Raider Red’s One-Act Play and Dance spectaculars runs through Saturday

Event: Annual combination of Raider Red’s One-Act Play Spectacular (RROAPS) and Raider Red’s Awesome Dance Spectacular (RRADS).
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Texas Tech Creative Movement Studio, intersection of Akron Avenue and Glenna Goodacre Avenue
Tickets: $5 general public, free for Tech students, faculty and staff.
Contact: 742-3603.
Producer: Alec Williams.
Artistic director: Ryan Fay.
RROAPS: Plays include “On A String,” written by LyaNish R. Gonzales, directed by Dayday Robinson; “Captain Bolt and the Acquisition of PlanetX-14,” written by Tom Laney, directed by Lydia McBee Reed; “Outbound,” written by Garret Milton, directed by Cole Wimpee; “Scabies,” written by Michael Moriearty, directed by Cory Lawson; “Cub,” written by Jessica Smith, and featured in photo above, directed by Hillary Boyd.
RRADS: Dances include “Faltering Persuasion,” choreographed by Sulma Benetiz; “It’s a Game?” choreographed by Hanna Haeussler; “Aftermath,” choreographed by Courtney Rickel; “So Now You Know,” choreographed by Tiara Scarlett; and “Derailed,” choreographed by Shawnee Swann.

It was not long ago that managing directors at many local theaters – especially non-profit venues – relied on familiar titles when booking new seasons.

The way it was explained to me was that, each time a company wanted to invest in new or original theater, that play better be bookended by a popular musical and perhaps a Neil Simon comedy, just to make sure bills could be paid.

Even then, however, one week of theater often stood out at Texas Tech: something called Raider Red’s One-Act Play Spectacular, or RROAPS for short.

This week sparks originality as it finds Tech students writing and directing plays and further filling all roles in the casts and on crews. Truth be told, initially there were some weaker early efforts, yet no doubt a great many students found new inspiration.

Dance students also were given their own week to showcase student choreographers and performers in Raider Red’s Awesome Dance Spectacular, nicknamed RRADS.

Mark Charney, who chairs the Tech School of Theater & Dance, has since linked these two showcases, allowing original theater and dance to share a spotlight through the same seven days.

Mind you, Charney made a ton of changes in the past five years. He has given students his ear. He initiated change and already has begun emphasizing new works throughout an entire season. He has Tech theater recognized internationally, which also raised the bar for each spring’s RROAPS and RRADS.

This week finds five student-written and produced one-act plays and another five short, original  choreographies by Tech dancers, continuing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, April 2-5, and at both 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6.

Construction continues on Tech theater venues, so all performances are at the campus’ Creative Movement Studio, at the intersection of Akron Avenue and Glenna Goodacre Boulevard. Tickets are only $5 for the general public and free for Tech students, faculty and staff.

Charney touched on the importance of this annual affair.

“We are consistently dedicating ourselves to new works because the future of theater lies with current voices and in reinterpreting traditional plays through a new lens. As a university, we do not want to repeat many of the offerings that can be done in high schools and at community theaters. We need to embrace risks and foster new works,” he told Lubbock Lights.

“Texas Tech also trains its students to learn to analyze theater by producing it. This serves not only our students, but our entire academic community since plays can be submitted by anyone on campus. Dance, of course, also fits in and newly choreographed works reflect the imagination and skills of our BA majors.”

Charney noted a committee within the school chooses the final works to be performed, usually picking “five or six plays from the 18 to 25 submitted.”

New one-acts being showcased by playwrights this week on campus include “On a String,” by LyaNish R. Gonzales;  “Captain Bolt and the Acquisition of Planet X-14,” by Tom Laney; “Outbound,” by Garrett Milton; “Scabies,” by Michael Moriearty; and “Cub,” by Jessica Smith.

I put Charney on the spot and asked him to recommend only one of the five participating playwrights for further conversation.

Despite not having read “Outbound,” he still recommended Milton, saying, “I hear it (the play) is not only excellent, but we may take it overseas to a theater festival in Scotland.”

“He (Milton) is someone I worked for years to recruit to Tech. He is a much-produced playwright in D.C., already with an MFA from Catholic University in playwriting and he has an exciting voice, professional and provocative,” Charney said.

A brief synopsis for Milton’s “Outbound,” provided by Tech’s Cory Norman, reads: “Two young friends contemplate life and death in a train yard. A short play about memory, the failures and frustrations of expressing vulnerability and what makes us run.”

“Outbound” is being directed by Cole Wimpee.

Milton willingly answered questions, first referencing he became a first-time dad when daughter Eiley was born in October.

“I’m 31, married, originally from the Washington, D.C. area, and currently experiencing the first months of parenthood. … My wife and I are both new to Lubbock, having moved here last August so that I could start the interdisciplinary Fine Arts Ph.D program at Texas Tech,” he said.

Like many, he first approached theater by auditioning for roles in short plays. He did not land the roles he wanted, but said, “Being exposed to the creative process of theater-making made a profound impact on me as a young artist.”

At the time, Milton had focused more on “writing poetry and other short-form creative writing genres.”

He received a huge break. As an undergraduate at James Madison University, majoring in English and minoring in creative writing, he was challenged by Roger Hall, the professor emeritus of playwriting, acting, directing and new play development. Milton had been experimenting with short plays, but Hall invited him to sign up for his course on writing the full-length play.

More than that, Hall promised to develop, direct and stage whichever play Milton completed for his class credit.

Of course, that gift for a beginning playwright influenced directions he would follow.

Milton noted in an email, “I would describe my playwriting style as a journey that started with emulating the brutal, dexterous and edgy voices of Sam Shepard, Martin McDonagh and David Mamet. That led me to discovering symbolists, surrealists and absurdists … which led to my current obsession with theater as medium, theatricality, theatrical forms and thinking of unique ways” of using the stage to tell stories.

Milton becomes excited when “thinking critically about what it is I’m doing and why.”

I wanted to know more about the one-act he will stage this week.

He noted  “Outbound” always was devised as a serious story. “The inspiration,” he said, “comes from a cold, confusing winter (he) spent in Michigan. I spent a year in Kalamazoo doing graduate studies in English and theater.  I moved away from most of my family and friends, living less than 100 yards from an active rail yard.

“I currently was at a time of great transition in my life. That time absolutely influenced the themes of running away, loneliness and memory that I think are present in this play.

“And although the play takes place in a real location, such as a rail yard, there is a ghostly surge to the play’s content and characters.”

That alone makes “Outbound” sound eerie and promising.

I also asked Milton to choose a favorite from all the babies (i.e., plays) into which he has breathed life. He actually picked one, a play called “Stranded,” which focuses on “two characters stranded on an island where they are forced to confront existential, philosophical questions related to life, language, purpose and place.”

If his description sounds absurdist, this was a time when he honored the styles of Beckett and Ionesco.

Yet Milton added, “The play never gets old to me, and it is one I would be interested in staging and further developing here at Texas Tech.”

Speaking of Tech, Milton noted, “I always have been thankful for Tech’s and Dr. Charney’s interest in me as an artist and a scholar. I knew this was the right program to join because of all the exciting growth that is happening. The new theater and performing arts building open this fall, something we’re all excited about. The quality of educators throughout the College of Visual and Performing Arts is top notch.

“Whenever you are dealing with art-making and art education, you want to make sure these things are a priority … and that is profoundly apparent at Texas Tech. Anytime a program situated out in West Texas can make as much noise and global impact as the Texas Tech School of Theatre & Dance has in the past five years, I think you really owe it to yourself to come investigate.”

Milton has only compliments for Tech’s one-act play spectacular.

“Although Lubbock has a handful of reputable theaters, I believe it is our job as students to elevate our craft and department to a level comparable to any other productions and departments throughout the United States – and to offer top-class, inspired art for our community,” he said.

“If you build it, they will come, right?” he asked. “I’m a big believer in that.”