In 5 New York Minutes


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Just west of the over-stimulating lights and bustling activity of Times Square is Manhattan’s theater district. Marquees are splashed with Broadway’s biggest productions and the stars who deliver the entertainment.

Scattered throughout New York City a smaller, less conventional theater community exists that is known as off-off-Broadway. It is in that venue that Oakland University senior Franco Vitella will debut his one-page play “The Quiet Present.”

Vitella will drive nearly 10 hours and over 600 miles to New York City this weekend to debut the five minute performance in the “Zero to Sixty: One Page Play Festival” on Feb. 21 at the Where Eagles Dare theater on W. 36th Street.

“This I wrote just playing around. I never thought anything would actually happen with it. Then I came across [Zero to Sixty] and I said ‘It’s one page and I’ll submit it,'” Vitella said.

Vitella said he didn’t expect his play to be selected; it was more of a shot in the dark. “It seemed like it was more for people who are in New York and it would be a lot easier but they sent me an e-mail and asked if I was interested.”

According to the festival’s producer, John Chatterson, most of the one-page plays in the festival are from New York playwrights, but he could recall Vitella’s play.

“I remember [Franco] was delighted to be in the festival and took a great effort to be in it,” Chatterson said.

As producer, Chatterson said he read many plays before choosing the 40 that will be showcased.

“I’m looking for plays that make a statement in a very short amount of time and have a twist at the end, so that’s what I need to see in a play.” Chatterson said he saw those qualities in “The Quiet Present.”

“It shows the mind of a very strange individual,” Chatterson said.

Taking it to the [NYC] streets

Having roughly 19 days to prepare, Vitella said he didn’t really have much time for auditions.

“I kind of just put the message out to anybody I thought would be interested in being involved. So it was basically anyone who said yes,” he said.

Director Robert Glowacki said he was a bit overwhelmed at first.

“It started on Facebook like everything does nowadays. He sent us a message and said ‘hey I have this play, it’s only five minutes and we have two weeks to put it up and take it to New York City.’ So at first it was like this huge daunting task.”  

In order to raise money Vitella and his crew held a stage reading on Sunday, Feb. 8, of another play he wrote.

“We raised some money and so we have enough to cover our travel expenses, at least to get there and back.”

With hotel and gas expenses, Vitella said the trip will cost roughly $600. The drive will also be the first trip to New York for some of the students. Glowacki said in order to prepare for the trip the cast and crew have been rehearsing almost every day.

Fierce competition

OU lecturer, Kitty Dubin, who is also a professional playwright, said the playwriting field is very hard to break through.

“It’s highly competitive and very few plays are chosen. It’s a very tough thing to be involved in, you have to really love doing it,” she said.

Dubin also said that it is very unusual for students to debut plays in New York City before they graduate.

“I think New York has a certain cache and myself, when I had my first play done in New York, I was so excited. I think it’s neat that he’s driving there and being with other theater students. It will be an adventure, an experience and he will learn things from it,” she said.

Dubin had Vitella in both of her playwriting classes and said that unlike many of her students, it’s remarkable that Vitella has continued to write plays outside of class.

“He’s very prolific and very disciplined, and very inventive and original. Usually people need a deadline for writing and Franco can give himself a deadline and he will write and produce as opposed to needing an external deadline.”  

A story coming to life

Vitella has produced three other plays at OU and two others that have been produced in the metro Detroit area. “The Quiet Present” derived from his full-length play “Come Beauty” that was produced at OU in 2007. The characters in “The Quiet Present” Ori, a lonely mute boy and Tat, the corpse of Ori’s dead friend are extensions of “Come Beauty.”

“He actually kills her in [‘Come Beauty’] by accident again. ‘The Quiet Present’ would be sort of like a sequel or a right after ‘Come Beauty’ and what they’re left with. He’s by himself and it’s just him and the girl,” Vitella said.

Glowacki, a senior theater major who worked with Vitella on “Come Beauty,” said he enjoyed “The Quiet Present” a little more than its predecessor.

“It gets a little bit more into Ori’s character than ‘Come Beauty.’ Really, this character is more candid and allows you more, as an audience viewer, to relate to things but also in the character is a challenge that he didn’t have in ‘Come Beauty,'” Glowacki said.

“Because we have to get all of this out in five minutes I think it’s a little bit more in your face and a little more avant-garde than ‘Come Beauty,'” he said.  

The fact that the play has very few lines may contribute to the candidness of Ori’s character. Senior theater major Will Luchin, who plays Ori, described “The Quiet Present” as more of a physical play.

“It’s very interesting. It’s a one-page play that’s all physical. I mean there’s literally no lines. It’s a little difficult to get across,” Luchin said.

Lauren Rich, a junior theater major who plays Tat, said the story line is unlike anything she has done in the past.

“I’ve never really done anything that was abstract before,” Rich said. “The story is very interesting and it’s kind of cool that even though I’m dead I can teach the other character Ori some things along the way.” 

Portrait of a mute

While Vitella said he didn’t draw anything from his own experiences for the story, his own interests in looking for answers inspired “Come Beauty.”

“That’s what ‘Come Beauty’ is more about, trying to find answers and just getting more questions. As far as ‘The Quiet Present’ goes, it’s just playing around with these interesting characters,” he said.

“He thinks she’s alive, so he kind of does things with her like, pal kind of stuff until it kind of goes too far and he accidentally stabs her with a sword,” Vitella said.

“The Quiet Present” will be Luchin’s first time working with Vitella and he said the role was a blessing in disguise because he’s always wanted to work with him.

“I enjoy this character a lot because he doesn’t get a chance to figure out what’s going on in his head. The character has a whole dark past and subconscious in his mind that’s constantly running,” Luchin said. “There’s a whole lot of moments of light hearted comedy because he’s trying to get over his really dark past.”

Luchin also serves as the fight coordinator for “The Quiet Present.”

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“It’s essentially me lifting Lauren Rich for about five minutes and carrying her to different ends of the stage and she has to fall sometimes on her own.”

Rich assists Luchin with the physical movements.

“It’s a challenge not to move and to try not to breathe a lot. It’s interesting having to help because you can’t be completely limp because when he’s picking me up and stuff you have to help him without it making it look like I’m moving,” Rich said.

The Big Payoff

Regardless of how physically draining a one-page play with virtually no lines can be, the opportunity of working in an off-off-Broadway play in New York City is worth it.

“Off-off-Broadway for us is a compliment to be able to walk right in and not have to audition. This is Franco’s project and we’re all doing our best to help, but at the same time it’s a huge benefit to all us,” Luchin said.

Glowacki agreed that while performing in New York City will be beneficial to his budding career, it will also help put OU’s theater department on the map. 

“I think it’s a really good chance to showcase to New York what Oakland can do as a theater program,” he said. “We’re trying to show that Oakland has an up-and-coming theater department and we’re growing in numbers not only in musical theater and production, but also in playwriting.”

Rich couldn’t express her excitement enough for the trip and said the performance will also help her future career.

As for Vitella, he said he never really thought about debuting a play in New York City before graduation.

“It’s sort of like an unwritten thing, if you want to make it in theater it’s in New York City. I mean this isn’t the hugest thing but it almost seems silly that I’m bothering to even take a one-page play and going through all of this but it’s worth it for that.”

While the bright lights of Manhattan’s theater district may seem enticing, Vitella said the experiences that OU’s small community has afforded him are things he will never forget.

“The coolest stuff I’ve done has been here with people I know. I’m glad I get to take people I know.”