Yuba College’s production of Neil LaBute’s “Autobahn” was selected as a regional finalist in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
The world premier of “Autobahn” was staged at Yuba College on October 14, 2005, and ran until October 30. Although the play’s content is controversial, it was greeted with critical acclaim and was a great success. “Autobahn” contains six independent scenes, all of which take place in an Automobile.
The play is very much a modern play that is geared towards the college crowed. “It’s a brand new play and LaBute is really hot right now,” David Wheeler, professor of Theatre Arts and director of the play told the Appeal Democrat. “His plays are very edgy and very honest and deal with people who are on shaky moral ground. His characters are people with flaws, and he doesn’t give them redemption. It asks you to think about what you would do, the choices you would make if in that situation.”
When asked how he felt about directing a modern play like “Autobahn,” Wheeler said, “One of the great things about doing this job for 30 years is that I can move back and forth. I’m doing Greek tragedies written 2,500 years ago. Then I’m doing a play that’s written in 2004. I think that’s what makes it exciting.”
The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) was started in 1969 by the Kennedy Center’s founding chairman, Roger L. Stevens. Over 18,000 students from colleges and universities all around the United States are involved in the program.
Now, there are more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theater department and student artist showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF.
The United States is broken up into eight regions that compete for a chance to perform in the KCACTF. Out of the 50 productions that were submitted to compete in region eight, Yuba College was one of thirteen schools that was chosen to perform in the regional finals in Ceder City, Utah.
“I’ve been around for 35 years and I’ve entered a production each year, and this is only the second time we’ve been chosen to compete,” Wheeler said to the Appeal Democrat. In 1986, Wheeler took a Yuba College production of “Of Mice and Men” to compete in the KCACTF at Humboldt State University in Arcata.
Region 8 includes California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa. Some of the other schools chosen were, University of Utah, San Francisco State University, Northern Arizona University, and California State University of Los Angeles.
“It’s a pretty good selection,” Wheeler told the Appeal Democrat, “We have a reasonable chance, probably one in five, of being selected for the national competition.” Wheeler continued, “If there are a lot of contemporary plays as opposed to classical ones, it will be harder for us, since we’re performing a contemporary piece. It’s just more competition.”
“What’s really great about this particular play at this particular conference is that the playwright Neil LaBute is speaking at the conference,” said Jay Drury, Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Language Arts at Yuba College. “This play has never been done in a fully mounted production before. The only production prior to our production was a reading that LaBute got together in New York City which was a one night affair with no sets and no costumes.”
Which means this will be the first time that playwright Neil LaBute will see his vision come to life. “It’s kind of exciting,” Wheeler told the Appeal Democrat. “I’ve actually heard from people who know him that he’s looking forward to seeing it.”
When asked about Wheeler’s play selection, Drury said, “David’s really astute about that kind of stuff. He has done a number of things (at Yuba College) where he’s been way ahead of the curve.” Drury continued, “We’re lucky that we get to see a lot of plays here that are pretty new and current.”
“It’s exciting,” Wheeler told the Appeal Democrat, “It’s not just community colleges we’re up against. it’s all of them, from universities to four-year institutions to graduate programs. The students are really excited to be participating in this.” Wheeler continued. “The administration and the board have been incredibly supportive in allowing us to take the entire crew to Utah for this performance.”
The KCACTF was held from February 13-18. Those selected to move on, will be heading to Washington D.C. for the finals.