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Bards of Bloomington: IU stages premieres of MFA playwriting candidates’ productions

At First Sight new play festival spotlights works by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, Christin Eve Cato and Jayne Deely

Feb 26, 2020
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They create fully realized worlds, three-dimensional personas with a robust personal history, and dialogue that advances the plot and highlights character. But playwrights still learn much about their scripts when performed in front of an audience.

Three Master of Fine Arts playwriting candidates in the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance will soon find out much more about their plots, characters, dialogue and more. Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, Christin Eve Cato and Jayne Deely will experience audiences’ reactions during the At First Sight new play festival Feb. 26 to 29 at IU Bloomington. Garvin’s “Tiger Beat” and Cato’s “jelly beans” will be fully produced; Deely’s “30 Seconds” will receive a staged reading.

‘Tiger Beat’

Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin.Photo by Ali Lidbury

Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin is a third-year MFA playwriting candidate from Mountain View, California. They have loved writing since childhood but took it more seriously in college.

“While studying acting at New York University, my classmates and I were tasked to find a monologue from someone we could realistically play – our ‘type,’” Garvin said. “As a bigger-bodied, mixed Asian American femme in my late teens, I thought I might have some trouble.

“I came up empty in my search on library shelves, but I performed a monologue by Elizabeth Wong, my first encounter with a play by an Asian American woman. Soon after this, I mostly stopped acting to focus on writing and directing.”

Garvin loves experimenting with genre in their plays, from parodies and romantic comedies to dystopian futures and social drama akin to Edith Wharton stories.

“My thesis play, ‘Tiger Beat,’ toys with conventions from teen dramas, reality TV and rise-to-fame narratives,” Garvin said. “In my work, I’m always interested in the dynamics of power. ‘Tiger Beat’ specifically examines the relationships between artists and institutions.”

Garvin said the rehearsal process for ‘Tiger Beat’ has been helpful to their writing, especially in determining what parts of the script work and what parts need revision.

“After the production, I’ll be able to get feedback from industry professionals who are visiting At First Sight, as well as from teachers and peers,” Garvin said. “I will probably work toward another rewrite given the feedback and afterward submit the script to various festivals, conferences and other opportunities.”

‘jelly beans’

Christin Eve Cato
Christin Eve Cato

Christin Eve Cato, a second-year MFA playwriting candidate from New York City, wrote her first play in response to auditioning for unsatisfying roles when she began her acting career.

“When there was a great role for a Latina, I found myself in the casting office surrounded by all my girlfriends, engulfed with competition, going for that same role,” Cato said. “I admired each and every one of those women and thought, ‘Why don’t I write something for us?’ That’s when writing plays became imperative and necessary for me.”

Cato said her plays tend to be comedic, dramatic, historical or a combination of all three. Her character-driven plays usually are about New York City.

“I write primarily for the Black and Brown community, with a focus on the Afro-Latinx diaspora,” she said. “When you read my plays, there is always Spanglish in them: a poetic twang of spoken word, improper English and broken Spanish.”

Cato’s “jelly beans” is a TYA play, or Theater for Young Audiences, and she is interested in how children respond to the story.

“I wanted to write a story that explores how children deal with grief,” Cato said. “Therefore, death and loss are major themes in this play.

“Children are often traumatized by losing someone they love, a trauma that can last a lifetime if it stays unresolved. I dedicate this story to all the young people who may be recovering from the death of a loved one, a period which can be a very confusing time.”

She noted that rewriting and editing a script can be difficult and exasperating.

“When writing a play, you must take the time to be self-reflective, and that can make the process very lonely,” she said. “However, there is nothing in this world more gratifying than to write ‘End of Play.’”

’30 Seconds’

Jayne Deely
Jayne Deely

Jayne Deely is a first-year MFA playwriting candidate from New York City. She has written skits and short plays since she can remember, even creating tickets to invite her parents to a night of theater in their living room at age 6. She pursued acting after her undergraduate studies but returned to writing to create her first full-length play at 22 to grapple with the death of a friend.

Deely wants to experiment with structure and content during her time at IU, but at the heart of all of her work is “an exploration of inner landscapes and the terror yet thrill of vulnerability.”

“I often write about trauma, addiction and the search for deep connection. Sometimes I describe my plays as being filled with emotionally intelligent, self-aware people trying to talk their way around change instead of actually doing anything differently,” she said. “As someone who loves words and tends to overwrite, I’m interested in exploring when words no longer serve us.”

Deely’s play “30 Seconds” focuses on memory.

“I’m playing with memory, how events get remembered and processed – or not – and retold, and who we are more likely to believe,” she said. “I’m also playing with audience accountability. It’s been a journey with a tricky structure, which has been fun.”

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