New Play Festival: A chronicle of raves

BY RACHAEL LANDER | MAY 06, 2009 7:26 AM

Jen Silverman, a first-year student in the UI Playwrights’ Workshop, will début her piece Akarui on stage as a part of the theater department’s Iowa New Play Festival.

Images of raves usually invoke pictures of glow sticks, Ecstasy, and throbbing techno beats. But that’s just a stereotype. As UI Playwrights’ Workshop student Jen Silverman discovered in Japan, raves can be so much more than a night spent listening to “Sandstorm.”

Silverman’s play Akarui will be performed today at 5:30 and 9 p.m. as a part of the Iowa New Play Festival. The playwright, who received her undergraduate degree from Brown University, is in her first year at the UI.

Akarui is based on trances, otherwise known as raves, she experienced during a year-long stay in Japan. She said locating the trances was difficult because it was mostly done through word of mouth. (For those who have seen Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, think the duo’s attempts to find the band Where’s Fluffy?)

“[Akarui] takes place at the end of the world at this rave run by a shaman,” Silverman said. “On the surface, when I start to describe the play, it seems so fantastical and magical, but it actually came from a very grounded kind of a place.”

She drew inspiration for Akarui’s characters from many of the people she met at trances.

“[People] were there because they needed something they couldn’t find elsewhere,” she said. “It was like for that period of time they could be as free as they needed to be, or they could express things that in their daily lives weren’t necessarily acceptable, whether it was a sexual preference or maybe they hated their job, maybe they married the wrong person. Everyone had a story.”

It wasn’t easy for Silverman to translate her play — which has only previously been performed as a monologue — into a multi-character production. She spoke about its demanding nature, which forced some actors to speak numerous languages they had never spoken before and also incorporated a lot of movement (after all, it’s about a dance party).

Luckily the cast, a team of both graduate and undergraduate students, were all more than willing to give the play the time and effort it required. Silverman said without this cast the performance might not have been possible.

“They’re so willing, they’re in here every day, doing work outside, doing work inside,” she said. “One of the actors has to speak parts of four different languages, and he was just like, ‘OK give me whatever you want to give me, I’ll do it,’ and it’s really impressive to me.”

While Silverman has more time to exhibit her creativity for Iowa City audiences, many artists are moving on at the end of this semester. She said the Iowa New Play Fest is a great opportunity to see works by playwrights who are soon going to venture to other venues, both national and international.

“When I was an undergrad, Brown had and still has a very similar New Play Festival, where you get to see this new work,” Silverman said. “The plays are so different each play from the other, and the actors have been so involved in it the entire process that you walk in and it’s almost like a party.”

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