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Austin Peay theatre students collaborate with NYC theatre, playwright on new play

Jake Brasch, standing in front at right, poses with the Austin Peay crew.
Jake Brasch, standing in front at right, poses with the Austin Peay crew.

(Posted on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021)

Since February, several Austin Peay State University theatre students and professors have participated in a unique collaboration with the renowned Farm Theater in New York City.

During The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Project, several Austin Peay students have worked with a professional playwright – Brooklyn-based Jake Brasch – to develop an original work.

After nine months and several meetings – including a three-day workshop at The Farm Theater in August – the students are ready to present a staged reading of that play.

The play – “Our Tempest” – will be free and open to the public at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 and 6 at the Margaret Fort Trahern Laboratory Theatre at Austin Peay’s Clarksville campus.

The public also can attend a free workshop with Brasch at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, at the theatre.

“A lot of students will never get this experience until they actually go on into the professional world,” said Darren Michael, an Austin Peay acting/direction professor who’s also directing the play. “That’s what’s exciting for me is the students get to work on fresh, new stuff.”

Austin Peay theatre senior Alyssa Amos had the same excitement.

“To work through the creation of a show is genuinely integral for my collegiate education and for my future career,” said Amos, who dreams of being an operations manager or arts administrator for a large theatre house. “Knowing the full process of a show is insanely useful, and I am beyond elated to be a part of it.”

The play runs for about an hour and 45 minutes. After the performance, Brasch and the students will interact with the audience during a Q&A.

Darren Michael, yellow mask, directs students during rehearsal.
Darren Michael, yellow mask, directs students during rehearsal.

Creating a ‘dynamic and animated’ energy

The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration each year commissions a professional playwright early in their career to write a play while working with multiple college students. The students then independently produce the play during the academic year.

This year, Brasch is working with Austin Peay and Pellissippi State Community College students and professors.

Brasch met with 10 students virtually in February to get ideas about what issues affect their lives. He then wrote the play during the spring and summer to reflect the students’ thoughts.

“Brainstorming with a seasoned writer led to fantastic discussions on the merit that theatre holds in changing public opinion,” said Amos, who is double-majoring in theatre acting and directing and business management and marketing. “We discussed everything from personal identity to soybean production in Tennessee.”

In August, seven Austin Peay students and two professors – Michael and Talon Beeson – visited The Farm Theater in New York for a three-day workshop to collaborate in person on the play with Brasch and The Farm Theater’s artistic director, Padraic Lillis.

“Each day we would read a part of the play, and Jake would go home, revise it and come back the next day,” Michael said. “For three days, the play developed.”

Added Amos: “Once inside the theatre space, the energy brought by the playwright and the actors involved was dynamic and animated.”

The trip also coincided with Broadway reopening to the public after closing during the pandemic, and the students saw the first new play to open, Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over.”

“The first thing you heard was, ‘Welcome back to live theatre in New York,’ and everyone went crazy,” Michael said.

Austin Peay’s Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts sponsored the trip.

“My colleagues and I were able to meet with the actors and writer outside of the theatre space and simply talk about our studies, careers and the overall process of working in theatre,” Amos said. “Being able to talk to these professionals about anything and everything was beyond enlightening about different paths to take after we graduate.”

Jessika Land performs, left, performs during rehearsal.
Jessika Land performs, left, performs during rehearsal.

Thinking about yourself and the world

About a dozen Austin Peay students have worked on the collaboration.

Brasch visited the students last week at Austin Peay to further adjust the play, preparing it for the Nov. 5-6 staged readings.

The student crew is Noah Puckett, assistant director; Amos, stage manager; Autumn Rager, assistant stage manager.

The cast is Jessika Land as Jessica, Destiny Neal as JJ, Jaylan Downes as Denver, Justin Tinker as Lucien, Khatelin White as Adelaide, Breanna Douglas as Elle, Sebastian Fenton as Mack, Sarah Wilson as Bear 1/custodian and Noah Puckett as Bear 2/towing guy.

“The play is weird and wild,” Michael said. “It’s very funny, but he’s really into the idea of expansiveness, thinking outside the box a little more about yourself and about the world.”

The characters – six theatre students from Tennessee – are tasked with creating a play based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” about climate change.

“But it’s not really about that, and the students really aren’t into it, so it becomes this giant catastrophe of all these students fighting over issues that are too big,” Michael said.

The Pellissippi State students will present a full production of the play in the spring before the play returns with Brasch to New York for a full professional production at The Farm Theater.

For more information about the Theatre & Dance at Austin Peay, including program information and a list of upcoming productions, visit the department’s website.

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