arms against their former troops. That was unprecedented, in both the number and their initial effectiveness."
That research led her to search for the motivations of the deserters: "The causes were so monumental -- the blight in Ireland, which by an amazingly sad juxtaposition of mortality was caused by a fungus that originated in Mexico and arrived in ships that brought corn from America.
"The horror of starving children and the true reasons for the famine; the indifference of the governments, England's desire to rid Ireland of unwanted peasants and especially a lingering image of the women of Ireland, standing with their small children, looking out after the boats taking their men away, stuck in my mind.
"I wondered what those Irish men could possibly be feeling, standing in the Mexican army holding guns against American soldiers. But I quickly learned how mistreated Irish immigrants were during the 1840s and how enlistment officers actually waited on the docks to enlist immigrant Irish men, to ship them to the Rio Grande banks where the United States had positioned troops in order to provoke a conflict as a justification to declare war.
"I wanted to tell the story of what we think it means to desert -- to leave something loved, and more carefully examine the motivations. It is a love story, ultimately."
Tickets for "Rogue's Dance" are $5 for the general public and free for UI students with a valid UI ID -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. Tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 29 at the Theatre Building box office. More information can be found at http://bit.ly/newplay.
The Iowa Playwrights Workshop -— the UI MFA Program in Playwriting -— is an intensive three-year program dedicated to educating playwrights for the professional theatre. The objective of the program is to train talented playwrights and collaborative theatre artists who will lead the American theater in the creation of new works and the training of future generations of playwrights.
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 only to the playwrights but to all students in the department.
Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater, and 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.
This year's festival is dedicated to Cosmo Catalano, who died in January. He joined the UI Department of Theatre Arts in 1966 and was professor in charge of acting and directing, department chair and managing director of Iowa Summer Rep. Catalano directed more than 100 productions for the department. His numerous contributions to the community are detailed here: http://performingarts.uiowa.edu/ui-mourns-loss-of-cosmo-catalano/.
The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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