By Susan T. Hessel  

At Viterbo University’s inaugural New Works Festival in January and February, you’ll have the opportunity to see how words on a page move toward performance. 

“Our purpose is to help expose our students and community to the process of creating new works,” said Matthew S. Campbell, MFA, chair of Viterbo’s Theatre and Music Theatre Department as well as the artistic director of the New Works Festival. 

“We always think about what has come before and the popularity of that, and what is coming,” he continued. “It’s really about creating the space for playwrights, composers, directors and actors to come together to develop these experiences. We provide the space to make that happen.”

Viterbo, which will offer the festival every other year, began with a national call for plays and musical scripts, both full-length and 10-minutes long. More than 75 entries came in, which is exciting for the first year. “Over two weeks you can see eight new works,” he said.

The lineup of plays for the event at Weber Center for the Performing Arts is:

Six 10-minute plays, plus a 20-minute warmup with the Viterbo improv group, Square Wheels, on Jan. 25 and 26. 

“Cora,” a play written by Katherine Varga, a playwright student from Ohio University. “It is about people and their hearts,” Campbell said. “One actor plays the person and the other actor plays the heart. It’s about where we can take our heart, how we protect it and don’t protect it, and where we leave our heart behind. It’s a really interesting piece.” It will be performed Feb. 1.

“The Lost Girl,” by Arianna Rose, a New York transplant to Florida, and Ben Bonnema of New York City. If you ever wondered what happened to Wendy Darling after Peter Pan flew her to Neverland to mother The Lost Boys, you will learn it through this musical. “It’s a beautiful hybrid of finding who you are and discovering who you can be, which is a really beautiful statement for young artists in their lives and in all our lives. We are all on a journey of learning who are we, who we can be, and where we came from, without forgetting the importance of that,” Campbell said. See it on Feb. 2. 

Viterbo students will be cast in the shows and involved in the process of play growth and development. Student Aimee Mangual is the production manager and student Alethea Bakogeorge is the associate artistic director. A student committee led by associate professor Janet McLean recommended the finalists. 

“It is always exciting to do something that has never been done before,” Campbell said.

Staged readings are typical of new works festivals because these scripts are works in progress. As the rehearsals begin, performers and directors might have suggestions to improve the spoken words or actions. The playwrights may make changes before they arrive for a weeklong residency and while on campus. “There is an opportunity to fine-tune and finesse the content in that week,” Campbell said. “They get a sense of how the play works and flows. For an actor, it is the greatest exercise because you get a new piece of paper in your script every day. You have to figure out how to make it work.”

Several of the most loved plays and musicals in the country had their start in festivals like these. “I think sharing and providing new opportunities artistically is really important,” Campbell said. “We really want this to be a community event.”

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