The only library on the Lawn, the Music Library — located in the original coal furnace area of Old Cabell …
The only library on the Lawn, the Music Library — located in the original coal furnace area of Old Cabell Hall — has a distinct architectural and historical presence at the University. Boasting a significant music collection and supporting research in a variety of arts-related fields, the library has served as a performance and presentation space for many student groups and community members. This Friday, the library will also be host to an evening of short plays authored by University students in Assoc. Prof. Doug Grissom’s playwriting class.
The event, organized as part of the ongoing “Making Noise” series, will transform the library into a performance space for four different plays and one monologue, each authored by students in the class Grissom taught last semester. The series features formal and informal performance events on Fridays from the University and greater Charlottesville community, although Grissom believes this event will be the first to present a collection of short plays.
“I know they’ve had a cellist [at the Music Library] before and people reading poetry and different events,” Grissom said. “And [Research Librarian] Abby Flanigan … approached me last year and thought it’d be interesting to have some plays done … So I used it as a way of involving my playwriting class, as well as I thought it would just be a fun event to stage.”
Grissom brought his class to the Music Library for a day to use the space as inspiration.
“They either wrote some things while they were here or they just spent an hour in the space and [got] ideas and they would go off and write plays set in here,” Grissom recalled. “So they did write with the Music Library specifically in mind.”
After their day working in the library, Grissom saw each of his students approach the project in different ways, despite drawing their narratives from the same setting.
“They’re all comic,” Grissom said. “But they’re all set in the … Music Library at U.Va. So it’s very geared to the space.”
Student playwrights completed their pieces last semester, and Grissom selected five pieces to include in the hour-long event. For simplicity, Grissom directed the plays and recruited actors from the Drama Department to stage the scenes. He described the challenges of working with the space.
“We haven’t had a lot of time to rehearse in here because the library’s open most of the time,” Grissom said. “We’ve really only had about four rehearsals [in the Music Library], we’ll have a couple of other rehearsals in the drama building, so that’s been a little challenging in terms of getting people to make sure they’re free … But that’s just how we had to get organized.”
Using the Music Library presented several issues of staging as it relates to audience size and placement.
“The real tricky thing is where is the audience gonna be, because we’re in different places all on the main floor of the library but in different spaces,” Grissom said. “It’s one thing if there’s 40 people, it’s another thing if there’s ten … in terms of just sight lines and where the audience can be.”
Actor and first-year College student Maille-Rose Smith expressed similar concerns that the students are working to address.
“In the Music Library space, it might be difficult to delineate between “stage” space versus the audience area,” Smith said in an email. “We haven’t gotten all the details down yet.”
Despite the challenges, Smith said she was attracted to the project because of the emphasis on student authorship.
“It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to act in some student-written short plays and scenes,” she said. “This was my first time acting in a student-authored play at college.”
Smith highlighted the unique aspects of working with a student-written script alongside the authors themselves.
“The authors were flexible to rewriting portions of the script to fit this particular production,” Smith said. “That was different from putting on a copyrighted, purchased play where the script is pretty much set in stone. I enjoyed seeing how the plays changed! For one play, the ending was rewritten for better effect!”
Second-year College student Savannah Maive Edwards, who has acted several times in student-written plays directed by Grissom, affirmed Smith’s sentiments about working with student authors.
“When you are working closely with a writer, the script develops along with the rest of the process, so that it all grows together simultaneously,” Edwards said. “The process definitely becomes more personal when the writer is attending the rehearsals, hearing how things sound and making edits on the spot.”
Edwards agreed with her fellow actor about the challenges and benefits of the project, but said she also found inspiration in the space.
“I would say that the structure of the Music Library itself is very performative,” she said. “To me it definitely resembles a cave more than a library. There are also a lot of structures that may be obstacles to the audience members’ lines of vision, so we had to keep that in mind when we were configuring the blocking.”
Even though the organization and rehearsal process has been challenging, Grissom expressed his excitement for the event and the creativity of his students when dealing with the space.
“There’s one [play] that uses these pods … that look kind of like eggs, and the play is just two eggs talking,” he said.
Smith, Edwards and their fellow actors will perform this Friday at 6 p.m. Grissom has requested that audience members register in advance to give the organizers an idea of the size of the crowd.
“Ideally we would like people to go to the Music Library website or Facebook page and there’s a place to register,” Grissom said. “We’re probably not going to turn people away if they just show up … unless we’re just packed and can’t accommodate any more people.”
As a performance, installation and presentation space, the Music Library serves as more than a comfortable place to study. This Friday, four student-authored plays and one monologue will add theatrical production to the “Making Noise” repertoire.