Playwrights maximize minimalism


POSTED: Friday, July 03, 2009

It sounds like a challenge, and in some ways it is: Write a play or create a dance piece that can be presented on an empty stage while incorporating three black theater cubes.

Eight playwrights and five choreographers responded with proposals. Most made the cut, but Elisa Diehl, the UH-Manoa graduate student who suggested the project, said there's more to “;Black Box Black Blocks”; than writing a piece to specifications.

“;There aren't a lot of short theater festivals that I've read about in Hawaii,”; she said. “;They're really quite popular in mainland university communities ... and I'm interested to see how people here will react to something that's not commonly done (here).”;

Diehl said the show crosses conventional boundaries with a variety show format, juxtaposing short plays with dance pieces.

“;Not everybody enjoys both, so I'm really hoping that this can be a forum where we can converge. I think it will be a really good platform to show similar they can be—how dancers are acting, and (that) in a lot of ways there is a lot of choreography in theatrical pieces.”;

“;BLACK BOX Black Blocks”; was born in January amid fears that 2009 would be another “;bad summer”; for theater productions at UH-Manoa.

“;(Faculty member) Dennis Carroll was determined that something should happen (at Kennedy Theater) this summer, but (people said) nobody is around during the summer (to design the sets or make the costumes),”; said Diehl.

She suggested that the absence of elaborate sets, lighting designs and costumes could be “;the point of interest”; in a summer production. A week later, she was put in charge of the project.

Six other people stepped forward as potential directors. Time constraints and scheduling conflicts reduced the list of directors to five—Diehl, Cecilia Fordham, Maseeh Ganjali, Terri Large Madden and Jenn Thomas.

Each picked a play; the leftovers may be staged next year.

“;We're hoping to make this a yearly thing ... as long as those plays haven't been performed in public by next summer,”; said Diehl. “;I hope they are (performed before then), because the playwrights deserve that, but if not they can resubmit them.”;

Diehl broke with another UH policy when she got permission to include people from outside the UH-Manoa Theatre and Dance program.

“;It's not your typical UH performance because we involved many people who have absolutely no affiliation with the University of Hawaii,”; she said. “;One of the dance pieces is almost entirely high school students ... and Cecilia Fordham is a pretty spectacular community theater presence.

“;I think it's nice that the UH is finally involving the wider community and nobody objected.”;

Diehl hopes that future summer programs will become “;a major point of intermingling”; for the local theater community.

“;I think it's very important to have (UH) students doing everything during the (school) year, but its equally important to have the opportunity to mesh with the wider theater community ... and I think the summer is probably the prime time for this.”;

As for those three black blocks, she sums it up as the freedom of simplicity.

“;Three boxes (are) so versatile, and it's amazing how much more versatile you can be with simplicity than you can with anything elaborate,”; said Diehl. “;If you have any really elaborate design elements it gets to be limiting, but with three black boxes we've got it being everything from a table and chairs to a rooftop to a pedestal for a statue.”;





        » Where: Ernst Lab Theatre, UH-Manoa

» When: 8 p.m. Thursday; continues at 8 p.m. July 10 and July 11; also 2 p.m. July 12


» Cost: $7 general admission; $5 for students and seniors (tickets go on sale one hour before each performance; cash only)


» Call: 956-7655


» Web site: blackboxblackblocks.wordpress.com