Frost and Dodd Festival premieres winning student plays
By Leslie Ye, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 31, 2012
For two nights this past weekend, the playwriting talents of two Dartmouth juniors — Maia Matsushita ’13 and Laura Neill ’13 — were showcased in the annual Eleanor Frost and Ruth and Loring Dodd Student New Play Festival. Matsushita’s play, “Higher Ground,” won the Dodd contest, while Neill won two Frost contest awards with her plays “Conditions” and “Fall.” “Higher Ground” was directed by theater professor Peter Hackett, and “Conditions” and “Fall” were directed by theater professor Baron Kelly.
The festival was created by a theater department endowment and is assessed by a panel of judges during the Winter term of each academic year, according to Hackett.
Plays are read with the names of the authors redacted, and submissions are accepted from all Dartmouth students.
The top three plays are given awards, with the top play earning the Dodd award and the second and third plays receiving the Frost awards, Hackett said. The Dodd play receives a full production and the Frost plays are staged readings — a production style in which actors read lines from a book and follow basic staging but do not have costumes or sets to work with. “Higher Ground is a play all about ‘I love you,’” Matsushita said. “It’s just about the problems that come out when someone says it and the other person doesn’t really feel it.” Sean Kaufman ’13 and Sarah Peck ’14 were cast as the lead characters in “Higher Ground.”
The play deals with insecurities that can arise in relationships, Matsushita said.
Matsushita, a cultural anthropology major, said she had never written a play before “Higher Ground.” Although Matsushita has always been interested in theater, she was not initially very involved in theater at the College and did not return to it until she took Playwriting I with theater professor Joseph Sutton, she said.
The Frost and Dodd festival marks the first production experience Matsushita has had, she said, calling the experience “really cool.” Throughout the production process, Matsushita made significant alterations to the script, changing the ending and adding an entire scene.
“A lot of [the changes] were because Hackett kept pushing me to go further,” she said. “All the staging and blocking was completely his amazing talent. I knew the finished product was fully influenced by him in a good way.” Seeing the final product of her work was “surreal,” Matsushita said.
“It was hearing words that had been in my head for so long,” she said. “The set and the costumes were so amazing, and Sarah and Sean were phenomenal.” Matsushita is a theater minor and said she would like to continue writing theatrical productions if possible.
“I definitely want to do it in the future,” she said. “I realized that if I was so lucky I would love to [write plays] for the foreseeable future.”
One of Matsushita’s plays will be produced in an upcoming 10-minute play festival on Aug. 6, she said.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had with any playwright,” Hackett said of working with Matsushita. “Playwrights can sometimes be very protective of their material, especially young playwrights not used to all these people they don’t really know.”
Matsushita was very receptive to Hackett’s feedback, as well as to input designers and actors, Hackett said.
“She was so open and so giving,” he said. “She was not intimidated or defensive about anything. She always responded to our feedback. It was a really exciting and fun collaborative process.”
“Conditions,” Neill’s first Frost play, was originally written as a one-act play in the fall of 2011, she said. The play is about two sisters from an abusive household. One leaves the home and works in a law firm, while the other is a high school senior who still lives with her mother. “Conditions” starred Diane Chen ’14, Emma Steele ’14 and theater professor Effie Cummings.
“Fall,” Neill’s second Frost play, is a romantic comedy that is a satirical look at college relationships and stereotypes, Neill said. It is a comedic take on “Faking It,” a darker play that Neill wrote last year, she said. “Fall” starred Jaymes Sanchez ’13, Cami van Putten ’14, Alexandra Khitun ’14, Evan Curhan ’14 and Joshua Echebiri ’14.
“It’s about falling for people you’re not supposed to fall for,” Neill said.
Neill said she was “shocked” to find that two of her plays had won awards. Hackett, who has worked at Dartmouth since 2004, said that this is the first time he has heard of one playwright winning multiple awards in the Frost and Dodd festival.
Neill said she has had a lifelong passion for writing.
“I’ve been writing since before I can remember,” she said. “I started acting in college in the Rude Mechanicals. I recognized how vital of a form playwriting is.”
Neill said she is particularly drawn to theater because plays have a much more immediate impact than novels.
“When you see people on stage, actual live people saying words, it can really hit you a lot harder,” she said. “Stories just work really well on stage because you really get to see how things play out. That’s what I love about it.”
Neill had extensive theater experience prior to winning the awards. Six of her plays have been performed in the College’s 10-minute play festivals, and she has written twice for WiRED, a program in which students write and perform plays in 24 hours. She is a member of the Dartmouth Rude Mechanicals, the co-president of the Displaced Theater Company and will be running the 10-minute play festival on Aug. 6.