The onset of April is a time where many McGill students find themselves buckling down and pushing through final assignments and exam prep. Those involved with the McGill Drama Festival (MDF), however, are a rare exception—their fun is just getting started.
Organized by the Players’ Theatre, the MDF is a 10 day spectacle that features seven one-act plays—a fitting way to close out another busy year for the theatre company that has put on shows such as Macbeth, Inherit the Wind, and Waiting for Godot.
So what sets MDF apart from the rest of the year’s shows?
“It features student-written plays, and then those plays are directed by other students,” explains Stephen Reimer, director of Risky Business, one of the plays being shown. “Of course the actors are students as well—lighting and design, everything is students. So it’s a completely student-run performance, and in that way it’s great.”
Every year, students write and submit one-act plays to the company, hoping to have them featured in the festival. The MDF coordinator reads the scripts with a selection team, which then designates the seven that will be performed.
The open submission process results in a diverse collection of plays. I attended two on Friday night that humorously explore some of society’s more unfortunate realities: kidnapping, and dealing with cell phone service providers.
Customer Service tells the story of a man’s plight to overcome the infuriation of dealing with cell phone service employees as he works to receive the free phone upgrade that he was promised, according to one of their ever-changing policies. As the frustration mounts and his level of desperation increases, so, too, does his neglect of the people in his own life—friends who are dealing with much more serious issues than he, and who he has rejected in his consuming quest.
A different sort of desperation is at work in Risky Business. An indebted married couple must somehow get their hands on thousands of dollars before midnight to avoid being killed by the man from whom they borrowed money. Posing as a prostitute, the wife lures an unsuspecting businessman into a hotel room, hoping to eventually kidnap and blackmail him in order to pay the debt. Things, however, do not go according to plan for the kidnappers, whose scheme is put in jeopardy when the businessman has an unexpected existential revelation.
If these plays are any indication, the rest of the festival will be well worth the price of admission. Both plays are well crafted and thought-provoking, featuring witty dialogue and outlandish situations that has the audience howling with laughter at times.
Putting on plays is no easy feat, and Reimer speaks glowingly about the support that was available.
“It was a great way to dip my feet into the pool of directing,” says Reimer. “They’re one-act plays, they’re shorter, and there’s also support from Players’ Theatre themselves. I had great help from my stage manager, and the rest of my cast and crew helped out a lot, too, so you’re definitely not doing it by yourself when you direct for MDF or Players’ Theatre.”
The highlight of MDF is this Saturday’s Round Robin.
“[It] features every single play in the McGill Drama Festival, and in between those shows are bits from other bits from McGill theatre that happened this year,” says Reimer. “It’s a great way of representing McGill theatre and what McGill has offered this year.”
“Come out to support your friends, if you have friends in [the plays], and also, just come and see these plays because they’re student written, and you probably know someone who’s written one, or is a friend of a friend who has…. It’s great to support people in the McGill theatre community, and it’s all McGill, it’s all organic,” says Reimer.
If you can spare the time this week, give yourself a break from the final thrust of the year’s schoolwork, and check out the festival. It’s a once a year opportunity to see 100 per cent authentic McGill student drama in full force.
The McGill Drama Festival runs April 10 to 13, Players’ Theatre (third floor SSMU Building.) Student tickets $5; festival pass $12.