Broke People Play Festival Prioritizes Process and Inclusivity

Placing writers at the forefront of the process, Broke People Theatre takes new and exciting work out of the classroom and onto the stage.

The Broke People Play Festival, made up of original plays by NYU students, gives playwrights a unique chance to develop their scripts through performance. (Courtesy of Broke People Theatre)

“Mosaics.” “Pansies.” “Depression Flocks to Black Youths Much Like Moths to Flames.” “A Young Adult Novel by Some White Guy.” These are some of the titles of the short plays that will be showcased at the Broke People Play Festival this Friday and Sunday. 

Founded in 2016 by current Tisch senior Anthony Anello and alumna Claire Greising, Tisch ’18, Broke People Theatre is a student organization that focuses on putting up student-written work and encouraging collaboration between writers, directors and actors. 

Noticing a lack of opportunity within Tisch’s Department of Dramatic Writing for writers to collaborate with actors and directors, the pair decided to create their own platform for students to get their work on its feet. 

Each year, the organization puts on the Broke People Play festival, held over several months. The festival consists of a One Minute Festival of one-minute plays, held in February; a Spring Main Stage Festival consisting of 10- and 30-minute plays, coming this weekend; and a Full Length Festival of longer plays, to be held at the end of April. This year, they have also assembled a writer’s group of six individuals who will present a number of staged readings beginning the first weekend of May.

While many theater clubs across NYU also stage student-written works, Broke People Theatre differentiates itself by placing its primary focus on the writers and scripts. Interested more in the workshopping than the production of a piece, the organization is concerned with aiding writers in spotting flaws in and coming to new realizations about their work. 

“It’s just helpful to hear your work read out loud,” Anello said. “What’s great about actors is that they ask questions. You realize things that work on the page don’t always work when they’re said out loud. With directors, if you see they’re struggling to move from moment to moment, that usually reveals some kind of lack of motivation in the script that needs cleaning up.”

Despite Broke People Theatre’s incredible growth in popularity since its inception — this year, they received 128 10-minute submissions — the organization continues to prioritize inclusivity, often favoring scripts with larger casts so they’re able to include as many actors as possible. Anello also notes that though the organization rests on a strong base of Dramatic Writing majors, the festivals and main stage productions draw participation from students across the university, particularly from Gallatin and CAS. 

Last year, instead of staging a full-length play in the spring, Broke People Theatre put on an LGBTQ festival, featuring scripts written exclusively by LGBTQ playwrights. For each of their festivals, Anello emphasizes that the organization makes an effort to be inclusive.

“[We include] a broad landscape of different types of work,” he said. “We have some comedies, some dramas. One of our short plays this year is this really highly poetic, kind of on the verge of being experimental.” 

The short play,  “Amelia,” written by Tisch sophomore Leorah Woods, is a work Anello expects to stand out at the festival. 

Woods, who studies drama at Playwrights Horizon, said that the style and subject matter of the play are completely out of her wheelhouse. Although she usually writes highly naturalistic and comedic works, she wanted to challenge herself with this play and decided to tackle death. The 10-minute play takes place in the final moments before Amelia Earhart’s plane crashes, as she and co-pilot Fred Noonan grapple with accepting their fate. 

“I decided to really challenge myself and do no research on Amelia Earhart, and to just write the play based entirely on what I’ve heard,” she said.

The play then became less about death in the literal sense and more about the way in which it can be tied up with notions of legacy and irrelevance, myth and conspiracy. 

“[It’s] a compilation of stories I’ve heard,” Woods said. “The dialogue between Amelia and Fred reads as a kind of poem unfolding in the elongated two seconds just before the plane crashes.”

After she was paired with her director, the two met to discuss the work and their respective visions for the piece. Once the actors read through the script, they came to Woods with their questions. She found this collaboration process particularly helpful in identifying moments when characters seem to act without motivation.

Woods participated in the festival last year as an actor, and finds that participating on both sides of the process has given her a new perspective on both writing and performing. “I used to think ‘do writers just hate actors?’” she joked, realizing now that writers can simply have blindspots when it comes to character motivation, and that communication between the two is imperative in bridging the gap.

While Woods discussed the work with the director and actors at the start of the process, she was not present for the majority of rehearsals. She submitted a final rewrite Sunday and is very excited to see the show next weekend. 

Anello, who will graduate in May, expressed his confidence that the students poised to take over Broke People Theatre in the coming year will continue to uphold the values of the organization.

He expects that the new leaders will both launch their own initiatives as well as transform the pre-existing ones, noting that the process is always changing.

“The 10-minute festival we did in our first year is very different than the 10-minute festival we’re doing now,” Anello said.

The BPPF Spring Main Stage Festival will be held Friday, April 5 and Sunday, April 7, at the Broadway Goldberg Theater. The Full Length Festival will be held on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28.

Email Julie Goldberg at [email protected]

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