OU School of Theater’s “Madness”

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The scene: an audience sits in Kantner Hall's Hahne Theater, a small venue that seats roughly 75 people.

The room is dark, but a few beams of light illuminate the stage. Actors are gathered round, sitting in chairs and ruffling the pages of their scripts.

Finally, the action begins when Ohio University MFA student Rebecca Abaffy starts to narrate the play, which she wrote.

Abaffy's play is the latest byproduct of "Madness," part of the MFA Playwriting Program at the Ohio University School of Theater.

The course, officially known as Playwrights Production Class, is a weekly informal production of new student work. Professor of Playwriting Charles Smith started "Madness" in 1998.

"I wanted to do a production class," Smith said. "I knew this was a way to have writers work with actors, and to have their work presented on stage in front of a live audience."

Each week, a student is chosen as producer. He or she must decide on the week’s theme, write a framing device for each play and put the plays in order of rising action. The plays are then performed on Friday night in front of an audience.

Second Year MFA Playwriting student Jeremy Sony enjoys the challenge.

"It lets me shape the evening right from the start," he said. "For my first producing night, called 'Keaton's Pub Madness,' I had the writers create plays in one, two or three parts, with all the actors on stage in the 'pub.' I was able to interweave their stories throughout the night, giving us one night in this imaginary pub where anything was possible."

For Third Year student Ira Gamerman, putting the plays in order is like making a mix tape.

"You want to make sure that all of the pieces get their individual moment in the sun, but you also want to make sure that there is an interesting overall journey for the evening," he said. "It’s hard to balance sometimes."

The plays range in length from three to five minutes. Each playwright interprets the theme differently, so the audience gets to see a wide variety of ideas that stem from a single concept. The writers have until Friday at noon to write, then the plays are rehearsed. However, due to schedule conflicts, finding time to rehearse can be difficult.

"I’ve seen an actor walk in at 10:45 p.m., thinking they were just going to watch a show," Smith said. "A playwright asks them ‘Will you be in my Madness?’ and they spend the next 10 minutes rehearsing. A few minutes later, that actor’s on stage performing."

Both Smith and his students consider "Madness" to be a helpful program for both playwrights and actors, a sentiment echoed by Sony.

"Plays are meant to be staged, and we're amazingly lucky to write new material every week for a live audience," he said. "In 2008, a pal of mine was scouting MFA programs, and we drove down to catch this thing called 'Madness.' By the end of the night, I was hooked. I applied to OU because of it. It gives us the opportunity to write and produce a weekly night of new plays, and keeps us writing and functioning as working theater artists."

"Madness" takes place every Friday night in Kantner Hall. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets are handed out at 10:30 p.m. Admission is free.