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JL Smith New Play Festival gives playwrights a stage at York College

JL Smith, spouse of the college president, acting on stage in a theatre production

While the pandemic forced the Theatre industry into a plot twist of postponed productions and dark stages, it also presented a sense of opportunity. What if some of the most inspiring works of our time could come out of our quarantine?

That’s a question Kyle Rossi ’21, Theatre major at York College of Pennsylvania, hopes to answer through the JL Smith New Play Festival. Thanks to a generous donation by JL Smith, spouse of York College’s President Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, York College Theatre students are putting together a virtual play festival that will leave an impression for years to come.

Rossi is working to organize the festival as part of his senior capstone project. It’s an experience he believes will prepare him for a career steeped in the arts.

“We’ve all read plenty of Shakespeare and Chekhov and other familiar works, but this is the first time as students that we’re looking at plays that no one has ever read before,” Rossi says. “It’s exciting to think that we can give these works a platform when they might not have been known before.”

A virtual performance

The theatre festival will be streamed on May 6 and 7, 2021, via Zoom. York College started setting the criteria for submissions in the Fall of 2020. They wanted to include two different categories: 10-minute plays that could be submitted by anyone around the world and full-length plays written by Pennsylvania playwrights.

Students later decided they’d select five of the 10-minute plays and give them full-production treatment, with memorized lines and costumes. One full-length play would be selected for a cold read, meaning it won’t be a full production, but will be read aloud.

The deadline for submissions is March 12, 2021. While Rossi and other students hoped to see a total of 100 submissions, that quota was met by early March. “One of our press releases got picked up by a popular theatre site, and we were swarmed with submissions,” he says.

Rossi believes the overwhelming response is due to the many playwrights who don’t have an opportunity to showcase their work this year. He expects to see a theme in many of the works that will reflect on the past year and living through a pandemic.

“A lot of the scripts we’ve seen so far are from people who are nipping at the bud to get to work in this area,” he says. “There’s a big need for this right now. People haven’t had their usual creative outlets for the better part of a year.”

A gift that will last

JL Smith has been involved in York College’s Theatre program for some time, even contributing his own talents to perform in some productions. As part of York College’s EVOLVE campaign, Smith’s investment will further enhance the values of a York College education and provide a platform for theatre to thrive for years to come.

“It really shows how much people care for the arts,” Rossi says. “It’s exciting to know we have people who not only want to give financially to the College, but they want to see their gifts make a lasting impact. I look forward to seeing what comes out of this opportunity.”

For Smith, who has a Theatre degree and did some professional acting after college, contributing to the theatre program is a passion project. Since Dr. Gunter-Smith joined York College and her husband was dubbed “first dude,” Smith has volunteered to help with student productions. He remembers telling students early on that when they needed an “older guy” for a show, they could recruit him for the part.

“I’ve always had the desire in me to perform, and I feed off of the energy of the students at York College who are just as inspired as I have been by the arts,” Smith says. “I hope I have been able to contribute something to them through this project as well as those simple green room conversations we have when we work on plays. There’s something very satisfying in working with the students at York College.”