This Roanoke Times editorial praises the annual Hollins Festival of New Works (July 22-24), which showcases new plays by writers from our Playwright’s Lab – and where audiences might get to see the next Hamilton in progress.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
From Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City to Burlington, Vermont, and here in Roanoke, the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University is developing an impressive number of new stage productions by emerging student writers, thanks to a collaborative program described as “re-inventing Off-Off-Broadway.”
The New Works Initiative of the Playwright’s Lab was established in 2008 and has already helped provide production assistance and travel costs for dozens of student readings and productions in legitimate theatres nationally and locally. It enables student writers to work with guest professional directors and offers support for them to work as actors, dramaturgs, and designers on plays by prominent guest writers associated with the Playwright’s Lab such as Lucy Thurber, recipient of the first Gary Bonasorte Memorial Prize for Playwriting; television writer and playwright Jeff Goode; and Obie Award-winner W. David Hancock.
“We have been able to bring more than 70 top-tier artists to Roanoke to work with our students and build an energized, enthusiastic audience for new plays,” says Todd Ristau, program director of the Playwright’s Lab. “It is the perfect place to develop new work that can go on to productions in major theatre centers.” For example, The Arctic Circle and a Recipe for Swedish Pancakes, written by Playwright’s Lab student Samantha Macher, was produced at Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre and then transferred with the original cast to the Playwright’s Horizon Studios in Manhattan.
“We’ve mounted more than 25 full productions of plays associated with our program, and we’ve staged dozens of readings, presented special touring events and workshops by nationally known theatre artists, and provided support for our students who are creating their own new companies and doing new work all over the country.”
Ristau notes that in many cases the biggest barrier to producing new work is finding adequate funding to cover the production and travel costs. However, he emphasizes that “the Playwright’s Lab feels it is an important part of our mission to sponsor our student writers when opportunities to realize their work on stage arise. That’s why we have established a separate fund for the sole purpose of offsetting costs associated with the production and presentation of plays by or involving our students,” a fund that depends largely on individual donors as well as local businesses and area arts organizations.
“It’s mutually beneficial,” he explains. “In exchange for financially supporting the work that we’re doing, businesses and organizations get exposure to a growing demographic of hip, smart, vocal audiences. The relationships we forge therefore have a profound cultural and economic impact on our community.” In addition, Ristau says these associations are helping make Roanoke more and more of “an ignition point” for new work that creates strong connections with the international theatre scene.
“Building partnerships like this and creating opportunities for the success they afford our students is nothing short of revolutionary.”
The Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University will present The Matador, “a one-act anti-play” by Robert Plowman and directed by Todd Ristau, on the Waldron Stage of Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre February 6 – 10.
A Hollins Theatre original production, two of the university’s student playwrights, and three Hollins student actors have been recognized by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), a national theatre program dedicated to improving the quality of college theatre in the United States.
Hollins Theatre’s staging of Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia is one of five full productions from the southeastern United States chosen for performance at the Region IV KCACTF, which takes place February 5 – 9 at Darton College in Albany, Georgia. One of the productions will be selected to represent the region and compete for the top prize at the 45th annual national KCACTF in Washington, D.C., in April.
Bellocq’s Ophelia is based on the book of poetry by Trethewey, a 1991 graduate of Hollins’ master of arts program in English and creative writing, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and the current Poet Laureate of the United States. Adapted by Associate Professor of Theatre Ernest Zulia, Associate Professor of English T.J. Anderson III, and Lexie Martin Mondot, a member of Hollins’ class of 2012, the play premiered at Hollins Theatre last February and was presented as a concert reading at The Kennedy Center’s 11th annual Page to Stage Festival of New Play Readings in September.
In addition, the KCACTF’s Region IV awarded its top playwriting honor to Meredith Dayna Levy, who graduated from Hollins last spring. Levy was recognized for her drama, Decision Height, which Hollins Theatre originally staged in October. The play will be presented as a concert reading at the Region IV KCACTF and as a full production at the festival in 2014. Decision Height has also been nominated for two major national prizes to be awarded at The Kennedy Center in April.
Kevin Ferguson, who along with Levy is currently a graduate student in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, had two of his original scripts selected for the regional festival as part of the Region IV National Playwriting Program. Follies a Deux and Losing Sight were chosen for the Ten-Minute Play and One-Act Play categories, respectively. Both will be presented in staged readings and will compete for the top prize for Short Plays at the national KCACTF this spring.
“Naturally, all of us in the theatre department are proud and excited to have our work receive such validation,” said Zulia. “It’s highly unusual that one university should win so many honors. As the Region IV chairman said, ‘It sort of looks like it’s going to be an all-Hollins festival!’”
Zulia also announced that three Hollins students, seniors Kaitlin Heath and Maria Latiolais and sophomore Russell Wilson, have been nominated to compete for the national Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships, which provide recognition, honor, and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education. Approximately 400 students vie for this prestigious acting award.
“This could not have come at a better time,” Zulia stated. “We now have fantastic, newly renovated facilities, and have earned a strong reputation for excellent productions, so we are poised to take the next steps to make Hollins a place where students want to come specifically to study theatre and playwriting on the undergraduate and graduate levels. This valuable recognition will definitely help advance the cause.”
The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) honored a Hollins Theatre original production and two of the university’s student playwrights with national awards as part of its annual recognition of outstanding theatrical work by colleges and universities across the country.
Hollins Theatre’s staging of Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia received the equivalent of four silver medals, including “Distinguished Production of a New Work,” “Distinguished Performance and Production Ensemble,” “Distinguished Scenic Design,” and “Distinguished Choreography.” Bellocq’s Ophelia is based on the book of poetry by Trethewey, a 1991 graduate of Hollins’ master of arts program in English and creative writing, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and the current Poet Laureate of the United States. Adapted by Associate Professor of Theatre Ernest Zulia, Associate Professor of English T.J. Anderson III, and Lexie Martin Mondot, a member of Hollins’ class of 2012, the play debuted at Hollins Theatre in February 2012. It was subsequently one of five full productions from the southeastern United States chosen for performance at the Region IV KCACTF, which was held in February of this year in Georgia.
Meredith Levy, who graduated from Hollins in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, won the National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award, considered a gold medal, as well as the regional David Shelton Award for her original script, Decision Height, which premiered at Hollins Theatre last October. The play was presented as a concert reading at this year’s Region IV KCACTF and will be staged as a full production at the festival in 2014.
Another graduate student in the Playwright’s Lab, Kevin Ferguson, was honored as a National Finalist for The John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Play for his script, Losing Sight.
The awards will be officially presented at the national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which takes place April 17 – 20 in Washington, D.C.
Robert Plowman, an M.F.A. student in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, is the winner of the 2014 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award for his work, The Missing Link.
A Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) panel of readers who are prominent in the profession selected The Missing Link for recognition from 58 submissions.
As the winning playwright, Plowman will receive a staged reading and critique at the SETC’s annual convention in Mobile, Alabama, and an all-expense paid trip to attend. He will also be presented a $1,000 cash award at the SETC’s annual gala on March 9, 2014. The play will be considered for publication in Southern Theatre magazine.
The Missing Link will contend for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) Award for Excellence in Playwriting. That award will be announced next year and the winner will receive further development opportunities through SETC’s partnership with the ATHE.
“We’re especially proud to note that the winning play was written for the course First Drafts,” said Playwright’s Lab Program Director Todd Ristau, who teaches the class. “The Missing Link joins an impressive list of plays from this course that have received professional readings, productions, and publications. At Hollins, we do indeed get work done.”