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March 7, 2014
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Professor's plays hit international stage

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - It's a Slippery Rock University theatre professor and playwright's dream come true: Theatre insiders in Europe and Australia notice your plays and then ask permission to perform them at a university and an arts festival.

The story played out in quadruplicate recently for David Skeele, SRU professor of theatre. The University of Basel in Basel, Switzerland, will perform three of Skeele's horror plays: "Starla," "The Margins" and "Hungry Jane," April 18-May 3.

Australia gave Skeele a call too, when Lexx Productions in Canberra, Australia, asked to perform "Hungry Jane" in its October festival of short plays.

The productions of "Hungry Jane" mark the play's first performances. SRU students performed "The Margins" in Edinburgh, Scotland, and SRU alumni performed it in Pittsburgh. Earlier this year, "The Margin" was performed at The University of Ibadan in Nigeria. "Starla" has been performed in England, Scotland and Boston.

"It's really fun to know these plays are being seen all over the world," Skeele said. Basel will stage the plays as part of its show titled "In the Dark."

"The company at the University of Basel is apparently a long-established, English-language theatre," Skeele said.

The Switzerland connection originated with Joshua Malik, a graduate student at the University of Basel. He became aware of the plays through Skeele's website, where he keeps full copies of his plays for people to read.

"It's a little risky, but so far I'm only aware of one person doing them without permission," he said.

Lexx Productions picked "Hungry Jane" off his website too. "People Google horror theatre and it is one of the first links that comes up," Steele said.

Skeele said he collects royalties when his plays are performed. In many cases, his work is produced by small, struggling companies or school groups, so he asks for a symbolic fee such as the price of one ticket for each night of the run.

"As a playwright, I'm just happy to see the plays being done. It's really the main thing, to see or hear of people being moved and entertained by what you've written. Though I won't be able to get to Basel or Canberra, I have asked for any photos, videos and reviews, so I can share in the experience with my students."

Skeele said SRU students benefit from his experience.

"It gives me credibility as a teacher of playwriting," he said. "My students understand that with an appropriate amount of hard work, they can get their plays in a similar situation."

The latest batch are plays of supernatural horror. "The Margins" deals with a group of psychics who has gathered together to try and create a ghost. Little do they know, they end up being manipulated into summoning the ghost of a 19th century maid who was a violent schizophrenic.

"Starla" is about a lecherous theatre professor who brings a young coed into his university's condemned theatre building, supposedly to work on her Lady Macbeth monologue in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." In an attempt to frighten her, he tells the story of a former student who kills herself and attempts to summon her spirit.

Hungry Jane is about a woman who is being terrorized by the ghost of a little girl.

Skeele, who joined SRU in 1993, said he has directed more than 35 plays. He has written more than 10 plays, including "Dark North," "Deep Church Hollow," "The Barwell Prophency" and "Electra: An American Gothic."

Skeele said college audiences across the country and around world seem to appreciate the horror genre.

"The appeal for me, and for the young audiences, is the idea that in the theatre you are quite literally trapped in the room with the horror," he said. "It tends to be unnerving, and in a different way than young audiences are used to. They grew up on the so-called 'slasher' films, where the emphasis is on gore, but in these plays the emphasis is more on what's going on inside the characters' heads. That unseen horror tends to be much scarier than gore, provided the actors can make you believe in it."

At SRU, Skeele teaches playwriting, acting and theatre history.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.