Hollins Enjoys Double Presence at Women’s Theatre Festival

The works of two Hollins playwrights were recently showcased at an event that champions gender parity, diversity, and inclusion in the American theatre.

She Made Space, written and performed by Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18, and And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky by Rachel Nelson ’07 were featured at the 2019 Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), held July 12 – 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The WTF stages productions and readings that are written and directed by women and feature casts and crews that are at least 50 percent women.

She Made Space is an honest and touching story spotlighting a twenty-something intellectual American lesbian tourist who arrives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. “The play traces the steps she has taken to get there in consideration of the occupation of space – both inside, and outside, of herself,” Cope-Levy explains.

“There was something incredibly gratifying about performing She Made Space, a show that celebrates queer communities and identity, in a queer-centric space,” she says. “The intimacy of it allowed the audience to interact with me in a way that has never really happened before. This is the first time I think this show has ever seen a predominantly female and queer audience. Having not performed the show myself since we workshopped it in 2016, it was also meaningful for me personally to put this character back on and share my words in such a physically personal way.”

And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky
Actors perform “And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky” at the Women’s Theatre Festival.

A powerfully poignant play, And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky explores moving through grief, together and alone. “On the eve of a total eclipse of the sun, three women throughout history each contemplate the things and people they have lost,” Nelson says. “As the light begins to fade, their stories become deeply intertwined in unexpected ways.”

She adds that crucial work was done with the production last winter in order to prepare it for venues such as the WTF. “This show was in residence at Hollins in January of this year, and that residency gave us incredible clarity about rewrites, which really paid off in this production. It also generated support with the students – after having seen it through multiple drafts, they really care about this show and have a vested interest in where it goes next.”

The staging of each play was made possible by all-Hollins casts and crews. She Made Space was directed by Lauren B. Ellis M.F.A. ’20 and stage managed by Shelby Love M.F.A. ’20. “Lauren has done such a brilliant job directing this production and this show is a true labor of love for us both,” Cope-Levy says. “We are hoping to take it back on the road to other fringe festivals.”

And because of the efforts of Susie Young ’10, Natalie Pendergast ’17, Kendall Comolli ’20, and Megan Gilbert ‘20, the production of And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky persevered despite a significant setback.

“I had to evacuate my home in New Orleans due to Hurricane Barry the day before the festival, so I could only contribute long distance,” Nelson says, “and the team really had to rally at the last second. Susie stepped up as a director and performer, and her genius and fortitude really made this happen. She and I have been working on this play for three years now, and even though I wrote it, it’s based on a lot of conversations and explorations that we did together into grief. In so many ways she’s the heart of this project.

“I also want to thank Natalie for her performance; Kendall (the show’s original stage manager), who filled in as an actor; and Megan, who took over as stage manager. I am incredibly proud of all of them.”

“Of course we were bummed to not have Rachel with us,” Cope-Levy adds, “but her team demonstrated how important it is for theatre artists to be interdisciplinary – and how well Hollins prepares us for that.”

The Artistic Home, an entity designed by Nelson and Hollins Theatre Chair Ernie Zulia, is a major force behind the success of the two plays. “It supports recent Hollins grads through their first years in the professional theatre community by offering them connections with more established alumnae and current students. At the same time, they make exciting new theatre,” Nelson explains. “The WTF is a perfect example of the kind of work The Artistic Home does. There were several generations of Hollins family in collaboration – current Hollins students worked alongside Hollins professors and alumnae of the theatre program. This kind of cross-generation pollinating creates a team that mutually supports the growth of our young professional alumnae and enriches the education and professional experience of current Hollins students.”

“I physically felt my heart burst in witnessing The Artistic Home’s manifestation in these two back-to-back productions,” Cope-Levy says. “I also want to acknowledge the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins for its ardent support of She Made Space from our early workshops all the way through to this fringe festival tour.”

Nelson notes that “writing a play is often an isolating experience,” but her ties to Hollins ensure she doesn’t feel alone during the process. “I know I have the support of a community, and that I’m not writing into a vacuum. Events like this festival always remind me that the Hollins community is so much bigger than just the campus. It really does stretch around the world.”

 

Top Photo: Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 performs She Made Space, which she wrote. 


Hollins Playwright Wins National Kennedy Center Award

Sean Michael McCord, a student in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, has received the Kennedy Center’s National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting (NPATP) Award for his full-length play, Moving.

The NPATP Award comes with a cash prize; membership in the Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis; an invitation to attend the National Festival at the Kennedy Center, April 16 – 19; and a professional development summer residency. McCord’s play was nominated from among eight Kennedy Center college regions for the national award.

Moving tells the story of several couples over 30 years as they move in and out of a single apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The story was inspired by some of McCord’s own adventures as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter after graduating from the UCLA Film School. The play was first developed as a staged reading for the Playwright’s Lab, where McCord is pursuing his Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree.

“We’re very proud of the recognition this play is receiving, and how that success reflects on the graduate playwriting program at Hollins,” notes Playwright’s Lab Program Director Todd Ristau, who will be directing a full production of Moving as part of the Hollins – Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works in January 2020. “You learn the most about a play when you are in production and I’m really looking forward to helping Sean continue to develop the piece in rehearsal.”

McCord, a resident of Charlottesville, plans to start his M.F.A. thesis play at Hollins this summer. “It’s been an amazing journey,” he says. “Moving was the first full-length play I wrote after my initial year at Hollins, utilizing all the tools I was given in my early classes, and it has continued to follow me in my development as a playwright.”

Moving premiered in Charlottesville in 2017 as the inaugural production of the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective, a theatre company started by McCord and other local playwrights dedicated to the production of new works by area writers. In addition to the NPATP Award, Moving has won the Southeastern Theatre Conference 2018 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and the 2019 David L. Shelton Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region IV.

 

 


Playwright’s Lab Earns National Recognition with Multiple Kennedy Center Awards

Students and faculty of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University have been honored with 12 awards in direction, production, acting, and playwriting by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).

The artists were recognized at the 2018 KCACTF National Festival, held April 9 – 14 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

This year’s winners include:

  • Outstanding Director of a New Work: Todd Ristau for Cold by Ben Jolivet
  • Outstanding Production of a New Work: Cold by Ben Jolivet
  • Distinguished Production of a New Work: Absence Makes the Heart by Sean Abley
  • Distinguished Performance and Production Ensemble: Cold by Ben Jolivet
  • Distinguished Performance by an Actress in a Play: Bonny Branch in Cold by Ben Jolivet
  • Distinguished Performance by an Actress in a Play: Emma Sperka in Cold by Ben Jolivet
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Playwriting: Ben Jolivet for Cold
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Performance: Susie Young in Absence Makes the Heart by Sean Abley
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Playwriting: Meredith Dayna Levy for She Made Space
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Directing: Lauren Brooke Ellis for She Made Space by Meredith Dayna Levy
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Dramaturgy: Katie Stueckle for She Made Space by Meredith Dayna Levy
  • Commendation for Distinguished Achievement in Performance: Meredith Dayna Levy for She Made Space by Meredith Dayna Levy

The KCACTF has served as a catalyst for improving the quality of college theater in the United States for nearly 50 years. Featuring a network of more than 700 academic institutions throughout the country, the organization celebrates the finest and most diverse work produced in university and college theater programs and encourages institutions of higher learning to give distinguished productions of new plays, especially those written by students. The KCACTF honors excellence of overall production and offers student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, dramatic criticism, directing, and design.

 

Photo caption: Todd Ristau (right), director of the M.F.A. program in playwriting at Hollins, is congratulated on receiving the KCACTF’s 2018 Outstanding Director of a New Work award.

 


Playwright’s Lab Director Earns Kennedy Center Theatre Festival Honor

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) has presented its highest award to the director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University.

Todd Ristau, who has guided the M.F.A. program in playwriting since its inception in 2007, has received the KCACTF Gold Medallion, one of the most prestigious honors in theatre education.

The medallion recognizes “individuals or organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and producing of theatre and who have significantly dedicated their time, artistry, and enthusiasm to the development of the KCACTF.”

In announcing the award, the KCACTF praised Ristau for having “demonstrated innovative leadership in the field of new play development and [making] a tremendous impact in the vitally important area of nurturing playwrights and new plays. Todd Ristau works tirelessly to bring quality instruction and experiences to students. An innovative and engaging teacher, he has developed a program that truly puts students at the center, fostering the individual growth of each playwright’s style rather than turning out a specific type of playwright.

“One salient example of the Playwright’s Lab’s contributions is student Meredith Dana Levy, 2014 winner of KCACTF’s National Student Playwriting Award for her play Decision Height, which has been published by Samuel French and has enjoyed over 40 productions to date.”

“To say we are proud of Todd Ristau and all the members of the Hollins Playwright’s Lab is about as big an understatement that one could make,” Ernie Zulia, director of the Hollins Theatre Institute, told The Roanoke Times. “Receiving such an honor brings a national spotlight to Hollins and Roanoke, affirming our goal to be an ignition point for new work in the United States.”

 


Overnight Sensations: Roanoke’s Favorite Micro-Brewed Play Festival Returns July 9

Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Main Stage will host Overnight Sensations, one of Roanoke’s most popular summer traditions, on Saturday, July 9, at 8 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

On Friday night, July 8, six playwrights will be randomly paired with six directors, who then randomly draw from a hat a variety of writing prompts and a pre-selected cast of six actors each. By 8 a.m. Saturday morning, each playwright has to write a ten-minute play incorporating the prompts. Last-minute changes are made in collaboration with the directors over breakfast, and the actors arrive at 11 a.m. to begin rehearsals. The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. Saturday night.

Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, created Overnight Sensations while serving as Mill Mountain Theatre’s literary associate in 2006. The Playwright’s Lab began co-producing the event the following year.

“The Hollins connection makes it possible for local writers and performers to share the stage with famous theatre artists from around the world as well as student playwrights pursuing their graduate degrees at the university,” Ristau explained.

This year’s playwrights include three members of the Playwright’s Lab: faculty member Megan Gogerty and M.F.A. students Eric Eidson and Lydia Stewart. Roanoke’s own Dwayne Yancey and local favorites Ben R. Williams and Samantha Macher round out the playwriting roster.

Special guest directors for Overnight Sensations are Bonnie Metzgar, interim director of Chicago’s American Theatre Company, and Bob Moss, who was recently honored as a “Living Legend” by the Off-Broadway Association. Patrick Kennerly, Lauren B. Ellis, Susie Young, and Maura Campbell, all students in the Playwright’s Lab’s Certificate Program in New Play Directing, will also serve as directors.

For more information, contact the Mill Mountain Theatre box office at (540) 342-5730.

 


Kennedy Center Honors Hollins Playwright, Director

The national committee of The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) has recognized the play Coupler by Meredith Dayna Levy ’12 with its “Distinguished Production of New or Devised Work” award.

Levy is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins. This is not the first time the KCACTF has acknowledged her achievements: In 2013, she won the National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award, considered a gold medal, and the regional David Shelton Award for her original script, Decision Height. The following year, she received the Mimi and Harold Steinberg National Student Playwriting Award, which encourages college students to write for the stage by providing the opportunity for them to collaborate with actors, directors, and others through all stages of production, including rehearsals and performances.

Described as “whimsical comedy,” Coupler takes place in the London Underground, where the occupants of the last car on the Northern Line have lost parents, partners, and possibly themselves. They criss-cross through the heart of the Underground, holding on to what was and hoping for what might be.

The award also honors Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau, who directed the production.

Coupler was staged during the 2016 Hollins-Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works, held in January.

Established in 1969, the KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide. It serves as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. The KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theatre departments and student artists showcase their work.


Hollins Welcomes $6.5 Million Pledge to Support Science, Theatre, and Playwriting Programs

Hollins University has received a financial commitment of $6.5 million from Mr. and Mrs. James McDonnell III to fund renovations to the university’s Dana Science Building and Hollins Theatre, and expand the number of faculty in the theatre and playwriting programs.

Pledge payments will begin in fiscal year 2015-16.

Of the total gift commitment, $4 million is earmarked to upgrade classroom furniture, research equipment, projector systems, teaching laboratories, and technology in Dana, which is home to Hollins’ biology, chemistry, mathematics/statistics, physics, and psychology departments.

“This investment gives our outstanding faculty the tools they need to continue facilitating the serious study of the sciences in a comfortable and inviting environment,” said Hollins President Nancy Gray. “We are proud of our record of preparing women for graduate school and careers in this field. These funds help make certain we can offer quality education in the sciences for many years to come.”

The remaining $2.5 million is allocated to endow a faculty chair in the theatre program ($1,000,000); endow visiting professional artist positions in the theatre program and the graduate Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University ($600,000 and $500,000, respectively); and to make capital improvements to the Hollins Theatre facility ($400,000). The latter includes ADA compliance for the theatre’s annex and the installation of a new wooden floor for rehearsal space.

“The Hollins Theatre is already a jewel in the crown of the university and is poised to become a highly competitive player in the world of academic theatres,” Gray explained. “This funding will ensure our position and continued success for our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

Gray added that the Playwright’s Lab’s first visiting artist will be Bob Moss, whom she described as “a giant in American theatre. He has over 50 years of directing experience and founded Playwrights Horizons, which produced over 150 new plays during his tenure. He has served as the artistic director of Edward Albee’s Playwrights’ Unit and has served on the faculty of Syracuse University and Ithaca College. A theatre in New York was recently named in his honor.”

Gray said that in addition to teaching and directing in the Playwright’s Lab, Moss would introduce Hollins students to top literary managers and facilitate student play readings in New York.

The McDonnells’ gift commitment continues their legacy of generosity to Hollins. In 2009, they pledged $3 million to transform and update the theatre space. Three years later, the Hollins Theatre was dedicated in their honor.


Works by Hollins Playwrights Highlight New Voices Playfest, May 1-2

Hollins playwrights Meredith Dayna Levy, Wendy-Marie Martin, and Anne G’Fellers Mason will be featured at Atlantic Stage’s Fourth Annual New Voices Playfest in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Readings take place on Friday, May 1, beginning at 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 2, starting at noon.

Levy and Mason are pursuing their Master of Fine Arts degrees through the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, while Martin completed her M.F.A. in the playwriting program in 2014.

The goal of the New Voices Playfest is to discover and present through a weekend of readings some of the most dynamic and exciting new work for the stage. Atlantic Stage, a professional theatre, solicited new work in the categories of ten-minute plays, one-act plays, and full-length plays over the past year. All submitted work must have been unproduced at the time of submission, and playwrights may submit one play per category.

The plays are blind submissions and selected by a panel of guest professional readers.

All readings are free and open to the public. Check the website for a complete list of readings, times and other events.

The New Voices Playfest is administered by Kevin Ferguson, playwright-in-residence, resident dramaturg, and literary manager at Atlantic Stage. He is also a graduate of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins.

Atlantic Stage’s mission is to enhance the cultural landscape of the Myrtle Beach area by providing quality theatrical productions of classical, contemporary, and new works that are entertaining and enlightening.

 


Hollins, Mill Mt. Theatre Partner to Present Winter Festival of New Works

The Hollins Theatre Institute and Mill Mountain Theatre (MMT) are joining forces to produce three never-before-seen plays as part of the Hollins – Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works during January and February.

The productions are all written by playwrights from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University and will be presented on MMT’s professional stages.

“The Winter Festival of New Works is becoming a very important part of the theatre season in town,” says Hollins Theatre Institute Director Ernie Zulia. “Exciting stuff is coming out of the Playwright’s Lab, and the festival is the major showcase for our plans, hopes, and dreams to make Roanoke and Hollins a major national force in the development of new work for the American stage.”

This year’s schedule includes:

  • Helvetica by Will Coleman
    January 16 – 17, 23 – 24 at 7:30 p.m., January 18 and 25 at 2 p.m.
    Waldron Stage, Mill Mountain Theatre
    Admission: $10 general (Purchase tickets online or call the Hollins Theatre box office at 540-362-6517.)
    With wit and charm, an unlikely guide leads bestselling children’s storybook Helvetica Burke through the adventures of life and death, family and fantasy, and past and present, encountering laughter and tears along the way. “Helvetica is a beautifully lyrical and whimsical play that is certain to grab your heart,” says Zulia. “It won this year’s top national award from the Southeastern Theatre Conference.”
  • The Adventures of Iris and Walter, based on the books of Elissa Haden Guest and adapted by Nicole B. Adkins (both Guest and Adkins earned their Master of Fine Arts degrees from Hollins in 2012)
    February 5 – 6, 10 a.m.
    Main Stage, Hollins Theatre
    February 7, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
    Trinkle Stage, Mill Mountain Theatre
    Admission: $5 for children, $8 for adults (
    Purchase tickets online or call the Hollins Theatre box office at 540-362-6517.)
    Iris is lonely and unhappy when her family moves from the big city to the country, until she climbs a tree and meets her new best friend, Walter. A rambunctious baby sister, an ornery cousin, and several surprises present the duo with great adventures and important learning opportunities. “This is the first year we are expanding the festival into the realm of children’s theatre,” explains Zulia. The play, a Hollins Legacy Series production, is recommended for children of all ages, especially pre-K through fourth grade.
  • An Initial Condition by Taylor Gruenloh
    February 17 – 21 at 7:30 p.m., February 21 – 22 at 2 p.m.
    Waldron Stage, Mill Mountain Theatre
    Admission: $10 general (
    Purchase tickets online or call the box office at 540-362-6517.)
    Chance, a young mathematician, is brought on to help map out cancer in a young woman’s body. His determination to solve the problem of Sarah’s illness through mathematical oncology takes Chance to places that are unimaginable – professionally, emotionally, and spiritually. “An Initial Condition will also be staged in New York March 13 – 15 at Playwrights Horizons, a writer’s theater dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers and lyricists, and to the production of their new work,” Zulia notes. The play is directed by Playwrights Horizons’ founding artistic director, Bob Moss.

Zulia calls the Winter Festival of New Works “the cornerstone in the growing partnership between Hollins and MMT. We are exploring new levels of collaboration that we think will advance the impact of live theatre on the Roanoke Valley.”