Tech’s one-act plays, connected dances is a mixed bag, with some gems mixed in

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. today 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.

One wonders how often Mark Charney, who chairs the Texas Tech School of Theatre & Dance, might just sing along with David Bowie’s “Ch-ch-ch-changes,” with one stanza ending with, “Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”

Just when one is certain how Charney has refined his annual production of student-driven Raider Red’s One-Act Play Spectacular and Raider Red’s Awesome Dance Spectacular, he and gifted participants peer within, making more inclusive changes.

For example, there are five original one-act plays, with playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, performers and crews working together. There also are five inventive short dance sequences and it becomes obvious that – more often than not – collaborative choreographers and dancers have worked for months to devise visual interpretations of the message or moral within a prior play.

What an incredibly intelligent, challenging step forward.

As in any festival format, some creations work better. Some work at a lower level, i.e. barely, and a PC response might be to say they need more work.

All will be performed through Saturday at Texas Tech’s Creative Movement Student. I’m almost ashamed to say this was my first visit, and it was a good thing my companion, former Tech student Gage Gregory, was driving. It’s easy to say turn west on Glenna Goodacre Boulevard off of University Avenue, onto campus and progress to Akron Avenue. On our first try, we might as well have been on a scavenger hunt looking for the approved R24 parking area, which Gage found by circling about even further west.

Obviously, the dozens already present were not as directionally challenged as myself, and the venue works well for both drama and dance.

Imagination and, more than that, heartfelt passion expressed about societal issues and individual emotional fears may blow many away. It is difficult to conceive of so much talent bursting from driven students who may range in age from 18 to 30 – students not helped by faculty. yet inspiring unforgettable reactions after touching hearts and minds.

Dance, especially, is individually interpretive. Audiences may wish they could ask for inspirations and thoughts of many dancers

Mind you, even Gage wondered early on, in a whisper, what I had gotten him into. The event opens with playwright Tom Taney III’s “Captain Bolt and the Acquisition of Planet X-14.”

Directed by Lydia McBee-Reed, and even keeping in mind that “comedy is hard,” social ramifications of change brought about by the libido of Captain Bolt (purposely overacted by Dillon Rouse) were never hard hitting. One is moved by neither the lack of caring by space explorers wanting to make aliens more like themselves, or humor written within shared sexuality.

This first one-act didn’t work. It provided little inspiration for choreographer Hannah Haeussler’s “It’s a Game?” Dancers revealed talent in a forgettable performance.

Things improved with a play called “Cub,” written by Jessica Smith and directed by Hillary Boyd. Actors Stefanie Infante and Steven Weatherbee, cast as characters living on opposite coasts, meet, share an attraction and fall into bed while attending a writer’s conference.

Infante, especially, expresses romantic wanting and hopeful desire. Weatherbee, a military veteran with unfortunate macho paranoia, asks her to give up everything and move cross-country to live together.

There are red flags within Smith’s early dialogue for Weatherbee, which only increase as so-called shared love becomes a dominating relationship, with the male’s apologies absent of sincerity when he realizes he has gone too far.

Many will forgive the predictable nature of the play, one in which a lack of self-worth only leads to submission, fear, doubt and embarrassment. This is not a new confrontation. Audiences will want Infante to run, fearing the worst.

Stronger is the resulting dance, “Aftermath,“ choreographed by Courtney Rickel, allowing dancers Destanie Davidson and Anna Rubio to recognize differences between a misrepresentation of a hopeful future and taking advantage of unexpected dominance.

The strongest plays are “On a String, written by Lyanisha R. Gonzalez, and Garret Milton’s “Outbound.”  DayDay Robinson directed “On a String,” which stars Taralynn Francis (seen in photo above) as Black Woman. Cole Wimpee makes directorial decisions for “Outbound,” which stars John Godoy as Richard and Weatherbee, again, as Chuck.

I already had spoken with Milton, based on advance praise from Charney.

After watching “On a String,” later the same night I took a wild guess at emails for Tech students and tried to reach those involved. I heard back from director Robinson and actress Francis.

The play stars Francis, a Houston-based senior, as a hostage black woman. Her mouth is covered so she cannot speak, almost throughout. Her captors, an unseen group of apparent whites and blacks, expect her to jam on tight shoes and entertain them – hoping to wear away her spirit, force her to do their bidding.

With Francis’ mouth covered, director Robinson has the actress strike a beginning pose, her arms stretched out and her hands at right angles, like a scarecrow planted in the ground. From here she must follow instructions and roughly alter styles through the decades.

Consider demeaning minstrel-type dances that found whites and blacks alike using cork to darken their faces … then moving to tap … all the while being asked if she is ready to give up her spirit and do what she is told.

The program credited no choreographers for the well-directed Francis, who displays the promise of a ticking bomb.

Robinson said, “Tiara Scarlett (African dance), Hanna Haeussier (tap dance) and Taralyn Francis all worked together to choreograph. As director, I was responsible for staging, directing acting and voices.”

Somewhat of a surprise, Robinson never sought a dancer. She told Lubbock Lights, “I was not necessarily looking for a dancer. I was looking for an African American woman who could command a room with her body language and facial expressions.”

She had her eyes on Francis early, saying, “Her ability to take direction and how quickly she picked up on movement and emotional cues, made her stand out during the audition process. Taralynn most likely would say she is not a dancer. However, the choreographers and myself would call her a quick learner, as if she has danced her entire life.”

Indeed, physically and mentally challenged by being kept prisoner, Francis’ movement and expression reveal defiance until playwright Gonzalez can add the dynamism of poetry to create, if not revolution, at least inspiration.

Choreographer Scarlett’s “So Now You Know” has dancers learning the importance of defiant independence.

I was drawn to Milton’s “Outbound,” written during one of his down periods in the frozen North, where active freight trains can mean violent death, or possibly transportation to a new chapter in life if only the poor can jump aboard and hold on.

Well directed, and with terrific lighting and set direction, the play stars John Godoy as a man on crutches, but with possibly unappreciated opportunities. Chuck, played by Weatherbee, is cruel without really wanting to be. He is equally hopeful and lonely, but likely too much the coward to change his fate.

The play is set in a rail yard, where Weatherbee’s Chuck, a broke short order cook, wants desperately to jump a train for warmer parts unknown.

Characters are reminiscent of some from Shepard or Mamet plays. Both men remember a friend who jumped for the train, only to be mauled on the wheels on the tracks. Godoy’s Richard admires the deceased; when Weatherbee destroys that vision, he’s only trying to bring Richard down to his level.

Not each moment is original, but the play has so much to say about a desire to change one’s circumstances, doomed when the dial depicting self confidence hovers right above empty.

Definitely inspired by “Outbound,” gifted choreographer Shawnee Smith’s dance “Derailed” introduces a dramatic three dancers juggling their will to live against a breaking point. Sound and lighting design again are stellar.

Co-stars Abilgail Cunningham and Michael Yarick represent the homeless underground in playwright Michael Moriarty’s creepy futuristic “Scabies.” Director Cory Lawson makes the most of the short time allotted him via the one-act, with Cunningham warning audiences about dangerous “beings” who promise   fine clothes and filling food, but deliver a horrific bonus.

Moriarty’s contemporary influences are many, but Cunninghm commands attention and empathy.

More frightening is choreographer Sulma Benetiz’ dance “Faltering Persuasion,” performed  by Bella Gonzalez and Deborah de Frias.

There is almost no way to describe the manner in which one dancer performs so smoothly … only to express occasional onslaughts of violent itching attacks from within that represent the prior play’s “Scabies.”  Amazing, eerie movement, commanding days of rehearsal, cannot be forgotten.

Performances are too good for descriptions to be considered spoilers.