David Jacobi’s new play “Ex Machina” is based on news coverage of the factory in Shenzhen, China, where Apple products are assembled. The play explores the social and political implications of overworked, low-paid workers responsible for products that have generated billions in sales. It is one of four works by playwrights from the University of California, San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance’s master of fine arts program that will premiere at the department’s Wagner New Play Festival April 17 to 27.
Formerly the Baldwin New Play Festival, the Wagner New Play Festival was renamed this season in honor of Arthur Wagner, visionary and founding chair in the UC San Diego theater and dance department. In December, it was announced that Wagner and his wife Molli donated a lead gift of $2.2 million to endow department’s Student Production Fund to help continue the valuable training experience students need, including funding actual productions and associated program expenses.
The festival promises theater patrons and industry professionals an early look at emerging playwrights who are likely to make a mark after they graduate. Previous festival plays have gone on to be produced in New York City, San Francisco, Boston and other major cities. This year, those on hand to scout new talent will range from Scott Chaloff of William Morris Endeavor in New York City, to Joy Meads, literary associate at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and Les Waters, a former UC San Diego theater faculty member and artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
“Our mission has always been professional training at the graduate level, which is what the MFA programs are about,” Wagner said. “Our goal is to produce successful theater artists including playwrights, directors, scenic designers, dramaturges and others. The festival allows us to invite theater professionals to spend a weekend seeing their work.”
“The festival allows me to expose my work to a receptive theater audience as well as invested professionals,” added playwright Jacobi, now in his first year of the MFA program. “I came to UC San Diego for a myriad of reasons, but the creative freedom and Wagner New Play Festival are two significant ones.”
Although the festival has a new name, the mission remains the same as when playwright Adele Shank, now an emeritus faculty member, organized it in 2000 as the grand finale of the academic year. Although retired, Shank continues to play an important part. This year, she worked closely with theater professor Naomi Iizuka, head of UC San Diego’s playwriting program, to develop a play by each of the playwrights in the MFA program.
“Developing new writers is one of the most important responsibilities of any theater department,” Shank said. “We believe that our students learn best through hands-on experience, whether they are playwrights, directors, designers, or stage managers.”
This year’s Wagner New Play Festival plays include:
- CASAGEMAS written by Sharif Abu Hamdeh, directed by Kate Jopson, explores the explosive, larger-than-life friendship between Pablo Picasso and his best friend Carles Casagemas, whose suicide launched Picasso’s Blue Period.
- LITTLE CHILDREN DREAM OF GOD by Jeff Augustin, directed by Joshua Brody, tells the story of Sula, a Haitian-American nanny struggling to make a life for herself and her son, and to escape the violence and destruction she left behind in Haiti.
- HAMELIN by Kristin Idaszak, directed by Michael Moran, is a retelling of the fable of the Pied Piper and an investigation of what makes a seemingly average man transform into someone capable of blowing up a building and everyone in it.
- EX MACHINA by David Jacobi, directed by Sarah Wansley, is set in a factory in China, and looks at what it takes to escape the fate of a worker drone and live a life beyond the factory walls.
For Jacobi, his focus is on his current work.
“What do I hope to do when I graduate? At this point in my life I have no idea,” he said. “The only thing I’m sure of is that by my third year, I will have many viable and wonderful choices, and a dedicated and awesomely talented peer group standing beside me. I couldn’t feel happier in the face of such uncertainty.”
The Wagner New Play Festival takes place April 17 to April 27 at various venues in the UC San Diego/La Jolla Playhouse theatre district. For information about show times, locations, and directions, please visit theatre.ucsd.edu.
To learn more about the Student Production Fund, visit theatre.ucsd.edu/spf or call (858) 534-9043.