On Friday, February 23, HWS students and faculty, as well as members of the Geneva community gathered at the Smith Opera House for the reveal of a photograph taken by HWS’s Chief Photographer Kevin Colton. This photo would serve as the inspiration for seven plays to be written that night, then rehearsed and performed for an audience the next day.
Finger Lakes Photo/Plays (the name given to this bit of theatrical mayhem) now serves as a yearly fundraiser for the Smith Opera House. However, four years ago, this event began at HWS as an impromptu gathering of theatre-loving family and friends, organized by Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth. The event was a success, so it moved to the Smith Opera House the next year and has taken place there ever since.
Photo/Plays presents a unique opportunity for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to come together and create theatre. Randomly drawn teams of writers, actors, directors, and stage managers, are thrown together with seemingly nothing in common except a love of theatre and a determination to produce a play in twenty-four hours.
What draws participants to undertake this daunting challenge? For some newcomers to theatre, the twenty-four hour process allows them to dip their toes in the theatrical water, without making the multi-week commitment that is usually asked of those participating in full-length productions. For those who are experienced in a particular facet of theatre, Photos/Plays offers a low pressure opportunity to gain experience in a new area. Theatre majors Kathleen Fowkes ‘18 and Thomas Perry ‘19 are frequently seen as actors on the HWS stage, but both used this event as an opportunity to apply the skills they are developing in Associate Professor of Theatre Heather May’s directing class. Other participants are drawn to the opportunity to be in a purely creative environment. Associate Professor of Mathematics & Computer Science Joseph Rusinko expressed his appreciation for the weekend of creativity, saying, “With all of the tension in society these days, it was amazing to escape, to be encouraged, and to create.”
Still others use Photo/Plays as an opportunity to become involved in the Geneva community. Participant Flora Hao moved to Geneva from Xiamen, China only a week before the event, and decided to take the opportunity to try her hand at acting. She left expressing her excitement for both the experience of making her Smith Opera House debut and all the people she met throughout the event, saying, “It’s a really good thing that can bring people together.” This experience of getting out into the Geneva community can be especially beneficial for HWS students, who can easily get stuck in the college “bubble,” forgetting all that Geneva has to offer. One HWS student who participated expressed the value of learning to work with people other than his college peers. Another said she participated because “it’s a nice way to give back to the community with your time and your talent.”
When asked what made this year’s Photo/Plays special, event organizer Chris Woodworth said, “This year boasted the largest number of HWS participants–students, faculty, and staff members. This collaboration enriches the relationship between the Colleges and Geneva.”
From an audience perspective, Photo/Plays offers the rare opportunity to see pieces performed that did not exist twenty-four hours before. One audience member described the energy of the room as full of “curiosity and focus” and said the performance inspired her to want to participate in all the many aspects of Photo/Plays in the future.
Overall, this year’s Photo/Plays was successful in creating art, establishing connections, and fostering a sense of community. Many of the plays had the potential to expand into full-length pieces, which audience members were lucky enough to catch a first glimpse of at Geneva’s own Smith Opera House. The event showed the strength of Geneva’s artistic spirit which, coupled with the determination to produce a show in one day, is certainly a creative force to be reckoned with.