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'Watching their work come to life': Long Story Shorts Festival takes the stage


Writing for the screen and stage minor students Lauren Ragsdale, Grace Siplon, and Christian Pressley rehearse 'Hand Me Downs' at the Swain Hall theater on Oct. 27, 2021.

From comedy to drama, the 11th annual Long Story Shorts Festival has a performance for every audience. After a year of preparation, playwrights, actors and directors are ready for the stage.

LSS features performances of plays written by UNC students minoring in Writing for the Screen and Stage. It will be live in Studio 6 of the Swain Hall Black Box Theatre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3 and 7:30 p.m. 

The minor, within the Department of Communication, is a two-year interdisciplinary program, according to the department's website. Students wrote their plays in the 2020 Introduction to Writing for the Screen and Stage class, according to Dana Coen, professor of the practice. 

Coen, the artistic director and producer of LSS, as well as the director of the Writing for Screen and Stage minor, said he chooses eight plays from the introductory class to be developed further. 

The idea for the festival came about in 2010, when Coen was reading the first set of short plays by a UNC Writing for the Screen and Stage class.

“I was struck by the ambition, depth of vision and singular voices of these undergraduates,” he said. “The experience encouraged me to imagine a play festival where student writers could participate in a process rarely experienced on their level.”

Stage Manager Naveed Moeed, a staff writer for Chatham Life & Style, is a new member of the LSS team. He said the Swain Hall Black Box Theatre has been upgraded over the past few years with the most up to date technology and lighting. 

“Usually, people who have been involved with putting this on every year have come back year after year to do it again and again, and that says a lot about the level of professionalism and care with which this has been staged every year,” Moeed said. “I feel privileged to have been invited onto the crew and also amazed at the space that we are going to be using.”

Even with his critic hat on, Moeed said some of the works on display are outstanding and he would not be surprised if there was a very bright future ahead for a number of the graduates of the Writing for Screen and Stage minor. 

“This particular event is kind of unique because it brings in a fairly large collaboration from the outside so it is not a fully student thing or a fully professional thing but a marriage kind of town and gown collaboration," Moeed said. 

UNC graduate William Booth has been doing the festival for a few years, and returns this year as an actor. When he was a senior, he wrote a play that was performed in the festival. Since graduating, he has acted in several.

“I’ve seen the festival grow and evolve over the past several years, but what’s special to me is how a lot of things have stayed the same,” Booth said, “I’ve made a lot of friends that I see year after year because of the festival. It’s great to come back to Chapel Hill for the festival; it’s like a homecoming of sorts.”

In one week, the actors read through the plays for the first time and perform them for the last time. Coen said the ability for the actors to be well prepared in a short period of time is credited to the thoughtful writing of the playwrights, that includes a large amount of time and effort spent writing and rewriting.

Lauren Ragsdale, a senior majoring in dramatic art and music and an actress for LSS, is participating in the festival for her first time this year in “Hand Me Downs” and “The Cost of Saving,” written by Taylor Riga and Noble Brantley, respectively. 

Ragsdale said rehearsal began Sunday night, where the playwrights and directors discussed logistics, COVID-19 safety precautions and their individual plays. When the actors arrived, Ragsdale said got used to the space and read through all of the plays in the show order.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, the actors rehearsed with their directors. Wednesday was "tech" night. Thursday was a dress rehearsal, and the week culminates with the upcoming performances on Friday and Saturday.

"This year it is a staged reading so it's going to be pretty much the same as a regular performance but we will have the binders of the scripts in our hands," Ragsdale said.

At the conclusion of the festival, 84 plays will have been presented to audiences in Studio 6, Kenan and Stone Center theatres on UNC's campus, Coen said. 

“I began in the theatre as an actor, director and a playwright and am always astonished by how quickly (students) pick up the form,” Coen said. “It continues to be a pleasure watching their work come to life.”

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