Union stages inaugural New Play Festival April 25-28

April 15, 2024

Ten new plays, ten local playwrights, four days - Union Commonwealth University’s inaugural New Play Festival hits the stage April 25-28 and features over 40 participants from both Union and the surrounding community.

“From the writers, to actors, to directors, to promotion, this is a culmination of a ton of work, and I think it’ll be worth every second of watching,” says Union senior Jay Falls.

An award-winning actor and playwright himself, Falls sees the festival as a chance for all kinds of theatre artists to explore new territory, grow their craft, and make lasting connections with others. In addition to acting in the festival, Falls is directing two plays - one written by multiple-time PEN Prison Writing Award winner Derek R. Trumbo, Sr. and another by high school teacher and Union graduate student Seth Grindstaff.

“These writers have stories they need to tell, and I think they’re worth listening to,” Falls says.

History Professor Dr. Joseph Pearson had never ventured into playwriting before, but Dr. Jayme Kilburn’s call for original plays inspired him to turn his “pique and concern with social media and its effects on our society” into “Babel.”

“Honestly, I was pretty nervous about submitting it,” Pearson says. “Allegory is not very popular in 2024, but my wife encouraged me, and Prof. Kilburn was very supportive, too. To my surprise and joy, the students liked and responded to it.”

While the festival has created experiential learning opportunities for student directors like Falls and inspired new work like “Babel,” producing ten short plays also opens the door to a wider range of actors.

“People who don’t have the time to commit to a full-length production have been able to get involved because there aren’t as many rehearsals required for any one play,” Union’s theatre program director Dr. Jayme Kilburn explains.

Actors include Union veterans like Nijah Smith, Serah Christopher, Malik McCalpine, Robbie Wilder, Teyha Laws, and Maggie Heinrich, alongside local professional actors including Jude Timothy Harris, Sharee St.Louis Smith, Eileen Delaney Bass, and Mindi Eden, middle schoolers Dalton Dailey and David Abner, and a range of other students, faculty, and community members. Many of the cast and crew were part of the theatre’s recent production of “High School Musical” as well, which was the first musical to grace Rector Little Theatre in many years and showcased the phenomenal singing and stage presence of senior DeAaron Robinson as Troy.

Kilburn says the theatre has been able to experiment with new things this season because Union and the Barbourville community have “banded together to support the theatre program in so many varied ways,” and she is very grateful. Last month’s musical for instance, would not have been possible without community members John Howard as music director and Kim Yeager as technical director.

“I love the arts and what theatre can do for our community,” says student director Taryn Mills. “It brings Barbourville and Union together!”

Director Tia Cobb adds, “The New Play Festival shows off so many different forms of talent from people in our community. Such a wide range of stories are being told. There's something for everyone!”

Tickets for the festival are $5 ahead or pay-what-you-can at the door. Each performance will be held in Rector Little Theatre on Union’s campus and will feature five shows, as follows:


Thursday, April 25th, 8 p.m. & Saturday, April 27th, 8 p.m.

“It Ain’t Over ’Til the Pink Lady Sings” by Allison Fradkin

“Veritas” by Derek R. Trumbo, Sr.

“Brotherly Love” by Seth Grindstaff

“Lights and Sirens” by Skyler Jones

“The Big Game” by Clint McConnell


Friday, April 26th, 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 28th, 2 p.m.

“Nana Toby” by Paul Stansbury

“Babel” by Joseph Pearson

“The Magic Lounge” by David Sweet

“Off the Ledge” by Thomas Alvey

“Precious Life Haven” by Mayla McKeehan


To purchase tickets, go to www.unionky.edu/playfestival or contact Jayme Kilburn at (606) 546-1445 or jkilburn@unionky.edu.

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