Trying to find connections in disconnect

BY REBECCA KOONS | MAY 08, 2009 7:26 AM

A long-standing relationship is tested in The Decline of the Front Porch.

The Iowa New Play Festival is the time of year when young, ambitious playwrights get to show off their immense amounts of hard work in front of the general public. This onslaught of unseen talent provides theater enthusiasts and newcomers alike with six days of creative diversity, in which audiences can anticipate nothing short of pure dramatic craft.

At 5:30 and 9 p.m. today, the Theatre Building will host Mary Hamilton’s The Decline of the Front Porch. Each of the four plays presented at this year’s festival was created in the Playwrights’ Workshop.

The Decline of the Front Porch tells the story of a couple who decide to travel to the beach in order to look for a new home. The two, Delaney and Oliver, find themselves in a rather strained relationship as the plot progresses. Things only get worse when, after discovering her husband’s affair with the real-estate agent, Delaney employs her own tactics to regain Oliver’s attention.

“The couple were initially supposed to be a younger couple,” said director Anthony Nelson. “But I thought it would be more interesting to explore the relationship of an older couple.”

Nelson came to the UI because he had a strong desire to work with new playwrights. Despite the play being presented on a university campus, he thinks that Delaney and Oliver’s relationship will still resonate with audiences, regardless of age.

One thing Decline offers is a considerable difference in the ages of its actors. From child to older adult, such a wide age range has proven to be a welcome challenge for Nelson, because working with different degrees of experience has cleared the way for “problem solving and communication” among everyone involved.

“Getting actors, set designers, everyone into the same world and all playing together — that’s the goal,” he said. “It comes to a point where they are not insecure with an audience present, even during shocking or vulnerable moments.”

Communication is the key factor in order for a show to run as smoothly as possible. This responsibility lies on all involved, including the stage manager. In this role, UI senior Richard Adams is learning firsthand just how intense the process can be.

A stage manager, he said, is essentially the “center of all communication” and at times can act as a messenger of sorts, voicing actors’ questions and problems to the director, as well as letting players know what a director wants out of the performance.

“This is the first play that I have done as stage manager by myself, and the amount of work and commitment is significantly higher,” Adams said. “But it’s something that I have definitely enjoyed.”

The Iowa New Play Festival is an exceptional opportunity for young theater mavens to expand their artistic boundaries and let the world in on their one-of-a-kind works. The theater, Adams said, is something audiences should take great pleasure in, and “realize that you can go to a play and really enjoy the experience.”

Nelson echoes Adams’ sentiment regarding what crowd members can take away from the performance.

“The audience will appreciate and respect the actors for the great risks they are taking on stage,” he said. “With The Decline of the Front Porch, hopefully they will be intrigued by the unfamiliar as well as the familiar.”

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