Brett Iarrobino ’21 has been named a national finalist for the John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Play by the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Dramatists Guild of America. He will stage a reading of his work, “Talking (Air)Heads,” at the 2021 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival on Jan. 29.
Iarrobino, a theatre arts and English double major, wrote the one-act piece, which takes a playful look at the inner life and existential dread of birthday party balloons, during Clark University Player’s Society’s fourth annual 24-hour play fest, Play-in-a-Day 2020. The idea for the script was born out of Professors Gino DiIorio and Stephen DiRado’s Image and Word course, which pairs playwriting and photography students throughout the semester to create art inspired by each other’s work.
While partnered with Xuemeng Zhang ’20, Iarrobino was drawn to a series of photographs she created of ornately decorated balloons called “Send Me to the Clouds.” After studying the images, he decided to bring two of the subjects to life.
“I really loved these two beautiful pink and green balloons, and I wanted them to talk,” he recalls. “The play starts out really silly and absurd. I tried not to be too heavy handed with the concept and treated it as any other play I’d written before — having the characters talk on stage as three-dimensional beings that have wishes, wants, and desires. It ended up being a very existential piece.”
In “Talking (Air)Heads,” the balloons are aware that they only exist for about two weeks before deflating or getting popped. But if they’re lucky, they’ll float into the sky — or “The Up,” as the mystical place is known in the balloon world.
Iarrobino submitted the play, along with several other works, to the Kennedy Center in October. When he found out he’d been named a regional finalist and national semifinalist for the John Cauble Award, he was overjoyed.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “It’s crazy what’s already been achieved with this play and what I’m up for further down the line.”
“Talking (Air)Heads” will go up against 15 other plays written by college students from across the country. The first-place award includes $500, an all-expenses paid professional development opportunity, and active membership in the Dramatist Guild. Iarrobino’s 18-minute play will also be performed virtually during the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
“I had to go through a very rigorous casting process that was completed last week,” he explains. “Traditionally for the National Playwriting Program, all of the casting and rehearsal would happen at the conference itself.”
This year’s regional conference — which typically takes place on Cape Cod — will be held virtually from Jan. 24 to 31. Over the past several weeks, Iarrobino and his director reviewed audition tapes from about 50 students from across New England and narrowed them down to the top four choices for each of the roles.
“There wasn’t a lot of discussion about different identities or aspects of these characters because they’re balloons, so I didn’t care about gender or anything like that. I was just looking for talent,” Iarrobino says. “We are very excited to be working with such accomplished theatre students.”
The roles will be performed over Zoom by students from Wellesley College and Boston University.
“No matter what happens at the national level and no matter what happens at the festival reading, there’s nothing that could make this experience any less exhilarating,” Iarrobino says. “Writing and storytelling is an exhausting process — sometimes the best thing that can happen to you and your work is to have someone stop and appreciate it, even if nothing else comes of that appreciation. I’m humbled, as an aspiring playwright, to get that kind of appreciation this early in my career.”
To read an excerpt from “Talking (Air)Heads,” click here.