Preface: 3 One-Act Plays for Outlaw Playwrights

Outlaw Playwrights was assembled by undergraduate theater majors (and some graduate students) at the University Park campus of Penn State, and ran from the early 90s through the early Aughts. It was generally held once a week during semesters, at 11:15 pm on Thursday nights, in a black box theater in the basement of the main theater building near North Halls and the Palmer Museum of Art in State College. Between 1997 and 1999, I had four one-acts produced by the Outlaws— The Touched: A Very Black Comedy, Hearing Angels, Dada Circus, and Mortuary Puppies. If I deem Hearing Angels too naïve to be included, the other three still hold some interest for me— as experiments done by a young writer with some theater experience (I had done the Carnegie Mellon pre-college program for drama as a teenager), feeling around for a way to make a one-act play interesting (a one-act being theater’s equivalent of a sonnet), employing avant-garde extremity and poetic language (especially in Mortuary Puppies) to do so.

The Outlaws theater crowd was an interesting one— and by the time I left State College in late ’98 (Mortuary Puppies was produced in ’99 without me being there), I had spent some time hanging out and partying with them. They were, admittedly, very insular, and when I began attending Outlaws with my friends in ‘94/’95, we would poke fun at their dramatic gestures and semi-affected interactions (as a non theater-major, it took me a few years to infiltrate Outlaws enough to become a viable playwright for them). What I later realized is that the PSU theater crew felt vulnerable, as actors/actresses often do, among crowds different from themselves, and Outlaw Playwrights had a solid following (also) among non theater majors on campus. The feeling each Thursday night— that you could see anyone at Outlaws, making it an el primo occasion to see and be seen— made it heart-stopping for everyone, especially because the convention was to hang out in the L-shaped, garishly lit hallway which wrapped around the black-box theater for 15-20 minutes before the door opened. Going down the long staircase towards the L-shaped hallway and the black box, I always got butterflies. 

In fact, from about supper-time onwards I always had butterflies on Thursday nights. Outlaw Playwrights, in fact, was one operative feature of PSU which made it so that for the years I was there, I never felt pinched by the football-n-frats imbroglio of State College life. Paterno, for me and for those of my ilk, might as well have been on the moon. Nineties State College was artsy. And these one-acts do the task of reliving moments for me, as a tangent to other 90s State College memories, of writing just for the hell of it, and to achieve the short-term goal of indie State College fame and fortune by making it with the Outlaws, and their minions.