Editor’s Note: The Apprentices One Act Festival is a showcase of the work of young artists who spend a year apprenticed at InterAct. It is designed both to allow them to apply the skills that they have been learning during their time as apprentices, and introduce their work to the community. 

Jill is a director and devisor, and a cis white woman.

To empty my pockets: A whole bunch of my friends and collaborators were involved in this production as actors, directors and playwrights. I also love seeing young artists producing work, and I want to see them succeed.

I want to acknowledge first that the apprentices–Bianca Sanchez, Dylan Wallace, Benjamin Behrend, and Grayce Hoffman–managed to produce what seemed like a smooth, well-run evening, all while each of them also directed or acted in at least one of the pieces. Having self-produced a little and found it to be an overwhelming and sweaty experience, I admire their professionalism and efficiency.

The show was comprised of 5 plays, all by playwrights with Philadelphia ties. As in any festival of one-acts, some were stronger than others.

The highlight of the night was Lauren Feldman’s Silences, directed by Hannah Van Sciver and performed by Bianca Sanchez. The piece was broken up into three parts, three distinct “silences,” and it began and ended the show. Sanchez is a lovely performer to watch, and she navigated beautifully the challenges of engaging an audience with almost no text. Silence can be uncomfortable in the theatre for directors, actors, and audience members, but Van Sciver admirably leaned into that potential discomfort to great effect. Her direction was deliberate and generous

I had questions about the selection of two of the plays presented–Jeremy Gable’s Sudden Drop and Haygen Brice Walker’s Donald Trump, Buzzfeed, and Dead Black Kids. The first deals with the Internet leak of a celebrity’s private nude photos. The story–a woman’s privacy is violated, men are callous or willfully ignorant in response to her outrage–is unfortunately familiar, and Gable’s play does not really seem to have anything new to say on the subject. The man in the play, an indoor-sunglasses-wearing radio host played by Benjamin Behrend, is predictably unsympathetic, and watching him launch familiar mansplainy arguments at Grayce Hoffman’s character is neither absurd enough to be funny, nor painful enough to be cathartic. It’s just exhausting. Both performers, under David O’Connor’s direction, acquitted themselves well.

Walker’s play captures the conversation between two teenage girls, one of whom is black and one white, about all the things they hate. When that conversation pivots to race, lines are crossed and horrible, cruel things are said. I question the choice of this play because it’s really, really hard and contains language that can be extremely harmful. Campbell O’Hare’s character proclaims her racist worldview with the same matter-of-factness with which she describes deleting her Facebook account, and the effect is jarring. Dylan Wallace noted in his bio that this was one of his first times directing, and I wonder about why he chose (or why InterAct guided him to choose) something so potentially inflammatory and so tonally specific.

Katharine Clark Gray’s Run/Hide/Fight deals with the aftermath of a mass shooting, and offers a kind of closure for acts of violence and random death that seems unattainable in reality. The piece’s premise felt a little contrived, but the performances were solid, especially Jenna Kuerzi’s; her character’s relationship with Tessa Kuhn’s felt clear and connected. Benjamin Behrend’s direction kept things moving, preventing the play from sinking into sentimentality.

Finally, Grayce Hoffman directed Lauren Feldman’s How it Works, which, in a sort of magical-realistic way, seems to track the things a person must give up before a major surgery, though that is never made wholly explicit. The action of the play shows Kelly Filios’s character detailing and placing in a bin the things she is giving up to Jason Lindner’s doctor character. The play is challenging because it is essentially a long list, and I wish that Hoffman and the performers had found ways to give it a little more action or emotional development. Both characters seemed fixed throughout–Filios’s in bitter anger and resentment and Lindner’s projecting a world-weary kind of tough love. It would have been nice to see what else was underneath, or to see the two of them affect change on each other.

Though I wasn’t crazy about every piece they presented, I am impressed by the skill and professionalism of the 2016/2017 apprentices. I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to make work and cultivate their artistic voices.

Author’s Addendum: To clarify, I don’t believe that Donald Trump, Buzzfeed, and Dead Black Kids should not be produced or performed because it contains controversial or inflammatory material. I think it’s a funny and biting play that deals with everyday racism in a way that can make an audience deeply, productively uncomfortable, and I am happy to see it done. My questions were about the choice of that play for a first-time director, because I think the material requires an acute tonal sensitivity, something that often develops with more experience.

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