Inside the Hotchner Festival: Lucas Marschke

Aspiring playwrights debut new work Sept. 28 and 29

Playwright Lucas Marschke with the cast of “Florida.” (Photos: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

The Brooksfield family is determined to take a trip. Nothing will stop them — not the blizzard, not the mistress, not the drug dealers, not the claustrophobic RV, not even the gun.

With “Florida,” recent alumnus Lucas Marschke, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Arts & Sciences in May, recounts a dysfunctional vacation for the ages. This weekend, “Florida” will receive its world-premiere staged reading at Washington University in St. Louis as part of the annual A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival.

In this Q&A, Marschke discusses “Florida,” family and the playwriting process.

You earned your undergraduate degree in film and media studies last spring and are now studying at the Harold Ramis Film School in Chicago. How did you get involved with drama?

I’ve been involved in drama for about half of my life, which is pretty crazy to think about. I’ve tried my hand at various elements — mostly acting and improv, though I’ve also directed and played percussion in the pit.

But at WashU, I discovered writing. I was part of the short-form sketch-comedy group Kids On Campus and took classes in screenwriting and playwriting.

Film and theater are both collaborative arts, but they have different metabolisms.

The clearest difference is the aspect of live performance. There are so many moving parts and different roles for people to play! It’s challenging, but also rewarding, to make sure a production comes together.

From left: Director Jeffery Matthews, Marschke and actor Annie Butler update their scripts before the start of rehearsal.

Tell us about “Florida.”

“Florida”is a play with three interweaving storylines. A drug dealer is heading to Florida with his family. Two goons are kidnapping the dealer’s roommate. Meanwhile, the dealer’s father is involved with another woman. All three groups get stuck on a highway during a snowstorm. Drama ensues? Let’s hope.

What inspired the story?

Parts are borrowed from personal experience. When I was eight, my family got stuck in a snowstorm for 16 hours. Other things are modified, exaggerated or completely fabricated. Basically, “Florida” is about expectations versus reality. How do people meet or defy our expectations, and how do we react?

The Performing Arts Department (PAD) will give “Florida” a full production next spring. What have you learned so far from the workshopping process?

There’s a difference between what’s in your head and what’s actually on the page. After our first rehearsal, we had talk-backs with the cast and director, and everybody had questions about their characters and story points. It was a little overwhelming.

But you hear things differently when other people are reading it. You notice scenes that are dragging, or ideas that aren’t coming through strong enough.

It has helped me to make everything faster.

From left: Playwright-in-residence Carter W. Lewis and visiting dramaturg Michele M. Volansky watch rehearsals while Marschke takes notes.

About the Hotchner Festival

The A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, with Scott Greenberg’s “Tom and Grace,” directed by Andrea Urice, teaching professor of drama.

The festival continues at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, with Ike Butler’s “Arriving At,” directed by Annamaria Pileggi, professor of the practice in drama. The festival will conclude at 7 p.m. that evening with Marschke’s “Florida,” directed by Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in drama.

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, the festival is named for alumnus A.E. Hotchner, who famously bested Tennessee Williams in a campus playwriting competition. The festival is coordinated by Carter W. Lewis, playwright-in-residence. Guest dramaturg is Michele M. Volansky, chair and associate professor of drama at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

All readings, which are free and open to the public, take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call 314-935-5858, visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu or follow the PAD on Facebook.

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