Theatre debuts work written by students

Two women standing on the left, one is looking sad while the other is comforting the sad one. A woman stands to the right reading something to the two women.
Brand New Theatre prides itself for exclusively showcasing student written works and for cultivating student talent through its writer workshops, staged readings and various full-length and one act productions. (Photo courtesy of Tess Patton)

Established in 1996, Brand New Theatre is the oldest student-run production company at USC. Since its founding, BNT has solely highlighted work written by students. BNT has several different branches, including executive, literary, marketing, design and production teams. Sarah Costigan, a freshman majoring in stage management, serves as BNT’s production manager, organizes the technical aspects of each show. 

“BNT is important because it’s a place where everyone can participate in theatre just because they love it. You don’t have to be a theatre major to participate in an ISP, and everyone’s there because they genuinely love creating these plays,” Costigan said. “We only produce student-written works, which I think is the future of theatre. Theatre is meant to be new and exciting, and that’s exactly what BNT is.”

It’s not just the plays that are student-produced, everything related to BNT revolves around students at USC, from makeup to directing and costume design. 

Alex Ketcham, a freshman majoring in theatre, currently works as BNT’s secretary. Joining the company during his first semester at USC last fall, he performed in a one-act production. 

“We have lots of opportunities to get involved as a playwright, as a director, as actors, as designers,” Ketcham said. “There’s so many ways to get involved with this organization, and really take charge and be creative and challenge yourself, and that’s why I love this organization.” 

BNT also offers students playwrights an opportunity for significant professional development as students at USC. 

“I really value BNT because no one expects you to know everything, and they’re really open to teaching aspiring lighting designers lighting design or someone who is interested in sound designing how to sound design,” Costigan said. “I walked in with zero experience as a production manager, and everyone has supported me, and it’s been really awesome. So I value the educational aspect and the environment of BNT.” 

Though BNT initially featured four one-acts in a single show in 2012, the company refocused its efforts on producing full-length productions, several have found success outside of the student-run production company. 

Their first full-length production, “Here’s the Thing,” was selected to be a part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2012. Moreover, the play “GET. THAT. SNITCH.” by Achilles Capone, professionally debuted in Fall 2015 at the Atwater Village Theater in Los Angeles. 

Every semester, BNT’s student producing committee reviews plays submitted by student playwrights. Each production team member reads the plays individually with the names crossed out to ensure fairness. Then, in a group meeting, the students choose one play, though they keep the others in mind for future staged readings. 

This spring, the BNT production team chose to put on “The Bridge of Birds” by Eden Treiman, a junior majoring in  theatre and narrative studies. The play is a modern retelling of a Korean folktale and explores interesting themes of family, love and loss. 

The story follows two star-crossed lovers in Los Angeles, specifically within Koreatown. “The Bridge of Birds” will be BNT’s first in-person full-length production since coronavirus pandemic began and stars Kiana Fong as Jenny, Henry Tsai as George, Mai Yang as Helen, Rebecca Ko as Umma and Thomas Winter as Appa. 

Violet Ko was chosen to direct the production, which is currently in the rehearsal process. Though Ko mainly sees herself as a writer because of her screenwriting background, “The Bridge of Birds” this spring and her one-act last fall have been unique experiences for her and have helped develop her directing skills. 

“I think the past couple semesters have shown me that I actually do enjoy directing and that I would maybe want to learn more about it,” said Ko, a senior majoring in theatre. “Not necessarily that I want to be a writer-director, but definitely I’m open to pursuing it in the future.” 

Ko also enjoys the community aspect of BNT and has made close friends throughout this process.  

“Everyone that’s involved in the production is very excited, and I don’t think you get that very often where you feel like you have this big community where you all are striving towards the same goal, ” Ko said. “The lead actress is one of my best friends. We met our freshman year when we did a musical together. She auditioned for this play, and it was a full circle moment for us where we were extras in a musical that we did together and then now we are doing this production. It’s been fun.”

BNT hosts other events in addition to their Fall One Acts Festival and Spring full-length productions. The company also holds literary workshops with playwrights and, staged readings and film festival. 

“It’s super fun to be able to see a production from its written stage to its performance, and I was able to get a taste of that last semester just by performing in it,” Ketcham said. “It’s just one of the most rewarding things to be able to see it from start to finish, which I think makes Brand New Theatre so special.”

“The Bridge of Birds” opens on April 1 at SDA’s Massman Theatre. The show will run through April 3.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, we incorrectly stated that Brand New Theatre hosts a 24-hour theatre festival. BNT hosts a theatre festival, but it does not have a 24-hour turn-around time. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.