September 13, 2016

Students at the Kennedy Center

After months of writing and editing, Rebecca Dzida received a rare opportunity earlier this month: the chance to hear her written words performed live within the halls of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dzida, who is currently in the third year of the Department of Drama’s M.F.A. in Playwriting program, was one of two Catholic University students to have her work presented during the Kennedy Center’s 2016  Page to Stage Festival, which took place Sept. 3–5. The drama department has held student showcases at the festival every year for a decade.

Scenes performed included excerpts from Dzida’s play Cake Eaters and her M.F.A. thesis, Preggers, or Parenthood for Virgins. Dzida said it was a “privilege and an honor” to have her work shown in Washington, D.C.’s iconic Kennedy Center, but she said she was nervous about how audiences would respond.

“All the work being done at the festival is new and definitely still in the early stages,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a finished project so you definitely feel vulnerable when you’re presenting.”

After watching her work performed before an audience, she said she has a better idea of how lines are working — which jokes are funny and which scenes are moving. All of this will help her as she continues to perfect her work.

“Seeing your own play performed on stage is hard to do, especially if you are new and trying to break into the industry,” she said. “It was cool to actually get to experience what the audience was responding to because that hadn’t really happened before for these plays.”

Dzida was joined at the festival by M.F.A. Playwriting candidate Garret Milton, whose master’s  thesis, Sissy, Accompanied by Johann Sebastian Bach and a Mouse, was also presented.

Milton said he believes the opportunity is a valuable one for aspiring playwrights because “it can be hard to find an audience.” By seeing his work performed, he was able to see how effective his writing really is.

“It’s super key to have a space and the resources available and an audience involved to come out and be present at the reading of a developing work,” he said. “Once you get that first laugh and you have everyone’s attention, once the audience is in and engaged, that’s when the nerves start settling down and you can better enjoy the experience of seeing and hearing your work come to life.”

Also performing at this year’s Page to Stage Festival were a number of Catholic University alumni, including musical theatre graduates Gretchen Midgley and John Henderson, who debuted their show Wendy, a new musical adaptation of the story of Peter Pan.

Seeing the show read at the Kennedy Center was “very surreal” and “an ultimate bucket list item,” said Midgley.

“This festival provides such amazing exposure,” she said. “You never know who is wandering through the door of Page to Stage, which is really cool. It also basically provides a playground for writers to experiment with actors and a director and see what is and isn’t working in a show.”

Several M.F.A. playwriting graduates also participated in a production with Doorway Arts that was directed by drama alumnus and staff member Matt Ripa. The work consisted of a series of one-minute plays about each president through history.

Ripa said the festival was a valuable way for students and young alumni to show their skills while networking with others in the local theatre scene. He also noted that D.C.-area theatre companies are becoming more interested in plays written by local playwrights.

“It’s an opportunity where theatres can take some chances, and give people the opportunity to have their work heard,” he said. “You don’t know what producers or other people are going to hear that new play and possibly pick that work up for their company.”

At the festival, Ripa said he was proud to encounter so many Catholic University graduates who are active in the theatre world.

“It’s just great to see that our students work,” Ripa said. “[Catholic University] is turning out students into one of the most thriving theatre communities in the country, only second to New York. And many of our students, playwrights, actors, and directors are working before they even graduate.”