DIANE MAKAR MURPHY YSU students' plays to capture your heart

The performance space in the McDonough Museum of Art lecture hall will be small. The actors will read from their scripts. The plays they present have never been seen on Broadway. Heck, they've never even been seen on Wick Avenue before.
But that's just why you might want to attend the Actors' Project of Youngstown's staged readings of five original one-acts this weekend. It's why director Brooke Slanina thinks people should come.
As Slanina said, "It's always exciting to see something for the first time ever and maybe the last time."
Of course, Slanina, a YSU student who holds a minor in theater and is pursuing a master's in English, is only half serious.
Quipped Slanina, "Why come? Well, to see what students here are learning and what they can do. To enjoy the Youngstown flavor of the writing. It's artsy, intellectual and a perfect Valentine's date. Because it's new, original ... and free. "
Though all the participants are students, the Actors' Project of Youngstown is independent of the university. It has already survived three seasons, and these five original plays launch its fourth.
Focus on the words
Slanina would love to have an audience for her actors and blooming playwrights' shows, and she thinks the draw is the fact that the performances are actually works in progress. There will be no costumes and no set.
"There may be music, but probably not lighting," said Slanina of the staged readings. "The focus will be on the words."
The words were written by students of David Vosburgh, who has spearheaded the project since its beginning. The playwrights aren't even necessarily theater majors, which makes the event even more original.
One piece by Jeff Hoover is just two pages long, involves a cat and a dog and runs for little more than a minute. "'The Animals' Tail' is short but very funny," Slanina said.
Rick Bislich's "Ancient History," according to Slanina, is a mob story set in a modern day suburban community. "I guess it's a drama that is action driven, which will be hard to translate to a staged reading. There is a gunshot and knives ... we may use circling each other to imply the action."
"A Hard Earned Meal," written by Charissa Sohayda, revolves around two people set in their ways. Out to a typical breakfast, a price escalation of 3 cents leaves one character unable to pay his bill. "It's almost an alternative universe," Slanina said. "Very ironic."
In Adam Vukovic's "Breakthrough," a therapist counsels a high school boy who has attempted suicide. His alternative therapy provides the actors with "a lot of monologue."
"Shine" involves a girl's struggle to explain why she is "so weird," and includes original poetry by its author Kristen Marinelli. "It's about cruelty in childhood, and trust," Slanina explained.
It's not easy
Slanina had the opportunity to catch up to Marinelli as she rehearsed for "Sideshow," YSU's next main stage production. "I got to talk to her and ask her questions and that will be really helpful," she said.
Faced with typical student workloads, Slanina and the actors she pressed into duty for the readings, many of whom are also performing elsewhere in town, have had few rehearsals.
"Movement will be natural and up to the actors," Slanina said, indicating a staged reading director is more of an organizer. "Instead of major props and blocking, they will have scripts with them and will perform on a stage that's about 7 feet by 25 feet."
All told, with an intermission, the evening should last about two hours, according to Slanina. Performances are set for Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the McDonough Museum of Art on Wick Avenue.
So why not do something original for a change? What's the alternative? "America's Funniest Home Videos"? Come on!

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