Playground Festival showcases independent work
The School of Drama may seem exclusive to non-majors, but spend five minutes in the sprawling, sensory world of Playground Festival and you realize just how open it is. Playground is a free, creative environment for drama students to explore other mediums for their art and showcase their independent works.
This year marked the ninth annual Playground Festival, which ran from last Thursday through Saturday in the Purnell Center for the Arts. Playground is a massive event that transforms all of Purnell into a spectacular fantasy world, with experimental installations and performances happening all day.
Playground provides students with an opportunity to push themselves and work on interdisciplinary projects. “It’s a sectioned-out time of the year when [drama students] don’t have to worry about classes — because all [drama] classes are canceled — and they can just focus on creating new work, work that they’re interested in,” said sophomore directing major Cameron Margeson.
Playground is one of the highlights of the year for many drama students, and they start thinking about their Playground pieces months in advance. In October, they pitch their ideas and begin writing scripts. Actual rehearsals don’t begin until the Sunday before Playground, however, so students only have three days to prepare.
One of the largest learning components of Playground is the tight time constraint. “You have three days to create anywhere from a 15-minute to 45-minute piece, so you have to learn what’s necessary in order to create something,” Margeson said. “You learn new techniques when you’re so pressed to create something.... You have to sort of work outside of your own habits to get things done.”
While students have just a few days to put together their pieces, their enthusiasm often turns their pieces into extended projects; many continue working on their pieces throughout the festival.
First-year drama student Will Gossett created an installation piece titled “Volumetric Display” for his first Playground this year. Gossett’s piece is a media installation that projects three-dimensional and moving images in its display area — which is made of carefully arranged, clear, vertical strings. Moreover, “Volumetric Display” runs on open source software. “I’m in the process of writing my own content to add to this loop of different shows,” Gossett said on Thursday night. “It took so long to get [the structure] built that I didn’t have time to get that [coding] done before the opening, but tonight I’m going to work on it more.”
Senior directing major Miranda Steege was this year’s installation curator and was in charge of coordinating the installation works with the Playground Festival Committee. “Installations are a great way to do something you don’t normally do,” Steege said.” Because that’s not at all what most of our classwork is like, so it’s sort of a chance to push beyond what we do in class.”
This sentiment seems to be a recurring theme in Playground: It’s a chance for students to push themselves out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves with work they don’t usually have the opportunity to do.
Students took advantage of this opportunity, resulting in a wide range of performances and installations from dance and comedy shows to fully immersive, sensory experience installations and murals.
“It’s absolutely about people challenging themselves,” said Priscila Garcia, a sophomore directing major. “You go back and you realize the things you’ve learned in your semesters at Carnegie Mellon ... and then you try and see how you can incorporate those with things you already really know. It’s an experiment. It either works or it doesn’t, and that’s that.”
The Playground environment is very open to these experiments, however, and it’s all about pushing yourself and trying something new. “I think it’s a very constructive environment,” Garcia said. “It’s just when students are lazy that people become very judgmental, which I think is fair.”
Margeson also praised the festival’s ability to open up creative opportunities for drama students: “We don’t always get to study things that are outside of our option. So Playground is a time when a designer can direct and an actor can design and a director can write. If there’s anything you want to do that you’re not getting from classes, Playground is when you do it.”
While Playground is an incredibly open environment for drama students, it’s not publicized to the campus community and is almost exclusively attended by drama students, drama professors, close friends, and family. “I think we need to settle into it as a community here in Purnell before it can expand elsewhere,” Garcia said. “I do think there’s a reason for that — I think all of us as students want to see each other’s pieces and there really just isn’t space for larger audiences.”
With a limited supply and a huge demand, tickets for the performances are hard to come by. All tickets are free and made available the day of the performance. Some reservations can be made by faculty and drama students, but for the most part, anyone who wants a ticket has to wait in line for a couple of hours before the show. “Tickets are like gold” was a common phrase uttered by drama students throughout the weekend.
Playground is a festival by drama students, for drama students. Despite the event’s somewhat exclusive nature, Playground creates an open and inviting opportunity for drama students to express themselves and experiment with new mediums.
Summing up the goals of Playground, Margeson said, “It’s not so much to show off the work that you want to do, but it’s a time to really stretch yourself.”