Frost and Dodd festival features student, alum playwrights

Rainfall reverberated around the dark walls of Bentley Theater, dropping until the sound design team found the proper volume. Scattered around the lit stage, where actors rehearsed lines and determined their costumes, were six multicolored blocks, a laundry basket and a potted sunflower.

In the back of the theater, Olivia Scott ’13 listened as actors read her play, “Little Lights,” which will be performed as part of the Eleanor Frost and Ruth Loring Dodd play festival this weekend. Staged readings of “Thaw” by Aaluk Edwardson ’12 and “Our Fathers” by Michael McDavid ’15, the Frost contest winners, will precede the full production of “Little Lights,” which won the Dodd contest.

The playwrights were selected from 19 candidates and translated their scripts to the stage over the last two weeks, rehearsing with student actors and crews from Theater 65, an experiential course taught by theater professor Jamie Horton.

Marina McClure ’04, who will direct the two staged readings tonight, called rehearsals a collaborative environment.

“It’s an opportunity for playwrights to work on their plays and for the actors to be involved in new play development,” McClure said.

Edwardson’s one-act “Thaw” blends Inuit mythology with a contemporary storyline in a commentary on the effects of climate change. Thinning ice from global warming has made it increasingly dangerous for Inupiat Eskimo communities like Edwardson’s to hunt bowhead whales, a vital aspect of the culture.

Edwardson applies the myth of the sea goddess Sedna to modern times, incorporating the myth’s implicit environmental message. The plot follows four hunters who attempt to pull up a whale, only to have the ice break beneath them.

Edwardson said that while she wants audience members to enjoy the play, she hopes that its call for environmental responsibility will resonate with them.

“I’m trying to introduce people to the realities of climate change in a very remote and isolated part of world and a culture that most people don’t understand or even know exists,” Edwardson said. “This is a centuries-old culture that is being affected by this environmental impact.”

McDavid’s “Our Fathers” focuses on the relationship between fathers and sons. A middle-aged father and his son, a young adult, realize their similarities in McDavid’s production.

Scott’s “Little Lights” will open Saturday night. The short play chronicles a family divorce through the memories of a young girl and her parents within a “brief snapshot of an evening,” Scott said.

Horton, who will direct Scott’s play, said nontraditional dramatic devices, like a gospel choir, make the performance more exciting for the audience.

Scott came to the College with no theater experience and described the theater department as supportive, especially during rehearsals.

“We did a bunch of rewrites in rehearsals, and I’ve gotten input from actors and the director,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and very interactive.”

Gauging how an audience responds to a theatrical piece is “a critical part” of the playwright’s experience, Horton said. The writers and directors will lead discussions after each play, where audience members can offer suggestions on how to refine the pieces.

“It’s an open format for anyone to bring anything to the table,” Edwardson said.

Theater 65 students, who will collaborate with the playwrights this weekend, also worked with visiting Dartmouth theater alumni earlier in the summer to produce VoxFest.

Horton said that the theater department values working with alumni and students.

“We think it has enormous potential for the future,” he said.

“Thaw” and “Our Fathers” will be presented at 8 p.m. tonight in Bentley Theater, and “Little Lights” will be performed on Saturday at 8 p.m. All three will be performed again on Sunday at 7 p.m.

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