SIUE Xfest celebrates reaching 10-year mark

Lucky Plush’s newest piece, “Rink Life”, nods to the visual aesthetics and social dynamics of 1970’s roller rink culture.  

Xfest is celebrating its 10-year history by welcoming returning theater companies back to campus, while also inviting new companies to take part in the event.

The festival consists of four days of workshops and master classes that are reserved for SIUE’s theater and dance community. 

These sessions cover a wide range of topics, including sound effects, tech, dance, devising and expression, according to sophomore theater and dance performance major Sadie Harvey, of Knoxville, Tennessee. Harvey said she was looking forward to learning from these workshops.

“We learn some really great things from professionals who are in the business, so I [will] learn different techniques and just learn how to loosen up a little bit,” Harvey said.

In addition to the workshops, each night during Xfest features a performance by one of the visiting artists, and these performances are open to the public. 

The week’s opening production was “Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self,” which was held at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Metcalf Theater. According to professor of performance Peter Cocuzza, the work was created by department chair Chuck Harper and was one of the first Xfest shows 10 years ago.

“We’re going back to the original company, actually the original work, which was created by Chuck Harper,” Cocuzza said. “It’s called ‘Whammy!’ It was one of the first Xfest shows, so we’re bringing that back. But now, Mr. Harper has his own theater company in St. Louis called YoungLiars, so that company from St. Louis is coming.”

This production was followed by “Rink Life” presented by Lucky Plush, a dance company based out of Chicago, and “Heavy Like the Weight of a Feather,” a one-man show by Ernie De Silva. De Silva is an SIUE alumnus who has performed at Xfest in the past as well as in cities around the world. 

Thursday night’s event will be “The Wilds” by Wonderheads, a company that is known for its use of oversized masks. The Wonderheads have performed at Xfest on several occasions. 

Xfest’s final production is “No Blue Memories” presented by Manual Cinema, which will be held Friday night. The production is a collaboration between Xfest and Arts & Issues and tells the story of Gwendolyn Brooks. Grant Andree, the director of Arts & Issues, said Manual Cinema has also performed at Xfest in the past.

“For Manual Cinema, Chuck brought them in about four years ago. They were just a young company out of Chicago, and their performance was terrific, very unusual and very creative,” Andree said. “And so, for our 10th anniversary, we wanted to bring back somebody special, and we both agreed that that would be the company we wanted to bring in. But since then, they’ve just exploded. They’ve got multiple touring groups all over the world, really.”

“No Blue Memories” incorporates many different elements and crafts, which creates a unique experience for students, according to Andree.

“[Students who go] will see something they’ve never seen before. They bring in overhead projectors [and] puppets,” Andree said. “They have live performers, and they’re putting these transparencies on rapid fire. It’s a team of artists, and it’s all projected up on a screen, so it creates a movie. And so you can see what they’re doing, putting the show together, and then you see the finished product as the show’s progressing.”

After the conclusion of the final production, theater and dance students participate in an event they call One and Dones. According to Harvey, students write, cast, direct, rehearse and perform 10-15 minute scenes — all within 24 hours. 

This 24-hour play festival will begin Friday night immediately after “No Blue Memories” and will conclude by the end of the day Saturday. Harvey said this event allows students to share their passion for their craft, which has been heightened by Xfest.

“I think what’s so nice about having the 24-hour play festival right after [Xfest] is that when you’re in Xfest… your love for the craft comes out even more,” Harvey said. “And that’s what’s so exciting about going through all those workshops, just because you want so badly to get out there and start working. Then you get to do the 24-hour play festival, and it just motivates you to get all that stuff done.”

Xfest was started in 2009 by Harper and Cocuzza when they decided an event was needed to expand the Theater and Dance Department’s summer season and to draw people to SIUE’s campus, according to Cocuzza.

“The idea came about when we were looking to increase our summer season, and we thought we would add an Arts & Issues event,” Cocuzza said. “And from that discussion, another discussion came about when I asked my colleague, ‘What do you think if we have an experimental theater festival?’ And he said, ‘That sounds like a great idea! We’ll do it in the summer, [and] we’ll get people to come on campus in the summer.’”

After the first three years of the event, Xfest was moved to September to allow more students to participate and learn from the visiting artists, Cocuzza said.

“[During] the first three seasons of Xfest, we realized there’s just not a lot of people on campus [during the summer], and we couldn’t get the word out to artists,” Cocuzza said. “Really what was happening was our students weren’t able to see all of these things because a lot of them were in shows over the summer or they went home. So we realized this probably is not the best time to do this, so we said, ‘Let’s do it in September.’”

According to Cocuzza, the festival is unique compared to similar events held by other universities because of the number of productions and opportunities offered to students. 

“It’s not done anywhere else in the country that I’m aware of,” Cocuzza said. “There’s a lot of experimental theater festivals, but they’re not necessarily associated with a university as part of the university’s academic year. Sure, there are many schools that are bringing guest artists in for a show, but not like one week of four events and workshops and master classes. So it’s pretty unique in that regard.”

As one of the co-creators of Xfest, Cocuzza said he is proud that the event is still occurring 10 years after it was first started and appreciates the recognition it has received by members of the community.

“I’m just glad we got to 10 years — that’s the real exciting part,” Cocuzza said. “And to see it being recognized on campus has been great over the years and to have it appreciated as a campus event that is welcomed and attended, so that’s really rewarding. But the big reward for me is the fact that we are still doing it and that our students get the benefits because it was ultimately for the students — it still is for the students.”

“The Wilds” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Metcalf Theater, and tickets can be purchased at the box office in Dunham Hall. “No Blue Memories” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Dunham Hall Theater, and tickets can be purchased at the MUC Welcome Desk. Tickets to both productions are free for SIUE students. To learn more about Xfest, visit https://www.siue.edu/artsandsciences/theater/current-season/xfest.shtml.

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