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Award winning scripts staged through Contemporary Voices

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Only so many shows can be produced on a full scale at BYU each year.
Only so many students can be involved in those shows, and only so many audience members can attend. So what happens when there are other incredible shows out there that don’t fit perfectly within the constraints of a college-aged cast or that deal with heavier subjects? The Contemporary Voices series provides the perfect compromise that introduces BYU students to great works of literature through a staged-reading setting to approximate what the play might be like on its feet.

This semester’s production of Contemporary Voices continues to bring more exposure to theatre on BYU campus, more theatre-making opportunities for students, and important discussions among audiences. This year, the shows selected for staged-readings were Matilda the Musical, The Clean House, and Shakespeare in Love. All three explored themes of love and family, leading to engaging and candid post-show discussions after each performance.

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Morgan Gunter, director of Shakespeare in Love, describes Contemporary Voices as “one of the most exciting opportunities that BYU currently offers.” He explains that it is “an opportunity to be exposed to those plays that BYU might not put on otherwise, but that still have merit and immense value to the field.” It also gives actors and audiences the chance to zero in on award winning scripts that maybe offer more questions than answers and provoke discussion. As Morgan says, “For BYU students and audiences, that is of the utmost importance–especially where art is concerned. We don’t always want our plays in pretty bows. We want discussion to happen. If the discussion is happening, the piece has done its job.”

Megan Sanborn Jones, director of The Clean House, describes Contemporary Voices as a tremendous opportunity for students. It allows them to widen their range of not only dramatic literature in their repertoire, but also of roles that they normally wouldn’t be able to play. This year’s series of Contemporary Voices was especially memorable for her as she appreciated being able to bring her favorite play into the limelight. She particularly enjoyed the creative process with the students–a process that brought realizations and understanding as they studied the script that for her exemplifies the Atonement in practice.

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Removing all the moving parts of theatre and focusing on the script gives students the chance to focus on their acting. Morgan Gunter expresses his hope that his students came away with the ability to remove the mask– “We want to see people having a very human experience on our stages. Acting isn’t about putting on a mask and being somebody else, it’s about removing the mask and showing those parts of ourselves that correspond to the character.” An actor himself, Morgan enjoyed stepping into the role of director for the first time and inviting that sense of play and discovery into the rehearsal process.

Contemporary Voices offers the chance for students to participate more in theatre throughout the semester. It offers the chance for audiences to experience more of the wide world of theatre. And it offers the chance for all to come together and create discussion surrounding important themes that impact our day.