Junior acting major Wilhelmena Dreyer performs a scene as her character, Lila, a young Jewish woman, during a rehearsal for "This is the Way" April 8, 2019, in Bracken Library. At the beginning of this scene in the play, Lila was crying on the floor at her Jewish Community Center before one of her classmates from school, Matthew, approached her. Nicole Thomas, DN
'This is the Way:' Discovery New Theatre Festival helps Ball State students gain experience, feedback
As a Jewish woman, Cricket Kowal grew up interested in finding and reading plays about others like her, but whenever she encountered Jewish characters, she said the plots of these stories seemed to only focus on “Jewish issues.”
So, when she came across “Crossing Delancey” by Susan Sandler, the junior theatre creation major said it was an eye-opening experience.
Sandler’s play was the first play Kowal read that had a balance between being Jewish and dealing with “regular life issues,” which inspired Kowal to write her own play to add to the small number of these works that existed.
The Discovery New Theatre Festival will begin at 10:30 a.m. April 13 in AR 217. A complete schedule of the festival’s events can be found on the Discovery New Works Festival Facebook.
“I wanted to write a play about things I was interested in,” Kowal said. “I am always interested in Sci-Fi, and I'm always interested in anti-Semitism and the reactions to it partially because it's a permanent fixture in my own life [as a Jewish woman].”
Writing and rehearsing
Kowal’s play, “This is the Way,” started as a 10-minute play she wrote in December 2017. Over time, “This is the Way” became Kowal’s first full-length, hour-long play, which will be featured during Ball State’s Discovery New Theatre Festival.
“I've never shared my work on this wide of a scale, but I also didn't have a lot of experience sharing my work at all up until about last year,” Kowal said. “[Having my play in the festival] kind of felt like some validation that I needed.”
Featuring a plot based around time travel, the protagonist in “This is the Way,” Lila, faces a “perfect storm” of rising anti-Semitism around her and anti-Semitic incidents in her own life as she discovers new information about her family’s experience in the Holocaust. Kowal said the play also addresses issues of grief, legacy and friendship.
Throughout her writing process of “This is the Way,” Kowal said she would consult her friends to see if they thought a line was funny or to make sure certain dialogue didn’t sound “like robots talking to each other.”
She also said the notes she received from her playwriting professor Tom Horan helped her a lot because she gained a new perspective of her work from somebody who writes professional plays.
“Theater is like a group activity,” Kowal said. “I wrote [“This is the Way”] all myself… but it helps a lot to have a support system in place.”
Rehearsals for the stage reading of Kowal’s play began April 2, giving the actors a little over a week to practice. During each rehearsal, Kowal, her director, Talon Reed Cooper, and six student actors practice for three hours..
Kowal said rehearsals have been a learning process for everyone because she often helps with the Yiddish pronunciation, and all of the actors offer her their own stylistic input in return.
“I don't know anything about being Christian, so I asked [the actors] a context question about being Christian for the Christian character, [Matthew],” Kowal said. “It's just so helpful to have people there to bounce ideas off of.”
Because she has wanted to become a writer for so long and is now watching her characters come to life, Kowal said she has almost cried twice in rehearsals.
“It’s really weird because [“This is the Way”] has been my baby for so long,” Kowal said. “I’ve been holding onto it really hard, and now I’ve got to like peel a couple of my fingers off because now Talon has to hold onto a part of it, and each actor has to hold onto a part of it, and our [assistant director] and our dramaturg both have to hold onto a part of it as well.
“This just feels like such a step forward going from me sitting on my bed typing in the dark at three in the morning by myself to sitting in a room watching other people bring these characters to life, especially characters I've been sitting with for so long and characters that feel like such a part of me by now.”
In addition to working with directors, actors, and dramaturgs — individuals who research and consult those involved in a theatrical work to bring historical context to it — Kowal has also collaborated with the festival’s student producers.
Senior theatre creation major Emma Rund, who is the festival’s marketing manager, said she has seen how passionate the students are about the works they’re producing.
“Just getting to talk to the people who are involved in [the festival] and how much heart they're putting into it — it's really fun, and it makes it easy for me to market their work,” Rund said. “They're clearly passionate about [their plays…], and I'd like to share their passion with everybody else.”
At the Discovery New Theatre Festival, there will be three other full-length plays and three 10-minute plays featured in addition to “This is the Way.”
This is the first year only student-written works were able to be submitted to the festival, and four guest artists were invited to offer feedback and review each play.
“It's really easy to bring in an actor and have them do an acting workshop,” said Felicity Kline, a junior theatre creation major and the festival’s production and stage manager. “It's great that we have an opportunity for playwrights so that they can get their work not only looked at and critiqued, but maybe even build a connection, which is very important for our industry.”
Rund said for the students like Kowal involved in the festival, she hopes there is spark in them to want to continue creating new works.
“It's so, so different to work on a new work than it is to work on something that's been done before,” Rund said. “The process is completely different… I just hope that some new directors and actors and dramaturgs fall in love with that.”