The New Works Festival officially began yesterday and we thought now would be a perfect opportunity to give you some last minute information about another exciting part of the festival. The ASU Cenennial Project is a celebration of 100 years of Arizona history with a collection of regional and national short plays chosen by Arizona State University MFA playwrights and brought to life by an ensemble of professional valley actors. We interviewed Guillermo Reyes of ASU on the project and its impact.

PT-Tell us a little more about yourself and your connection and/or work with the ASU Centennial Project.

Reyes-I’m a playwright/director and head of the New Works Area at ASU’s School of Theatre and Film, and that is the area that administers the MFA in Dramatic Writing.  I’ve also been the interim director of the entire school in 2010-11 until June 30 and was therefore the artistic director who did the planning for this year’s season.  The Centennial Project devised these three different projects that would articulate some dramatic view of the AZ Centennial celebrations.  The three productions, as I mentioned earlier, are the AZ Centennial Plays, Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes and American Victory.

The graduate students in MFA Dramatic Writing and I read the submissions for the AZ Centennial Plays in my graduate seminar, Literary Management, and came up with finalists which we then handed over the Phoenix Theatre.  The students also performed the duties of dramaturgs for the individual plays and gave feedback directly to the playwrights that would allow them to do rewrites, if necessary.


PT – Tell us more about the selection process for Arizona State University MFA playwrights.

Reyes-The MFA used to be called MFA in Playwriting.  It is now called MFA in Dramatic Writing to recognize the importance of screenwriting which has become an equal component of the degree—equal to playwriting, that is.  We select students based on the criteria of a strong writing sample, a personal statement, a transcript of their undergraduate education, and three letters of recommendations.  We also take a look at their resume in regards to where they’ve been—do they have a good history of development of new plays or screenplays, for instance?  We also consider other forms of writing such as performance art pieces or even fiction, but the primary component is dramatic writing.  One strong negative for me is….some students inquiring about our program and saying things like, “I am only interested in writing screenplays.  I am not interested in writing plays,” or vice versa, a student withdrew a few years ago when he realized screenwriting had become part of the curriculum.  He was interested in a poetic form of drama, but absolutely nothing connected to film.  That’s not realistic in our program.  We want students to recognize the dramatic component that the two genres have in common, and not discard one or the other.  Versatility is key for the modern writer.  In an age when it’s possible to post your dramatic writing on You Tube, we need to learn beyond genres and understand the core of the dramatic—and not develop prejudices against one genre or other.


PT- Tell us specifically about each of the short plays.

Reyes- Yikes…..this one could take a long time.  Each play has a unique take on the AZ Centennial.  Beverly Smith-Dawson’s “One Summer” is a gentle memory play about growing up in Arizona; in it, a young African-American woman goes off to work in the fields with Mexican hands.  Daniel Hahn’s “Naked Arizona” lampoons the tough task of selling Arizona’s image to the rest of the world in light of the recent political events that have given Arizona a bad name.  Leigh Kennicot’s “The Last Train at La Posada” is a surreal, magic realist play of a woman waiting for a train at La Posada which stopped long ago and haunted by the ghost of Native American woman who runs through the play inciting memory;   Robert Brophy in “Catfight at the OK Corral, Summer 1881” gives us a comic view of the famous gunfight as a “cat fight.” Mario Mendoza’s “A Mad Dog in the Fog” is a strikingly surreal world of impressions as a nurse must decide whether to provide organ transplants to a group of dying owls in an Arizona in which health care has basically been decimated in a not-so-futuristic environment.  Mario says he was reacting to the news of the state denying care to organ transplants to patients.  That’s how he sees the Centennial Arizona, a land of deprivation.  Laura Neubauer places a romantic comedy, “Queen Bee,” in the sighlines of the Hoover Dam and connects the environment of the desert to the couple’s romantic troubles.  Finally, James Garcia in “Mr. Ambassador” provides a portrait of the life of Raul Castro who became the state’s first and only Mexican-American governor.


 PT -How do you feel this work represents the celebration of 100 years of Arizona history and the diversity of the state?

Reyes-It’s extremely diverse, a bit of a mish-mash of views and anxieties.  There is no one overwhelming aesthetic in the overall arc of the piece, and that is fine with us.  After all, the other two plays in the season will offer more coherent narratives.  This one was designed to take in whatever the mail would bring in.  It allows playwrights to say various things—-they are celebrating, but many of them are also questioning, even challenging the state of our state.  That is what writers do and should continue to do.  This was an open forum—may the celebration of the Centennial go in various directions and not settle for simplistic hurrahs.

PT -What can patrons expect to find in this project?

Reyes- Lots of rich, conflicting views of the state.  We can celebrate, but also lament,  not unlike what many of us are in fact feeling nowadays.

PT- Where does the project continue post New Works Festival?

Reyes-It will be fully produced in the season at ASU in October.  For us, the reading this summer will allow the playwrights to see their work and have audiences react to them now before the pieces are fully mounted.

Be sure to check out the ASU Centennial Project along with the rest of the festival  lasting through July 24th.


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