Labute Theatre Festival



Cast on stage during the play.

When was the last time you saw theatre that had never been done before? No, not in the flowery, metaphorical sense of the question. I mean plays that have never been performed in front of a live audience. This summer marked the fifth season of the LaBute New Theatre Festival, a showcase that embodies such cutting-edge theatre. The festival receives its namesake from Neil LaBute, an acclaimed film director, screenwriter, and playwright. Each year, the festival selection team chooses up to eight previously unproduced one-act plays as well as one new piece from Mr. LaBute to be performed in July at the Gaslight Theatre before travelling to Manhattan’s 59E59 Street Theatre. Besides professional submissions, the showcase also includes one morning of stage readings of new plays written by high schoolers.

Burroughs’ connection to the festival has existed since its inception, thanks to John Pierson, English teacher and Theater Department Chair, who has served on the LaBute selection committee for all five seasons and directs numerous plays featured in the festival. In addition, multiple Burroughs students have performed in the showcase, including Caroline Adams ‘15, Ry Gaffney ‘15, Jeremy Pinson ‘16, and this year, senior Kelly Schaschl ‘18.

Burroughs’ theatre crew has also been instrumental to the festival, with costume designer Carla Landis Evans serving her fifth year on the design team and Phoebe Sklansky ‘18 working as assistant stage manager for her second year. Lastly, this summer’s high school finalists included a play from Ella Schmidt ‘18 and Collin Smith ‘18, Mara Sudekum ‘18, and Dahlia Haddad ‘18 were featured in the staged readings of the high school plays.

Kelly Schaschl ‘18 performs.

With a myriad of Burroughs community members taking part in the showcase, many students supported them by seeing the festival. “Each of the four professional plays I saw was unique and exciting. I felt lucky to support both local theatre and my classmates,” Nick Kime ‘18 remarks. “I enjoyed being able to identify the contemporary issues that the writer was trying to address,” Collin Smith ‘18 adds.

“As an audience member, you get to see something fresh,” Schaschl observed, “and as an actor, you get to be a part of something that no one has ever seen before.” The festival differed from Schaschl’s experience with Burroughs theatre in numerous ways. “The biggest challenge was how little time there was to prepare and rehearse,” Schaschl notes. Whereas Burroughs productions allot months of rehearsals before tech week, each play in the LaBute festival rehearsed only a few times.

Though professional acting seemed intimidating at first, Schaschl reflects that the actors and crew members in the festival were not unlike Burroughs theatre participants: “They enjoy being goofy in the dressing rooms, sometimes they flub a line and they all love theatre. In fact, I learned that professional acting can be just as chaotic as high school acting, but also just as fun.”

High school finalist Schmidt also expresses her initial intimidation with participating in the festival, “I had never written a play before so working with dialogue and stage directions was totally foreign to me.” Despite her inexperience, 24th December, which presents a young couple who argues about how people mourn and when it is okay to “move on,” was selected as a finalist.

“The staged reading was different from what I heard in my head—it wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t sound like what I thought I’d written. But it gave me a sense that an individual’s interpretation of a play is what makes it different each time it’s read or produced,” Schmidt reflects. The morning of the readings, the excitement that the audience, professional playwrights, and Neil LaBute himself had surrounding the young finalists’ works was unique.

Theatre is never the same. Even when performing the same play, one night can and will be drastically different from the next. “That’s what makes it exciting,” Schaschl states. What the LaBute Festival does best is embody the best aspect of theatre itself–its variability. Fresh theatre is the breath of change, whether it reflects our changing times or foresees possible growth. Thus, taking part in the LaBute Festival, whether on the stage, in the writer’s room or in the audience, can be one of the most exciting events of one’s summer.