“Decision Height” Revival Celebrates Ten Years of the Award-Winning Drama

“Oh my God, what am I going to write?”

This was the question nagging then-junior Meredith Dayna Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 while she was studying abroad in London during the spring of 2011. For her senior honors thesis, the theatre major knew she wanted to write a play, one with an all-female cast that would allow her “to practically use the actors I knew on campus and also speak to my experience as a college student.” What she didn’t know was, what exactly was the play going to be about?

“I was beating myself up about it,” Levy recalls.

All that changed when Levy learned that in 2009, President Barack Obama had signed into law a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the group known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the first women ever to fly American military aircraft. Created in World War II to fly noncombat military missions in the United States so that male pilots could take on combat missions in Europe and Asia, the WASP program logged more than 60 million miles and flew virtually every kind of aircraft operated by the Army Air Force.

Levy was astounded. She had never heard of the WASP program and was determined to learn more. She found a newspaper article about one of the pilots after she had flown her first solo flight. “All of her friends had dumped her into this wishing well per tradition. I thought, ‘This is something Hollins students are going to understand. We’re all about wacky traditions.’” But on a more profound level, Levy’s initial research told her that “even though I knew nothing at all about planes, the military, or physics, I decided this was an environment and a community that I could understand, and more importantly, my audience of students could understand.”Decision Height Flyer

Thus began Levy’s work on what would become the play Decision Height. The drama would have its Hollins Theatre Main Stage premiere in the fall of 2012, subsequently capture honors from the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and go on to be produced at high schools, colleges, and community theatres around the country. Hollins Theatre is now giving Decision Height its first revival in a virtual staging April 1-3 at 7:30 p.m.; April 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.; and April 11 at 2 p.m. (Admission is free and open to the public, but tickets are required; visit Brown Paper Tickets to request the Zoom link.)

Decision Height follows six women upon their arrival at a base in Sweetwater, Texas, for nine months of training before moving on to active duty. “We witness how their relationships develop and the ways in which they learn new things about themselves and each other, what motivates them and what gives them purpose and strength,” Levy explains. “By the end of the play, every character is sort of on a different path, but we know they’re united forever in friendship.”

Artistic Director and Chair of the Hollins Theatre Department Ernie Zulia, who was Levy’s advisor when she was an undergraduate, remembers when she first approached him prior to the 2011-12 academic year about writing a play as her honors thesis. “An honors thesis is a yearlong process, and I figured, ‘Terrific, that’s enough to occupy any new playwright for a year.’ But then she added, ‘I would like to design, produce, and direct the play.’ And I thought, ‘Sure, if anyone can take on that kind of effort, Meredith can.’ Not only was it sitting down and creating characters and dialogue, it also required intense research in order to do it authentically.”

WASPs Awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Deanie Parrish accepts the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her fellow WASPs at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Levy devoured every piece of background information she could find. A crucial discovery was an online collection of primary research materials compiled by Nancy Parrish, whose mother, Odean “Deanie” Bishop Parrish, was part of the WASP program. “Nancy has made it her life’s mission to document WASP, and I spent the entirety of the summer after I came back from London just eating this stuff up. I even got to talk to Nancy and Deanie. So many of the events in the play came out of that research and brought those stories to life. It can be intimidating when you’re faced with so many real people. How do you fictionalize it? You want to get every detail right and memorialize it perfectly.”

So, Levy devoted the fall of 2011 to “doing draft after draft after draft.” Friends took part in readings of the play “just trying to get the words out so that I could hear the play and determine what was missing or confusing. With each draft I was able to take a further step away from the history and lean more on my own lived experience, my friendships, and putting my own emotional truth into the play and amongst all the historical framework.”

Levy eventually invited Zulia and Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins, to attend those readings and offer feedback. “It needed more work, but it was a beautiful script,” Zulia says. “When you get a play to that point, it’s important to get it up on its feet so the playwright can see the play they’ve written.”

In February 2012, Decision Height went into rehearsals for its production that spring in the Upstairs Studio Theatre at Hollins, a venue designed for trying out new works. The staging “was received with such enthusiasm,” Zulia says. “People were in tears and talking about what an impact this play had on them. I’d seen plays through many incarnations and I knew some of the problems she’d need to fix as she continued to work on it, but I heard it loud and clear from the audience that something in this play was profoundly moving.”

After graduating in the spring of 2012, Levy moved into Hollins’ M.F.A. in Playwriting program. Zulia offered her a deal: If she spent that summer working on rewrites, he would put Decision Height on Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage. She continued adding new elements to the play with support from Zulia, Ristau, and Bob Moss, a member of the Playwright’s Lab faculty who has been called a “living legend of Off-Off Broadway.”

For Decision Height’s Main Stage production that October, Zulia invited representatives from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region IV, a program dedicated to improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. “The feedback we got was phenomenal,” Zulia notes, and in January 2013, KCACTF’s Region IV awarded its top playwriting honor to Levy.

A year later, Hollins and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre hosted the 2014 Region IV KCATCF and featured Decision Height as the opening event. “There were spontaneous standing ovations, people were so impressed by the work Meredith and the whole company had created,” Zulia says. “It definitely told us something good was happening. At this festival, national representatives from across the country for the Kennedy Center were in attendance. They selected Decision Height as the top new play of the year, and the top production of a play that season.”

Subsequently published by Samuel French, one of the world’s leading publishers and licensors of plays and musicals, Decision Height over the past seven years has reached broader audiences regionally and nationally. Levy got special satisfaction from seeing it staged at colleges and universities. “I’m always amazed when I go to a school and see students do the show. If it’s a single-sex environment, the actors are so excited – ‘This play feels like our school. This is me and my friends, this is our community.’ I expected that, but I’m also so delighted when I go to big state schools and the women say, ‘There are so few parts for us in so many of the main stage productions. I’ve never viewed any of my peers as friends when we’re competing for the same five parts. To do an all-female production, I feel like I’ve built a new family.’ Hearing these students talk about how they had discovered this whole new way of being in community with women, that it didn’t have to be adversarial or competitive, was huge. I didn’t set out to write a play that would do that, but it was gratifying to know the play was having such an impact.”

Decision Height Stage Scene
A scene from the original production of “Decision Height” on Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage in October 2012.

Zulia sees the Decision Height revival as a logical continuation of Hollins Theatre’s Legacy Series, which began a decade ago as a way to bring literary pieces by Hollins writers to the stage. Beginning with the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown ‘32, the Legacy Series has included A Woman of Independent Means (Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey ’60), Belloq’s Ophelia (Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard ’67, M.A. ’68), and Good Ol’ Girls (Lee Smith ’67 and Jill McCorkle M.A. ’81).

“Along comes Decision Height, and we thought, ‘Our playwriting program is a big part of our legacy along with our creative writing program,’” Zulia explains. “Some students came to me last year and asked, ‘When do we get to perform Decision Height?’, and it seemed like a good idea – let’s bring this play back and give our current students the opportunity to be a part of it. Its historical setting and themes are timeless.”

Levy believes Decision Height is the perfect title for the play and underscores why it continues to resonate with audiences of all ages, particularly the college demographic. “‘Decision Height’ is the flight term that was used for the critical moment where you have to decide if you’re going to land the plane or keep going. I thought that was such a great metaphor for what it feels like to graduate college and be at this point where you have to decide, what path you’re going to take with your life.

“Looking back after ten years, there’s no decision that you can’t change. But as a senior, I thought whatever I do next is going to define my life. It felt so huge, and this metaphor was really helpful to me to put my hands around that feeling and fear.”

 

 


International Film Festival Bestows Honors on Hollins Playwright’s Work

A feature film written by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University alumna has captured multiple awards at the Queen Palm International Film Festival in Palm Springs, California.

Samantha Macher M.F.A. ’12 won the Gold Award for Best Writer for To the New Girl, based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name that she wrote in 2010.

The film, which was made by an all-woman cast and creative team, also won a Gold Award for Best Feature – First Time Filmmaker for directors Aurora J. Culver, Ambika Leigh, and Adriana Gonzalez-Vega, a Silver Award for Best Actress (Skyler Vallo), and an Honorable Mention for Best Editing (Hillary Wills).

“It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Queen Palm Film Festival,” Macher told Digital Journal. “We’re so appreciative that they recognized so many creative and technical elements of the project and are looking forward to celebrating (virtually) with our cast and crew.”

An anthology film released by New Girl Pictures and available through Amazon Prime Video, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the 80-minute movie taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.

“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” producer Laura Hunter Drago said last summer. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”

Macher’s play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty and charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times).

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.


2021 Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works Goes Virtual

The Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works, which each January showcases compelling new plays by students from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, is headed online for 2021.

“Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we will be producing and performing the entire Winter Festival of New Works through the magic of Zoom,” said Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins theatre department. Along with Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau, he co-leads the Hollins Theatre Institute, which produces the Winter Festival annually in partnership with Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre.

Taking place January 21 – 31, this year’s event is featuring two fully produced plays and two thesis play readings by Hollins playwrights. Each Zoom livestream is free and open to the public, but advanced reservations are encouraged as audience capacity is limited.

The 2021 schedule includes:Missing Red Girls

Missing Red Girls, written and directed by Max Bidasha

January 21-23, 7:30 p.m.
January 24, 2 p.m.

Based on true stories about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and inspired by activist, storyteller, and mother Jennifer James, the play follows two families on their journeys to find their loved ones who were stolen from them. The families endure racism, many obstacles, and very few resources. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.

 

Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Care Taker, written by Stephanie Goldman and directed by Michelle LoRicco

January 23, 2 p.m.

The complicated relationship of a mother and daughter gets even more complicated in this twisted love story when what is hidden in the closet is forced to come out. A wound that is hidden can never be healed. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.

 

The Shadow of the SonShadow of the Son, written by Kate Leslie and directed by Lauren Brooke Ellis

January 28-30, 7:30 p.m.
January 31, 2 p.m.

Artemis is the goddess of the moon, and her brother, Apollo, is the god of the sun. Expected to live up to the ideals of the immortals, Artemis longs for freedom and the opportunity to chart her own path. But when she builds her own world away from that of her father, has she simply traded one set of impossible expectations for another? Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.

 

Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Magic Stick, written by Erica Zephir and directed by Breana Venable

January 30, 2 p.m.

In this memory play, narrator Mary tells the story about returning home to her mother to escape spousal abuse. As she searches for happiness and fulfillment, she encounters many adversaries, and the aura of her husband haunts her. Reserve tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hollins Playwright’s Work Makes the Leap from Stage to Screen

A critically acclaimed play by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University alumna has been made into an independent film and released on Video On Demand.

To the New Girl, written in 2010 by Samantha Macher M.F.A.’12, is available now though Amazon Prime Video Direct and Vimeo on Demand. The play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty, charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times). The Roanoke Times noted, “If your thing is honest stories well told, New Girl is the play to see,” while LA Weekly simply remarked, “GO!”

“Live theatre is so important,” said Macher, who has had more than 40 productions of her written work staged around the world. “At its best, you’re in the moment with these characters. Though we can’t exactly replace the experience of being with our audience in person, the film is true to the medium. It’s intimate, simple, and heartfelt. We hope that those watching at home get a similar feeling as those who saw it on stage through the years.”

An anthology feature film released by New Girl Pictures and featuring an all-female creative team and cast, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the project taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.

“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” said producer Laura Hunter Drago. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”

To the New Girl‘s ensemble cast includes Charlotte Evelyn Williams (NCIS, Preacher, Baskets), Lavetta Cannon (Into the Dark, American Heiress), Mara Klein (Casual, Change of Heart), Kelly L. Goodman (Married with Children), Samantha Carro (The Guest House), Leslie Simms (Jane the Virgin), Skyler Vallo (True Blood, How I Met Your Mother, The A List), Alexandra Boylan (Bellflower, Catching Faith), Dawn Noel (NCIS, Glee, Undercover), and in her feature film debut, Lauren Emily Castle.

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.

 

 

 

 


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.