The annual UC Davis theatre and dance department THIRDeYE Theatre Festival returns this year with three new plays written, directed, produced and performed by undergraduate students. This year’s selected plays are The Readers by Joe Ferreira, When Marcelli Met the Dream Maker by Carolyn Duncan and A Piece of Water by Julie Friedrichsen.
A Piece of Water director Daniel A. Guttenberg described Friedrichsen’s play as “very post-structuralist – it explores human relationships and the meaning of truth by examining a very specific historical and geographical location.“
Despite having only graduated in June 2008, Friedrichsen – who is 43 years old and has experience working with theater in Norway – has already had 13 of her plays produced on stage.
Friedrichsen said that working on THIRDeYE differs from traditional theater because the student directors have time to work with the material.
“Often in professional theater the directors don’t make changes to the original work because they don’t have time,” she said. “But for THIRDeYE [the directors] have ample time to interpret the text in many different ways and choose the best way.“
Guttenberg said working with someone as knowledgeable as Friedrichsen has proved to be a valuable experience.
“Julie is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. We have a great trust between us when it comes to this play,” he said in an e-mail. “She is also incredibly modest, downplaying her talent as a writer and theater practitioner. Her modesty is just an example of how she puts the show first.“
Guttenberg, however, is no rookie to theatrical directing either. He directed Elise Kane’s “Ghost, Bathtub, Windmill” for last year’s THIRDeYE Theatre Festival and “Rain” by Garry Williams in Los Angeles.
The complexity of the characters in Friedrichsen’s piece has forced the undergraduate student actors to do their best work, Guttenberg said.
“[The actors] Kate McGrath, Katherine Hempstead, Kristina Stasi, Juan Gallardo and Sarah Birdsall have done a fantastic job bringing very difficult characters to life. The text is very poetic in moments, and this was an additional challenge, which these actors rose to admirably,” he said. “Their success is really what makes [A Piece of Water] work.“
The Readers director Kevin Ganger described the play as being about taking risks to find the perfect life and what can happen if this pursuit is taken too far.
“I felt there were many issues in the script that I have struggled with in recent years: troubled relationships, not knowing what to do in life, etc.,” Ganger said in an e-mail. “I felt the play was relatable on many different levels.“
Ganger said that working primarily with fellow undergraduates for THIRDeYE was an enriching experience.
“[Undergraduates] are still in the stage where things are fun and it’s not a job to them,” he said. “They may not be as experienced as the MFA actors, but it is still a learning environment and they are fully involved and ready to be molded into their different areas of expertise.“
Both directors said that the THIRDeYE festival is an important event for the Davis community.
“The festival gives students a chance to show their creativity in design, directing, acting and other areas of theater without having to compete with graduate students or professionals in the field,” Ganger said. “And it shows that there is a lot of talent from up-and-coming students that might not have had a chance to [be seen] if not for [THIRDeYE].“
Guttenberg said using the Wyatt Pavilion Theatre as a venue gives the event a special atmosphere.
“The Wyatt Theatre is a wonderfully intimate stage, with the first two rows of seats in literal spitting distance of the stage,” he said. “This makes the audience a much more present participant in the theatrical experience.“
Both directors said they were waiting until opening night to see the other THIRDeYE plays.
“I haven’t actually read or seen the other plays, so I can’t really give you a comparison,” Guttenberg said. “I don’t want to spoil the experience of sitting down to watch the shows opening night.“
ZACK FREDERICK can be reached at email@example.com.