Photo By: The One Acts Festival

On March 25th and March 26th, Brock’s dramatic arts department held the annual One Acts Festival in person for the first time since 2019. The festival involves student directors selecting short plays to produce with student actors, allowing them to improve their directing skills with hands-on experience. 

This year featured six plays, three of which were parts of Moliére’s The Miser, each directed by a different student, all starring the same actors. The other three were Abortion, All About Biffo, and Darling Face. The directing class is taught by Michael Reinhart who is helping the students hone their skills. 

Darling Face by Joseph Arnone is a comedic script that the director, Marsel Advić, chose to approach as a realist drama. The lighting is visually stunning and heightens the performance which both actors Zakk Milne and Emma Van Barneveld deliver with grounded sincerity, embracing the bizarre effect that a comedic script staged as a drama creates. 

The team who took on the task of adapting Moliére’s The Miser did an amazing job cutting and adapting the play. It doesn’t feel like the audience is missing anything and the three acts drive forward quickly, packed with physical comedy, elements of Commedia Dell’arte, and beautiful costumes. It’s easy to follow while maintaining a sense of the original text. The casting is especially effective, Jane Smith is expressive and hilarious as Cléant, and her energy is perfectly matched by Alex DeCicco’s Harpegon. One of the standouts in this performance is Hunter Brown as La Fléche and the judge. She’s funny and quick-witted in a way that perfectly suits this play. 

All About Biffo is a play about clowns by Stephen Bittrich, and the director, Lucas Irving, has also incorporated elements of contemporary drag and digital theatre into it, to allow it to resonate with pop culture while embracing the goofiness that having two clowns argue for 30 minutes allows. Michelle Shortt plays Sid, an experienced clown clinging to tradition, and she is everything you could possibly want, her physicality, comedic timing and sincerity come together to make the character believable and hilarious. Frankie Turco plays young hotshot clown Biffo. In glamorous drag, Biffo explains how they want to break new ground with their performance.  

Abortion by Eugene O’Neill is a dated play from 1914 that discusses the issue of reproductive rights purely from the perspective of the men in the play. Ash McEachern centres the female voices using clear influences from Brecht, adding Cabaret-esque dances and commentary on the action of the play. It’s heavily stylized and bizarre. It has a large cast of skilled actors, with Tyra Hayward standing out as an absolute powerhouse playing Joe Murray. She delivers monologues with variety and intensity. 

To get a sense of what the One Acts Festival is like, here’s a look behind the scenes in the three-part play The Miser directed by Alyssa Campbell, Thea van Loon and Ava Robitaille.

A big part of what led this directorial team to choose The Miser as the play they wanted to direct was the freedom to interpret and adapt works in the public domain. They had looked at more contemporary plays, but with the guidance of instructors in DART were led towards Moliére, explained Campbell. 

“The first time we read through The Miser as a group we were on the floor laughing at the translation we had initially found. The story had the potential for what we wanted to do. So we sought out a translation that would be completely copyright free and got to work, rewriting or reworking sections that we wanted to add our own creativity and sense of humour because this was a script that gave us a chance to do that,” said Campbell, a third-year dramatic arts student and one of the three directors of The Miser

One of the important steps was breaking it up into three sections, each one act, to work for the style of the festival. The play has a focus on wealth, so they titled the sections “The Miser: Life,” “Liberty,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness,” emphasizing how wealth can grant people these things.  

“We also wanted to demonstrate how the themes of the play still translate to today. By taking a play from 17th century France and applying its themes to the ideas behind the Declaration of Independence, we can critique the force of America and the ways in which it represents the height of capitalism and consumerism,” said Robitaille, a third-year dramatic arts student. 

One of the main focuses for these directors was finding the pace of the comedy. The One Acts Festival this year had a lot of directors tackling comedy, which can be quite challenging. Campbell explains that she learned how to sense comedic timing and communicate with the actors by stepping out of her comfort zone and working on this project with a cast of eight. Robitaille explained that by working with van Loon and Campbell she was able to learn from them, working with a team allowed the directors to support each other which led to a very polished final product. 

The directors also emphasized the point of the play; it’s a comedy of manners that makes fun of the greed of the wealthy and one of the goals is to make the audience laugh, but the other is to make people think. The fact that a play about classism and inequality from 1668 still reflects inequality in the world today is important to reflect on. 

The Miser is a comedy of greed, where one person’s greed almost ruins it for the rest of them, similar to the world we live in today,” said van Loon, a third-year dramatic arts student, summing up the play in one sentence.

Lucas Irving shared insight into his process directing All About Biffo, a play that intrigued him because of how the playwright Stephen Bittrich put the ritualistic act of applying makeup before a performance on stage.  

“I want to note that in the original script Biffo is not in drag, he is also a traditional bozo circus clown, but has scary makeup and lots of face piercings. He would literally scare children,” said Irving, a third-year dramatic arts student. 

The play revolves around ideas of what’s appropriate for children, inspiring Irving to use the performance to represent backlash over 2SLGBTQ+ representation in children’s media. He explains that this is what led him to including aesthetics from drag performance. 

“The relationship between this thought and the theatricality of makeup that is in the original script made me think about a big piece of queer iconography, drag queens,” said Irving.

“I want audiences to watch the production and think about the queer representation they are exposed to in everyday life and why it is in the form it is. Biffo has extreme ideas and a wild aesthetic and can represent the view of queerness as strange, perverse, or dangerous by people who oppose our way of living and being in the world. In this way, Biffo is like a caricature, similar but still distinct from other queer representations in media that are based in caricature and stereotype,” said Irving. 

Overall, the One Acts Festival this year offered a wide variety of daring performances for audiences to enjoy and both performances were sold out. The student directors, performers, and crew came together to create two nights of great theatre, and they should all be extremely proud of what they accomplished.