After working at the University for 38 years, professor and interim dean of the College of Fine Arts James Linnell will ignite one last flame at this year’s annual Words Afire! Festival of New Plays.

The annual play festival showcases the work of three graduate student playwrights and concludes with a dramatic reading of Linnell’s poetry collection, “The Menu.”

Linnell, who is retiring at the end of this semester, helped create the festival in 2000, when he was chairman of the Department of Theatre & Dance. He said the festival was created as part of his efforts to build a master’s degree in dramatic writing. Linnell said each play in this year’s festival was morphed and worked on in his playwriting class in the fall.

“These were all my children, so to speak, that are finally getting to walk in the festival, so I’m very excited to see them all on their feet and see what’s happened with the work that the students were able to do working with the director and the actors,” Linnell said.

Student actress Amy Bourque performs in this year’s festival, playing the role of Ariel in “The Invasive Kind,” a play about a girl dealing with the death of her mother. Bourque has been involved in the festival for the past five years doing technical work, but this is the first year she acted in one of the plays.

Bourque, who graduates this semester, said the festival offers the rare opportunity for actors to work alongside playwrights.
“You just learn to be flexible because they’re seeing their work evolve and they’re seeing it on stage and saying, ‘Oh, that looked better on paper, but it doesn’t look very well when spoke aloud,’” Bourque said. “So every few days, we would get rewrites, and whether it be an entire scene or a few lines, you have to be able to go with the flow.”

Linnell said the festival has transformed from a broader festival to a smaller collection of works, but it has remained a place for student actors and playwrights to inspire one another.

“It’s a huge difference that happens for writers when they get to see their work on its feet, to see the actors using the language,” Linnell said. “Seeing the directors and how they shape their work, it’s like a revelation for the actors. It opens up whole new doors for them on how to develop a play.”

Freshman student actor Grey Blanco performs in “Disposable Boys,” a play that portrays a family consisting of an abusive father and his two children. Blanco said the festival’s hands-on approach to theater has inspired him to pursue playwriting.

“I definitely got some awesome insight to a playwright’s process, which is the first time I’ve ever been in something like that before, so that’s been a real gift,” Blanco said. “I want to see and dive into some of my own works someday. I never have seen the playwright’s process, and now I’ve got a taste of it, and that’s another aspect of theater I’ve never explored before.”

Linnell said he wrote his poetry collection “The Menu” in two years, beginning his work after a family Thanksgiving trip in 1997. The local Tricklock Theatre Company will perform the collection of poetry, and the event is choreographed by retired professor Jennifer Predock-Linnell, Linnell’s wife.

Linnell said he’s excited to retire while working alongside his wife, but he said he’ll miss working at the University.

“Once you step out of that river, it goes on without you, and I’ll miss it,” he said.

Words Afire! Festival of new plays

The Experimental Theatre
$10 students and staff, $12 seniors and faculty, $15 general

“Disposable Boys”
Today at 7:30 p.m.

“The Invasive Kind”
Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday at 2 p.m.

“The Menu”
Saturday at 6 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
April 25, 26, 27 and May 2, 3, 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Runs through May 5