If you ask a student or faculty member to tell you what makes the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech unique, each of their lists will be very different. One may say it's the new, state-of-the-art spaces in which they get to perform. Another may share with you the school's exciting partnerships with artists and organizations from all over the world. For others. it might just be that there's so much to get involved in! One of the things on almost everyone's lists, however, seems to be the school's focus on creating new work for the stage. This focus resonated clearly through this year's Frontier Fest, a festival of short plays, choreography, and full-length plays by Texas Tech students, that took place April 25th -May 1st.
Over 80 artists came together to make Frontier Fest a reality. The festival included a new set of performances each night for a week straight. You can imagine the rehearsals halls on campus being filled with actors, dancers, stage managers, playwrights, designers, choreographers, and directors in the days leading up to the festival. As the festival drew closer, excitement reverberated throughout the building.
That energy finally exploded as the festival kicked off on the night of April 25th with a series of table readings by undergraduate students from the “Theory and Practice of Playwriting” class. The table readings of the students' ten-minute plays were followed by an enthusiastic and energetic discussion with the playwrights and audience members.
Days two, five, and six of Frontier Fest were dedicated to the performance of full-length plays by 3rd year MFA Playwrighting students Bradley Hewlett and Charles L. Hughes, and PhD student Garret Lee Milton.
Hewlett, who is also the president of The Sentient Nuts Improv company, which performed on the final day of the festival, spoke with us about the many iterations of Frontier Fest that he has seen throughout his time at Texas Tech:
One of my ten-minute plays, Plato's Dinner Party, was selected for the Frontier Fest (then RROAPS/RRADS) that was ultimately cancelled by the pandemic during tech week. The same play was restaged during last year's Zoom version of the festival, providing a unique experience for me as a playwright to see the same director approach my play in two different performance mediums.
Hewlett returned to this year's festival as a playwright one final time for the staging of his full-length play The Snake Eater, which explores a young man's loss of religion despite his deepest desires to keep it. As he now prepares to graduate with his MFA, Hewlett praises Texas Tech for making space for emerging playwrights within their season: “There is no substitute for the immediate training in new play development that Frontier Fest provides to our undergraduate and graduate students. More specifically, for the playwrights, it gives us a platform to share our artistic output with the wider Texas Tech and Lubbock communities.”
On day 3 of Frontier Fest, audiences were treated to a performance of five movement and dance pieces choreographed by students from both the dance and theatre programs. For 2nd year MFA Performance & Pedagogy student Justin Krall and 1st Year MFA Design student Meagan Woodard, it was the first time their work had been showcased at the festival. Krall says his background in fight choreography inspired him to create a movement piece for this year's festival: “In terms of style it's a bit of an amalgamation. I wanted to allow for improv for the performers to bring themselves to the piece, we use a wide range of movement forms including dance, stage combat and physical theatre.”
Woodard's inspiration, on the other hand, comes from her work as a costume designer: “The costumes mimic water and I was inspired to choreograph a piece about water, specifically the water cycle.” Woodard says her piece, appropriately named Cycle, was infused with modern dance elements: “I wanted my dancers to vaguely embody water molecules going through the cycle, but I also wanted the movement to reflect the cycles we all go through in our own lives.” With an eclectic blend of physical theatre, fight choreography, and different dance styles, Woodard says that the night of movement pieces embodied what makes the School of Theatre and Dance so special: “It is important for the SOTD to continue providing a space for creatives to take risks, try something new, and/or get that idea out of their head and in front of others. The SOTD is ultimately a school and what better way to learn than by doing and putting forth what we have been studying to do in a classroom?”
A series of ten-minute plays written by graduate students from the school was the fourth event on the line up for the festival. On this night, first year MFA Playwriting students Ben Stanford and Jada Campbell found their works being fully stages for the first time at TTU. Campbell says her play, Everyone's Friend but Your Own, “explores the world of corporate America in its transition to a dystopia in the workplace.” The motivation to write a play that has power dynamics and the suffering of America's working people at its core is bit of a mystery for the playwright: “I am not certain of what exactly inspired me, but I am always reminded that human beings are not disposable, nor should they be.”
Stanford describes his first experience at Frontier Fest in one word: “Phenomenal. The most rewarding part for me as a playwright is getting into a room and talking about the work with people who have different areas of expertise than I do.” With genuine gratitude, he credits the director and actors working on his play for making the experience so valuable: “Their collaboration made observing rehearsals and the performance surprising and rewarding in all the best ways--and arguably in ways that cannot be achieved with widely known, published work.”
This year's Frontier Fest came together like a robust symphony, with artists from every corner of the School of Theatre and Dance contributing in new and exciting capacities. If you missed the festival this year, don't worry. The tradition is now well established, and you can guarantee your spot for next year's festivities! With the continued existence of Frontier Fest at Texas Tech, the School is committed to equip students with the tools both to develop and share new works, well into the future.