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As he is perched in the catwalk high above the Rauh Studio Theatre, Jacob Tischler’s heart pounds as his peers, teachers, and family pack the space below. The audience members are amped with anticipation as they file into their seats or plop down cross-legged on the edges of the stage. Tischler, a junior acting major with years of performance experience, is more nervous than he’s ever felt in his life. But he isn’t about to step onstage. This group of friends and mentors has gathered to watch his play, Live Happy, one of the unique works featured in the School of Drama’s “Playground: A Festival of Independent Student Work.”
The festival, now in its ninth year, is a collaborative, voluntary effort across School of Drama disciplines and the university at large. For one week, Drama classes are cancelled so that students may rehearse, perform, create, and display an eclectic series of performances and installations. This year, the festival’s 60-some pieces ranged from murals on the Purnell walls to ballets in the Chosky Theater. Each work is proposed and brought to life by students, without faculty guidance and without the threat of a grade.
Of course, even in this environment of limitless possibility, self-criticism is unavoidable. And Tischler’s 30-minute play, a dark comedy tinged with desire and violence, is a major departure from his sweet-spirited musical Inexperienced Love, a hit at last year’s Playground. The risk-taking new work leaves Tischler with two major goals tonight: to exceed the high expectations set by his previous success, and to avoid offending his parents. No wonder he can’t stop squeezing the arm of his director, Elizabeth Nearing (A’12).
The house lights go down. Months of conceptual work, weeks of writing and revisions, and a hectic five days of rehearsal have culminated in this moment. The off-kilter story quickly brings a reassuring sound to Tischler’s ears: laughter. A half-hour later, the audience rises to its feet with cheers.
But Tischler’s Playground week isn’t over. He’s involved in four other pieces (as a performer and musician), and when he’s not onstage, he’s in the audience, enjoying the work of his peers. For Tischler, it is the busiest, most stressful, and most rewarding week of the year. And, for him and for many of his classmates, it is a chance to take ownership of and pleasure in the art form that can begin to feel routine during a long semester—as Tischler says, a chance to remember, “Oh yeah, we do this for a reason!”
—Olivia O’Connor (A’13)