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Daily Egyptian

Writers prepare for Big Muddy Shorts

By Jake Saunder

In theatre, actors need to know their lines before heading on stage. But once a month at the C.H. Moe theater, not even the writers know the lines until a week before the performance.

Grad students engaged in the arts craft the Big Muddy Shorts, and the performances showcase each student’s playwriting abilities. From month to month, the shorts vary in theme and duration, and are found in an array of genres from comedy to drama.

Jacob Juntunen, assistant professor of theater and head of the university’s playwriting program, said the shorts were created in September 2012 when he first began working at the university.

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“It’s purpose is to give playwriting students, particularly those in my Theatre 411A and B courses, the opportunity to see their work in three dimensions in front of an audience,” he said. “Playwrights cannot learn their craft without this sort of work.”

The shorts are performed with few outside sources and rely on imagination, Juntunen said.

This month’s theme is Life and Death.

“The basic premise of Big Muddy Shorts is to give the playwrights a theme a week in advance, then they write a play, cast it and briefly rehearse it all in a week. Then, they put it in front of an audience,” Juntunen said. “Because the time frame is so brief, the evening is necessarily messy, which teaches playwrights not to fear failure. Artists must be brave enough to fail in public otherwise they will never be able to succeed in public.”

Jaclyn Grogan, a graduate student in theatre from Evansville, Ind., said she appreciates the opportunities to further understand the depth of characters she has created through performances by other students.

“I enjoy learning what the theme of Big Muddy Shorts will be each month,” she said. “I prefer the more quirky themes, but every theme seems to create fun and surprising work from the playwrights. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Sometimes the playwrights perform the works of others and fellow actors can open up opportunities for further character analysis.

“I prefer to see others perform in my plays so that I can hear what my characters sound like in different voices than the voices that are in my head,” Grogan said.

Kirsten Easton, a graduate student in playwriting from Los Angeles, also said listening to the performances can give her new ideas to work with.

“I write my own plays, but I have yet to perform in them,” she said. “Because a large part of writing is re-writing and a part of re-writing is hearing your words and how audiences respond to them, I think it’s better to not perform your own work, at least at this stage.”

Aside from those involved with the production, students are welcome to visit and observe the performances. While responses from the audience may encourage a performance, it is the talent of those involved that drives the evening.

“Big Muddy Shorts is a wonderful opportunity to not only hear my work but to hear the plays of other writers at SIU,” Grogan said. “I am always excited to see the number of people involved in creating an evening of Big Muddy Shorts, from the lighting technician to the actors to the playwrights. It shows that many people care about producing new theatre.”

The Big Muddy Shorts will occur Thursday as well as Feb. 20 and March 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the Moe Theatre, and at Longbranch Café on April 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Jake Saunders can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @Saundersfj, Longor by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.

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