A Roomful of Collaborators

by Julia Doerr

Every production of a play is a collaboration. Sometimes we forget that, but tonight at the Angels Theatre Company’s First Flight Festival, collaboration was front and center, with terrific results.

Flight C of the three-flight festival is something quite special. The Angels Playwriting Collective, from which all the festival’s plays are birthed, was given the special challenge of writing and submitting plays for performance by young actors. Flight C showcases a selection of those short plays (ten of them in about two hours of actual performance time) performed by middle and high school students from Malcolm, Nebraska. It’s a great example of the very best kind of collaboration.

The first half of the program features performances by some of the younger actors of the evening. They did nice work overall playing a variety of roles. The kids’ enthusiasm was palpable enough to infect the audience too. Inexperience, though, showed a bit in line delivery that was sometimes not loud enough and sometimes lacked crispness in diction. This is worth mentioning only because some of the excellent writing was lost to the audience. But these opportunities to perform are exactly what budding actors need to grow in their art.

One of the Act One plays, “Spellbound” is the first play written by Alijah Mullula, a 17-year-old Malcolm senior. Its clever premise: What would happen if a girl, hospitalized and medicated for delusions that she has magical powers, turned out to be an actual witch? This premise works, and hopefully Mullala will write some more plays.

In Act Two, the relative maturity of the actors showed, and the playwrights’ words shone. For its sheer cleverness, my favorite play of the evening was “Me and Phil,” by Dwight Johns. Set in an office where some of the usual office politics prevails, the up-and-comer Thomas is aided by the mysterious Phil. The audience learns right away what Thomas learns later, that Phil is actually a talking philodendron. Rife with wordplay, this one had everybody laughing.

Three of the remaining four works included in Act Two were somewhat didactic, but in the best way. Each featured a lesson to be learned, one especially appropriate for teens. It would be great if they could get some play at schools, where some excellent discussion could be built around them.

“The Voice,” by Nicole Benischek, is about an especially bright young student who, like most teens, aches to be popular. The titular Voice in her head and her best friend keep her grounded and lead her in the right direction when some typical bullying occurs. “9 Seconds,” by Brian Bornstein, looks at depression, suicidal thoughts, and friendship as they can affect young people. And, delightfully, Phil Shupbach’s “Diamonds in the Rough” lampoons the real problem of cell-phone addiction. It’s set in a doctor’s office and is played in a vaudevillian style (think Groucho Marx).

After the performance, which ended promptly at 10:00, audience members who wished were invited to stay for about half an hour of discussion with the playwrights and Judy Hart, the founder of the feast, as it were, in her role as Producer of the First Flight Festival. Without question, the main topic of discussion was collaboration—how every play is a continual process of cooperative creation. If you’re interested in the art(s) of Theater, you’ll find this discussion especially revealing. As Judy Hart said, “if you have the stamina,” stay for it.

One more time for Flight C! Matinee is at 2 PM and the box office opens at 1 PM. This flight is performed by Malcolm middle school and high school students!

If you go: the FFF 2018 plays are performed in UNL’s Studio Theatre located on the first floor of the Temple Building, 12th & R Streets, Lincoln.

General admission ticket price is:
$15.00 for one Flight, OLLI and student discount is $5.00 off the general admission price

Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher with a lifelong love of plays, both as literature and performance. She assisted, as dramaturg, with the direction of several Shakespeare plays during her tenure at Lincoln High School, where she spent 27 of her 33 years teaching. Julia loves to attend the theater, to write, and to share her opinions. That makes writing reviews her dream assignment.

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