An awakened puppet, a lovable narcissist, a crippled coal miner and online lovers – these are just a few characters that will soon jump from page to stage at the annual Greenhouse Theatre Festival. Plays that “bend form and perception” will be read at Z Space and the Poetry Center as collaboration between the creative writing and theatre and dance departments at SF State.
Student playwrights Alandra Hileman, Casey Robert Spiegel, James Lacek and Julius Rea will showcase their works at Z Space Wednesday, April 20 through Sunday, April 24, while Ai Ebashi and Audrey Ann will present their readings at the Poetry Center May 2 and 6.
Greenhouse, an annual festival held since 1999, is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of students in the theatre production class taught by faculty advisor and creative writing lecturer Anne Galjour. Playwrights had to submit their pieces, and the top plays were selected. The course works toward producing the festival, with master classes to teach how to progress as a playwright in the real world, according to Galjour.
“In a nutshell, this class is a bridge in between everything you’re learning here in your academic environment, and just the reality of trying to cobble together a living as an artist,” Galjour said.
She noted each play receives help from professional directors and actors as well as student actors to strengthen ties with the surrounding theater community.
“Hiraeth,” a play by 27-year-old Hileman, who is pursuing a master of fine arts in playwriting, is the story of strangers who meet in a bar and shockingly discover they all have memories of being characters of Arthurian legend. While some wholeheartedly believe it, others simply think it’s an illusion. Hileman said with the exception of one, everyone is cast as a different gender or race of the past life character.
“Our Lancelot character is played by a young Hispanic woman, and so what we’re really pushing is this idea of playing with this very subtle level of how identity and gender and race inform our perception of self,” Hileman said.
Spiegel, a 23-year-old senior theatre arts major, has been working on his play, “I’m Here, I’m Queer, and I’m Hungry,” since the first semester he transferred. Spiegel will be starring as the lead, Ben, whom he allows to be self-aware and break the fourth wall to provide the opportunity to play with perception.
“The show is an exercise of Ben’s desperation to be successful, and it kind of speaks for I think a lot of young queer people in 2016 on trying to put out an image of yourself that maybe isn’t accurate, but it’s what you think people want to see,” Spiegel said. “Because, in order to be liked, I think a lot of young people have to conform to a stereotype because it’s easier – socially it’s more acceptable. So the show is really Ben’s journey and seeing the bad side to that.”
Spiegel reflected on Ben’s storyline and how it’s relevant to his own.
“I have that problem constantly, and I know it’s not just me – a lot of it plays into being afraid people aren’t going to accept you, because you’re an other of some kind,” Spiegel said. “… I was one of three out gay men in my high school. It wasn’t like an amazing inclusive area … so it was really easy for me to know that this happens to other people too.”
Ebashi, a 43 year old studying a master of fine arts in playwriting, wrote “Puppet Show,” illuminating a Bunraku – a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater – puppet’s isolated struggle with realizing he has been manipulated by puppeteers his entire life. Her play evokes deep questions that she said she hopes will make the audience think.
“Everybody is sort of a puppet, conditioned by his or her culture or family background or ethnicity, so that is where I drew my inspiration from,” Ebashi said.
Galjour said she is moved by alumni who still support the festival, such as Peter Nachtrieb, a playwright currently at Z Space. Nachtrieb participated in Greenhouse twice, with his second play becoming one of his first major career hits. He emphasized how vital the festival is to helping playwrights getting their work on stage.
“Plays don’t exist to simply be on paper, and Greenhouse is one of the few chances SF State playwrights have to really get a feel of their work on its feet in a professional environment,” Nachtrieb said. “It’s essential to developing live work and it’s crucial to hear pieces heard in front of an audience.”
Galjour said she is proud of all the unique voices and bold visions illustrated in the strong works this year.
“Plays don’t exist purely as literature, it’s an art form that’s meant to be heard out loud,” Galjour said. “To see them out loud, it’s great beauty.”
Tickets for the Z Space showings are on sale for $5 to $10, and readings at the Poetry Center are free.