StageFemmes’ Student-Written Play Festival had a line out the door on Saturday as students on the waitlist hoped for an extra seat. With two showings in the Harlene Marley Black Box Theater, this short run featured five short plays with a runtime of a little over 90 minutes. The selected directors workshopped and produced their plays with the support of StageFemmes. The plays in order of performance were The Actor by MJ Farrell ’24, Dinner at Nana Ethel’s by Elaine Preston ’25, Gracious Touches by Juniper Gibbs ’25, Camp by Audrey Howard ’25 and Joined Paths by Audrey Gibson ’26 and Grace Thompson ’26. In keeping with the StageFemmes’ goal to uplift underrepresented people and their perspectives, all the plays except The Actor had explicitly queer themes. Each play was different enough to keep the audience enthralled but worked well together as a kaleidoscope of stories.
Farrell’s The Actor was a lighthearted and pointed critique of the grueling and often arbitrary audition process actors face. Two actors with similar mannerisms and abilities, both decently talented, wait together to be called into an audition. After discovering that they are both vying for the same role, they fake niceties while running through various warmup techniques that become increasingly aggressive as they attempt to outdo each other. The intensity of their efforts was comical but reflected the desperation of those trying to ‘make it big’ in Hollywood.
In a shift of tone, Preston’s Dinner at Nana Ethel’s followed, presenting a family dinner presided over by the well-intentioned but unaware Ethel as she struggles to connect with her two grandchildren. One grandchild has sensory issues that make the unappetizing meal Ethel prepared impossible to eat, and the other is queer and struggling with dysphoria as Ethel misgenders them. Preston masterfully evoked the secondhand embarrassment of the audience, wanting them to understand the havoc and turmoil that being fundamentally misunderstood can have on one’s mental health. In an email to the Collegian, Preston wrote about how she came up with the concept for her play: “My brother and I were driving down from Maine to North Carolina, going through a stretch of land without cell service. A few days before, the two of us had to eat a dinner our grandmother made for us, and both of us are horrifically picky eaters, so we were really dreading the event. Luckily, everything ended up going fine — even if I had to sneak part of my plate to my grandmother’s dog — but the worst-case scenario of that dinner kept echoing in my mind until I turned it into a play! Thematically, I’ve been interested in loneliness and miscommunication for a very long time.”
Gibbs’ Gracious Touches continued the exploration of strained familial relationships by displaying the messy decisions that three daughters must make together. Their mother’s death leaves her Christian tchotchke shop in their joint possession, and they must decide what to do with it. Two of the daughters want nothing to do with the shop because it reminds them of their mothers’ disapproval of their self-expression and sexuality. The third is a devout Christian who wants to carry on her mother’s religious mission through the shop. As the siblings discuss the intricacies of their respective relationships with their mother, they come to understand how differently they view her. Ultimately, they come to an amicable solution, but their discovery of each other’s experiences and beliefs define the play. The pursuit of empathy in the face of contrasting worldviews made Gracious Touches the gripping and heartwarming center of the showcase.
The last two plays explored the dynamics of queerness and friendship in different settings. Camp by Howard shows a trio of friends at a summer camp as children and around a campfire as adults 10 years later. The non-linear storytelling allowed the audience to see how time preserves bonds even as people grow and change. The parallel scenes were both charming and heartbreaking as one of the girls struggles with romantic feelings for another, culminating in her disappointment when she discovers that her friend is engaged while the third girl looks on, unable to console her childhood friend. A depiction of queer camp relationships, Camp charmed the audience with tender childhood tableaux before leaving them with the somber reality of unrequited love.
Finally, Gibson and Thompson’s Joined Paths concluded the showcase with a hopeful story of a friendship that becomes something more, set at Kenyon. In between jokes about the earnest and nerdy population of the College, two queer friends discover their longstanding feelings for each other and dare to act on them. Joined Paths delighted the audience with niche jokes about the Hill but, more importantly, left them with the message that authentic relationships are worth pursuing and protecting.
This festival was a joy for the audience because they were exposed to so many different perspectives and worlds, and had no preconceived notions as to the subject matter of the plays. As a collection, these plays displayed the complexity of personhood, the need for communication and empathy and the belief that Kenyon can provide us with family in every sense of the word.