BLT’s first play fest draws small, but motivated group

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 12, 2009

The long hours and mental taxation of writing, rehearsing andperforming a play in 24 hours showed in all their heavy eyes, butthe small group of students who devoted their weekend to the24-hour Play Fest at the Haven were pumped up for Saturday night’sshow and were looking forward to more fests in the future.

Three play writers stayed overnight at the Haven to crank outtheir material, but the sacrifice of rest and relaxation was worthit, said play fest director Ryan Breeland, a University ofMississippi student from Brookhaven.

“It’s fun to get to do everything by ourselves,” said Breeland,who began writing his script at 9 p.m. Friday and didn’t stop untilabout 7:30 a.m. Saturday. “Controlling the lighting, that’s new tome; building the set, that’s new to me.”

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Although the number of high school- and college-age students whoparticipated in the play fest – the age group for which the eventwas designed – was smaller than Brookhaven Little Theatre officialshoped for, the fest’s trial run may end up generating enoughenthusiasm among young local artists that it reappears again beforethe year is over.

“If we do it twice this year, I think we’ll get everyone who’shere now and everyone who comes next time,” Breeland said. “I don’tthink anyone is going to quit this thing.”

Breeland’s predicted enthusiasm for further play fests comesfrom the amount of control given to students who, he said, normallydon’t get to exercise their creativity in official events.

The few BLT officials who remained overnight Friday andthroughout Saturday served merely as chaperones. The studentswrote, directed and acted in all three plays and built the sets ontheir own.

The only thing that held the fest back during its firstimplementation was a busy January, Breeland said. The group lostseveral potential members due to other acting tournaments,basketball games and the start of spring semesters at colleges, hesaid.

When the next play fest rolls around for Brookhaven, Breelandsaid a greater effort would be made to pull in students from theMississippi School of the Arts and Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege.

Breeland did recruit one MSA student for the fest, however,mostly by chance.

“I had been at the coffee shop for a few hours when Ryan bustedin and said, ‘Does anyone want to write, act or direct?'” saidSouthhaven’s Parker Reeves, an MSA literary major. “I was focusingon my short stories, and I thought it would be a good opportunityto work on deadlines.”

Reeves said there are plenty more students at MSA who wouldparticipate in a second play fest, as long as the next event iscoordinated to flow around their schedules.

Clinton’s Zack Murphy, who came to Brookhaven from Ole Miss tohelp with the play fest, said the event was well worth the trip. Headded that anyone in Brookhaven who is interested next time thefest occurs should just show up at the Haven.

“When people see it in the newspaper, if they’re at allinterested, they should come and check it out,” he said.

BLT Secretary Beth Breeland backed up the predictions of thestudents, saying the play fest probably would see a second run inBrookhaven in the future, as much for the Haven itself as for theyoung talent.

“Any time we can give back to the community it helps,” she said.”This is the future, the next generation, and they will be the oneswho want to come in and take over the operation of the theater oneday.”