Acting Creative

USF Honors College One-Act Play Festival inspires students and would-be playwrights and thrills the audience.


From left, Nika Harris, Mimi Rosaly, Lisa Letterle and Allie Steiner perform "For Sweater or Worse." Photo: Courtesy of Stuart Silverman


By Theresa Woods

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 6, 2011) - One vignette told of the stereotypes of women and their thoughts on life, love and independence. Another was a sentimental look at the interconnectivity of strangers’ lives. The third play: an imagined conversation between a young John F. Kennedy and a professor on whether art could change the course of human history.


On a recent evening, University of South Florida Honors College students and their friends left USF’s Black Box Theater with standing room only for the One-Act Play Festival. The April 1 competition, which featured the works of three students, showcased not only the talents of the writers (none of whom major in creative writing) but the theater students who brought the scripts to life.


The festival opened with the play of Nicole Cunningham, a dance major, whose act used a young Jack Kennedy as a mechanism for interpretation of art. In “Mona Lisa,” Kennedy was shown in a 1939 Harvard classroom, arguing passionately with a teacher about the political implications of art and its ability to bring peace in the context of the beginning of World War II. This fictional historical drama and its message that the “one message has the power to disrupt an entire nation” effected the audience, leaving them awestruck and thoughtful as the lights came up before the next play.


Following Cunningham was the team of twins Haley and Zoe Deleon – a psychology and literature major respectively, and members of the Creative Writers’ Club at USF – whose satire on women’s stereotypes left the audience in stitches. “For Sweater or Worse: The Unraveling of Women Stereotypes” featured Brice, an extreme feminist and Beth, an insecure woman waiting for a husband, who serve as sharp foils for Jane, an independent woman moderate in her ideals who is conflicted about her long-term boyfriend’s reluctance to propose. The banter created by the Deleons was witty and sharp, expertly exposing the stereotypes about women and their thoughts on life, love and independence.


Neil Pepi’s work “Parallels,” the final play shown, was as a commentary on the interconnectivity of our lives with those around us. After opening with two men – one talking only of sex, and the other wishing to continue with a business meeting – the play evolved into fragments of characters’ lives, showing the small factors that help them develop, such as the commercial that prompts a man to donate to charity after a chance meeting with an endearing homeless boy, and the effects of the smile of a pretty waitress on that same boy.


Honors College Dean Stuart Silverman created the competition a year ago to accommodate the wishes of a single student. This year, a dozen plays were submitted to compete for three spots in the showcase.

USF Theater Professor Marc Powers volunteered his time and expertise, helping select plays from the pool of applicants as well as the production of the festival.


“I’m amazed at these 19 and 20 year-olds who are not playwrights or creative writers, and yet somehow find the creativity and willingness to risk trying something and putting it out there for others to enjoy and criticize,” Silverman said.


 “I’m in awe that they’re willing to take that risk. We had a dozen or so authors willing to risk harsh criticism. I don’t know where it comes from, but it never ceases to amaze me.”


“It was a great experience for me, and I’m sad that it’s over,” said student Haley Deleon.


She said the entire process of the competition from the initial writing of the play to the final showcase allowed her and her fellow winners to be creative with all aspects of producing a play, including writing. At times the process was intense and time-consuming with rigorous rehearsal schedules and instruction on directing, she added.


“It’s inspired us to look in a different creative direction. I think it’s a great opportunity for anyone who writes plays,” she said.