A Keck of a Night

20 Tiny Plays by 20 Big Alums close out the New Play Festival

In reaching out to several dozen Oxy theater alumni to contribute to this year’s New Play Festival in a concert-style reading of 20 mini-scripts, Laural Meade offered inspiration along with the invitation. Participants were given four themes to choose from: Adult Realness Extravaganza; Love, Art, Compassion; Office Hours; and, in a nod to the home of Oxy theater, What the Keck Just Happened?

That creative motivation paid off, with 20 Tiny Plays by 20 Big Alums, performed before a packed house February 25.

“We had a lovely turnout—twice as big as I expected—and a lot of great writing,” says Meade, who contributed a piece of her own. “This was the first time the event has functioned as a reunion for our theater department, and so many alums said we should do this every year.”

Given the herculean task of organizing the festival, that may be a stretch. “Well,” Meade adds with a laugh, “maybe every five years.”

“The very first play I wrote was part of the New Play Festival, and Laural directed it,” says Erik Patterson ’00, a two-time Emmy nominee and winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for writing for his 2016 play One of the Nice Ones. “It really set the stage for me to see how theater works in the real world. It’s worked out pretty well since then.”

Patterson’s tiny play was about “two former students coming back to this actual theater festival reunion,” he says. “The play was my love letter to the theater department because I feel like I grew up both as an individual and as a writer, and I figured out where I wanted to go with my life in those four years at Occidental. It was nice to be invited back and be able to say thank you.”

“The New Play Festival is “such a great opportunity,” says Karen Baughn ’08, who teaches improv and acting at iO West, a local comedy institution. (A longtime professional actor at Disneyland, she also was crowned L.A.’s Favorite Improviser in 2013.) “In college, you get a lot of great information and guidance from the people who head up the department, but it’s a whole other world when you step into the acting scene outside of the Oxy bubble. So to have a small bridge into that world is so valuable.

“How do people put up plays?” she continues. “How do people develop material out there in the world? Getting alumni and professionals together with students, they can start making connections in the world that they’re going to hopefully be working in. And proactive students can keep those connections.”

For Joe Chandler ’01, one of several Oxy writers for TV’s “American Dad!” and a veteran of L.A.’s talent-rich Upright Citizens Brigade, the New Play Festival “was a starting point for me as a writer” nearly two decades ago. He wrote two plays as a student, and directed a third play in 2013.

The tiny plays “were really funny and touching,” he says. “There were a lot of inside jokes because there were 20 years’ worth of people who’ve been through the program who were there. I feel like my Oxy experience put me on the path to where I ended up, so I think of the festival very fondly because of that.”