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Student writers present Long Story Shorts Play Festival

This Friday and Saturday, the UNC Writing for the Screen and Stage Program will be presenting the Long Story Shorts Play Festival in the Studio 6 Theater of Swain Hall. 

The festival will feature eight short plays that are each between nine and 12 minutes long. The short plays are written by students in the writing for the screen and stage minor, an exclusive two-year interdisciplinary minor that accepts only 18 particularly talented students per year. 

In preparation for the festival, the student writers work closely with Professor Dana Coen to refine their scripts. Coen casts actors and recruits professional and semi-professional directors for each short play, which presents the student writers with a valuable opportunity to develop their work in a professional context. 

“Probably the biggest benefit is to see the production being done in as close to a real-world production context as possible — both to see the directors and the actors’ process itself, but also to have the opportunity to provide input into how their pieces are coming to life, which isn’t always a luxury that they’ll have,” said Paul Sapp, director of two plays in the festival this year.

After the plays are scripted, the writers, directors and actors go through only one whirlwind week of rehearsal before performing, shortened drastically from the three-month rehearsal period in 2011 when Coen first launched the program. Coen said that the shortened rehearsal time makes it easier to recruit actors and directors. 

John Paul Middlesworth, who acts in a play that revolves around a father-son relationship, said he thinks that the ability to recruit non-student actors is a strong asset to the program. 

“I think the unique benefit of this is that students are getting to see their plays put on by casts that are more age-appropriately cast than just having a student cast,” Middlesworth said. 

UNC senior and playwright Matthew Greenberg also expressed excitement about the casting. 

“Nobody in my play is in college right now,” Greenberg said. “So seeing them, like real adults, acting my part and having their own interpretations and ideas is really cool, and it’s kind of, you know, weird to see. It’s so different than reading the scripts in class.”

While Greenberg originally wrote his play to be a comedy, Coen believed it had higher potential as a drama, and the play evolved accordingly. Coen said that many of last year’s plays centered on grief and anxiety, while some this year revolve around the theme of abandonment. One play, “An Examination,” is even written entirely in rhyme scheme. Coen said that he is always impressed by the creativity of his students. 

“These young playwrights have something to say,” he said. 

To help these young writers tell their stories, the directors make creative use of the wooden set pieces, including stairs and chairs that form the letters “WSS,” which stands for “Writing for the Screen and Stage.” The festival also features music written for the festival by a former UNC student that is used every year, providing a sense of continuity. 

Echoing the sentiment of Coen, these stories may be short, but they are far from small. 


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