Playwright’s Lab Enjoys Banner Year in 2013

PlaywrightsLabHollins University is earning a stellar reputation nationally for the study of playwriting, thanks to a Master of Fine Arts program that is only in its sixth year.

Launched in 2007, the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University has to date generated roughly 250 productions of student-penned plays and nearly 140 readings at festivals and theatres across the United States. Thirty student plays have been published and student playwrights have garnered more than 60 honors and awards.

“A low-residency, six-week program designed to be completed in three to five summers was a radical approach to teaching playwriting, but the Playwright’s Lab has attracted a growing number of students who are rapidly gaining success and recognition in the profession,” said Program Director Todd Ristau.

Mark Bly, head of playwriting at Hunter College, described the Playwright’s Lab as “a real gem, a one-of-a-kind program. This is a hot bed of American playwriting,” while Robert Patrick, who has been called “America’s Most Produced Playwright,” said in a television interview, “These are real professionals training people to be real professionals.”

The past year alone offers ample evidence to support Bly and Patrick’s respective acclaim. In January, Playwright’s Lab students Meredith Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’15, and M.F.A. playwright Kevin Ferguson were both honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF). Levy received the KCACTF Region IV’s top playwriting award for her drama, Decision Height, and Ferguson had two of his original scripts, Follies a Deux and Losing Sight, selected for the regional festival as part of the Region IV National Playwriting Program. They were chosen for the Ten-Minute Play and One-Act Play categories, respectively.

Follies a Deux was subsequently selected for performance at the second annual New Voices Playfest, held in April at the Atlantic Stage Theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The event also featured the one-act play, The Place Between, by M.F.A. playwright Wendy-Marie Martin. In addition, the Atlantic Stage Theatre presented the world premiere of Ferguson’s drama, Child’s Play, last spring.

Other highlights from 2013:

  • Bo-Nita by Elizabeth Heffron M.F.A. ‘14, first read in public at the Hollins Playwright’s Festival, was produced by Portland Center Stage and Seattle Repertory Theatre for their respective 2013-14 seasons. In its review, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated, “Sometimes the stars align perfectly in the theater. The play is excellent, the directing crisp and the acting picture perfect.” Heffron’s comedy/drama, Mitzi’s Abortion, was Hollins Theatre’s fall production and played to sold-out audiences.
  • Jonathan Galvez M.F.A. ‘13 won the tenth annual New Jersey Playwrights Contest and was appointed guest artist by the University of Great Falls theatre department.
  • Neeley Gossett M.F.A. ‘12 was named a finalist in the 2013 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition and her play, Roman Candle Summer, was staged at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre in Atlanta. The play also had a reading at the Lark Play Development Center in Manhattan.
  • M.F.A. playwright Robert Plowman won the 2014 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award for his work, The Missing Link. His one-act “anti-play,” The Matador, was presented on Mill Mountain Theatre’s Waldron Stage in Roanoke.
  • Plays by Samantha Macher M.F.A. ‘12 (To the New Girl: Sound Advice for My Former Husband’s Wife or Mistress) and Royal Shirée M.F.A. ‘13 (Cat House) were published by Original Works.
  • In March, the SkyPilot Theatre Company in Los Angeles announced that of the 26 plays it had in development, ten were written by Playwright’s Lab alumni.

The Playwright’s Lab is closing the calendar year by creating two new certificate programs, one in new play writing and the other in new play performance.

“Exposure to actors and directors is vital for the development of playwrights and their work,” Ristau explained, “and it seemed an exciting challenge to come up with a community wherein playwrights, directors and actors could be brought together with specialized training in working on new plays without the expectations, expense and demand on resources that a full degree program would require.

“With the help of visiting faculty and other advisors, we’ve created something that will expand Hollins’ reputation and attract new students in a very exciting way.”


Hollins Earns Prestigious Designation with Steinway Piano Delivery

steinwayHollins University has been named one of just a few “All-Steinway Schools” in Virginia following the arrival of seven instruments designed by the company regarded as the world’s finest piano maker.

Steinway & Sons, which crafts approximately 2,500 pianos a year in the United States and Germany and is the choice of 97% of piano soloists performing at major venues, shipped five grand pianos and two upright pianos by truck from Baltimore to Hollins’ Presser Hall, home of the university’s music department. The instruments were delivered on July 2.

Professor of Music and Department Chair Judith Cline said Hollins has  joined George Mason University, James Madison University, Radford University, and Episcopal High School in Alexandria as Virginia’s only “All-Steinway Schools.” Worldwide, just over 150 conservatories, colleges and universities, and other schools of distinction have earned this designation.

“At least 90 percent of an institution’s instruments must be Steinway & Sons, Boston, or Essex pianos and must be in good condition to qualify for ‘All-Steinway School’ recognition,” Cline explained. “The use of a certified Steinway piano technician for tuning the instruments is also required.”

Recently renovated Presser Hall will provide the pianos with a climate-controlled environment. “These are brand-new pianos that need time to adjust to humidity and other factors,” Cline noted. “It’s similar to breaking in a new pair of shoes. Our technician, Andy Lyford, will be able to give attention to all our instruments in the coming months and have them ready for the start of the new academic year.”

Hollins will officially mark its “All-Steinway School” designation during the university’s annual Founder’s Day event on February 20, 2014. Highlighting the celebration will be a recital by Alexander Schimpf, who has performed at important music centers throughout the world and in 2011 became the first German pianist to win the Cleveland International Piano Competition.


Forbes Ranks Hollins Among America’s 100 Most Financially Fit Colleges

financialHollins University has received an “A”  in the 2013 Forbes College Financial Grades, which the magazine says ”measure the fiscal soundness of more than 900 four-year, private, not-for-profit schools with more than 500 students.”

Forbes lists Hollins’ “financial GPA” as 4.013 out of maximum 4.5, which ranks 76th in the country and third in Virginia behind Washington and Lee University (ranked 10th nationally) and the University of Richmond (ranked 42nd).

“The grades measure financial fitness as determined by nine components broken into three categories,” Forbes says. The variables used to determine balance sheet and operational strength include:

  • Year-end endowment assets divided by the number of 12 month full-time equivalent students
  • How well a college’s “expendable assets” cover its annual expenses
  • The amount of expendable assets a college has relative to its debt load
  • How well a college meets its obligations (such as instructional expenses and students services) from the tuition, grants, gifts, and investment revenue it receives
  • How dependent a college is on tuition for core revenues
  • Whether a college’s assets are actually growing
  • The percentage of admitted students who actually choose to attend a particular college
  • The percentage of students actually getting institutional grants or rebates from colleges to attract enrollment
  • How much money a particular college devotes to the core mission of higher education

The Forbes College Financial Grades, which use the two most recent fiscal years available from the Department of Education (2011 and 2010), are published in the magazine’s August 13 issue.


The Princeton Review Features Hollins in “The Best 378 Colleges”

Hollins University has been named one of the country’s best institutions for undergraduate education in the 2014 edition of The Princeton Review’s The Best 378 Colleges.

Only about 15% of the nation’s 2,500 four-year colleges are profiled in the book, which is the educational service company’s flagship college guide.

“Hollins offers outstanding academics, which is the primary criteria for our choice of schools for the book,” said Robert Franek, senior vice president at The Princeton Review and publisher and author of The Best 378 Colleges. “We base our selections primarily on data we obtain in our annual institutional data surveys. We also take into account input we get from our staff, our 35-member National College Counselor Advisory Board, our personal visits to schools, and the wide range of feedback we get from our surveys of students attending these schools. It is their opinions that college applicants often value the most, particularly on (or in absence of) campus visits. We also work to keep a wide representation of colleges in the book by region, size, selectivity and character.”

Hollins students note in the university’s profile that the school “feels like a community or family, not an institution,” and that “a Hollins education is inspiring and nothing short of life-changing.” According to The Best 378 Colleges, “The women of Hollins describe themselves as ‘empowered, enthusiastic,’ ‘worldly, aware,’ ‘strong, and confident.’”

The Princeton Review also features in the book 62 ranking lists of top 20 colleges and universities in various categories. Hollins is ranked 18th in the category, “Best College Theater.”


Swimmers Earn Scholar All American Status

swimThe College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) has presented the Hollins University swim team with its Team Scholar All American Award for the 2013 spring semester.

The award is given to college and university swimming and diving teams who have achieved a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Founded in 1922, the CSCAA is a professional organization of college swimming and diving coaches dedicated to serving and providing leadership for the advancement of the sport of swimming at the collegiate level.

The Hollins swim team kicks off its 2013-14 season at the Converse All Women’s Invitational on October 11-12 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.


Hollins Celebrates Founder’s Day, ‘All-Steinway School’ Designation

foundersHollins University’s official recognition as an “All-Steinway School,” along with performances by Hollins students and faculty and a concert by an internationally acclaimed pianist, highlighted this year’s commemoration of Founder’s Day on February 20.

Founder’s Day celebrates the birth of Charles Lewis Cocke, who served as president of Hollins from 1846 until his death in 1901. Even though Cocke came to Hollins after its establishment in 1842, he is considered the school’s founder because the institution would not have survived without his leadership during financial crises, disease epidemics, the Civil War, and other challenges.

Each year, Founder’s Day begins with members of the senior class processing to the Cocke Family Cemetery, located on the southeast end of campus, and placing a wreath on Mr. Cocke’s grave. The senior class traditionally chooses a member of the campus community to accompany them to the cemetery, and the class of 2014 selected Associate Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer for the honor this year.

That afternoon, the annual Founder’s Day convocation in duPont Chapel showcased the musical talents of a number of Hollins students, including soloists Liz Valvano ’15 (bassoon), Birdie Trotter ’15 (flute), Jessica Newberne ’14 (piano), and Naomi Fukuda ’15 (piano), and the Hollins University Concert Choir.

Professor of Music Judith Cline delivered the Founder’s Day address and talked about Hollins’ ten-year initiative to meet the criteria of Steinway & Sons, the world’s foremost piano maker, to become an ”All-Steinway School.” The status reflects Hollins’ commitment to excellence by providing students, faculty, and guest artists with the best equipment possible for the study and performance of music. Worldwide, just over 160 conservatories, colleges and universities, and other schools of distinction have earned this designation.  Cline, a soprano, paid tribute to the founder of Steinway & Sons, Henry Steinway, with a rendition of Richard Strauss’s “Morgen!”

Associate Professor of English T.J. Anderson III also recognized Hollins’ All-Steinway designation at the convocation, performing his jazz poem, ”Prelude to a Kiss,” in dedication.

During her remarks, Hollins President Nancy Gray announced more celebratory news. The university is launching a new honors program in Fall 2014 that is fully endowed thanks to a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor. She also congratulated the Hollins student team that this month won the 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl. Tom Barron, chair of the Hollins Board of Trustees,  joined Gray in saluting the university’s physical plant staff with a citation recognizing their exceptional work to ensure the campus remained safe and accessible during the recent winter storm that brought 19 inches of snow to the Roanoke Valley.

Two individual members of the campus community were also honored at the convocation. Cline received the Herta Freitag Faculty Legacy Award, presented to a member of the faculty whose recent scholarly and creative accomplishments reflect the extraordinary academic standards set by Freitag, who served as professor of mathematics at Hollins from 1948 to 1971. The Roberta A. Stewart Service Award, granted each Founder’s Day to a Hollins employee who demonstrates long-term service, loyalty to the university, and deep caring for students and colleagues, was presented to Elise Roschen, assistant to the director at the Hollins Riding Center.

Founder’s Day activities concluded that evening with a special concert by pianist Alexander Schimpf, winner of the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition. Prior to his performance, Steinway & Sons representatives from New York City and Washington, D.C., officially presented the “All-Steinway School” plaque to Gray, Barron, and Cline (pictured above from left to right). Hollins  joins George Mason University, James Madison University, Radford University, and Episcopal High School in Alexandria as Virginia’s only “All-Steinway Schools.”

Founder’s Day has been commemorated at Hollins since 1898.


Two Hollins Alumni Among Best New Poets for 2013

poets2013Meighan L. Sharp M.F.A. ’11 and Chad Temples M.F.A. ’08 are two of the 50 emerging writers whose poems have been chosen for publication in the annual anthology, Best New Poets.

This year, nearly 4,000 poems were considered from nominations made by literary magazines and writing programs, as well as an Open Internet Competition. Typically, a group of four to five readers reviews each manuscript and recommends between 120 and 200 semi-finalists to Best New Poets’ guest editor, who selects the winners. Award-winning poet Brenda Shaughnessy, whose work has appeared in the Yale Review, the Boston Review, McSweeney’s, and Best American Poetry, was the anthology’s guest editor for 2013.

Sharp’s “Beyond Measure,” previously published in DIALOGIST, and Temples’ “Walking, Talking, Singing” earned the poets their inclusion among what Jazzy Danzinger of Best New Poets calls “our outrageously talented final 50.”

Best New Poets is currently published by Meridian and Samovar Press. Thanks to a partnership with the University of Virginia Press, the anthology is distributed through Ingram and Baker & Taylor directly to bookstores. Best New Poets is also available for purchase through various online outlets.


Hollins, Roanoke College Announce Perry F. Kendig Award Winners for 2013

Perry F. KendigA painter and promoter of the arts for the past 50 years, a businessman who provided local artists with affordable studio space, and the area’s only professional theatre designed just for children, have been named the winners of  this year’s Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards.

Co-sponsored by Hollins University and Roanoke College, the Kendig Awards recognize distinction in arts and culture in the Roanoke Valley. Individuals, businesses, and organizations from the Roanoke Valley region (which includes the counties of Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the town of Vinton) are eligible, as are any past Kendig Award recipients. Hollins University and Roanoke College employees and programs are not eligible. Awards are presented in each of the following categories: Individual Artist, Individual or Business Supporter, and Arts and Culture Organization.

Harriet Stokes, whose large and colorful canvases can be found in public venues and private homes throughout the Valley, is this year’s Individual Artist award recipient. A Salem resident who recently celebrated her 99th birthday, Stokes was one of the originators of Art in the Alley and has been an exhibitor in Roanoke’s Annual Sidewalk Art Show for 54 of the competition’s 55 years. She was also a strong advocate for the Roanoke City Schools’ art program when it was threatened by budget cuts. In an essay for The Roanoke Times, Dorsey Taylor, owner of LinDor Arts in downtown Roanoke, called Stokes “the grande dame of the arts” and noted, “Through her efforts, she has shaped the friendliness of the art community to embrace one another rather than see us all fall to self-promotion.”

Richard Kurshan, who for a decade made two floors of studio space available to many local artists at Studios on the Square on Roanoke’s West Campbell Avenue, is the winner in the Individual or Business Supporter category. “I will always be grateful to Richard for enabling me to have a downtown Roanoke studio space at a price I could afford for 10 years,” said Susan Jamison, whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries nationwide. “Having this space has enabled me to create countless works, establish my career, and feel grounded as a working artist.”

In the Arts and Culture Organization category, the Roanoke Children’s Theatre (RCT), whose mission is to offer quality theatre education and entertainment for kids, their families, and their schools with year-round productions and programming, is this year’s awardee. RCT provides more than 4,500 programming hours to 17,000 youth each year, and since opening in 2008, RCT’s productions, educational outreach programming, and theatre education classes have reached more than 56,000. Recently, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy recognized RCT’s “RCT4TEENS” program, which focuses on relevant and challenging issues youth face, and in 2011 RCT received the Roanoke City School Board’s Award of Recognition for its efforts to address bullying among sixth-graders in the Roanoke Valley.

Stokes, Kurshan, and the RCT will be officially honored at The Perry F. Kendig Arts and Culture Awards presentation on Sunday, November 3, from 4 – 5:30 p.m. in Roanoke College’s Colket Center Wortmann Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Laura Rawlings at (540) 375-2088 or rawlings@roanoke.edu.


Hollins, Mill Mountain Theatre Host American College Theater Festival

PrintHollins University and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre will host 900 students and faculty from colleges and universities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and southwest Virginia at the Region Four festival of the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), February 4 – 8.

Individual participants and full-scale productions are eligible for awards in a number of disciplines recognizing excellence in the art and craft of theater. Individual awardees and representatives from selected productions will be brought to Washington, D.C., for an expense-paid trip to the national festival, April 14 – 19, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Productions invited to be showcased at the Region Four festival are presented by Appalachian State University, Asbury University, Auburn University – Montgomery, Clayton State University, Georgia Southwestern State University, Hollins, Morehead State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Mississippi, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Troy University. Ten invited productions were selected from 42 eligible productions from the region. Two additional productions earned slots after receiving recognition during the Short Play Awards at last year’s Region Four festival, including Hollins Theatre’s production of Decision Height by Meredith Dayna Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’15. The drama is the story of six women whose lives are changed when they become Women Air Force Service Pilots during World War II.

Three public performances of Decision Height will be staged on Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Stage: Friday and Saturday, January 24 – 25, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, January 26, at 2 p.m. Admission is $10. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.hollins.edu/theatre or call the Hollins Theatre box office at (540) 362-6313.

Launched in 1969, the KCACTF encourages and recognizes the finest and most diverse theatrical productions from colleges and universities nationwide. Through its regional and national festivals, the KCACTF celebrates the achievements of theater programs, individual students, and faculty of colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Eight regional festivals provide opportunities for colleges and universities to showcase their finest work to diverse audiences of theater students and faculty from their regions.

Since its establishment, KCACTF has reached millions of theatergoers and made important contributions to the professional development of countless college and university theater students nationwide.


Hollins Captures Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl Title

vficA student team from Hollins University has won the 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl, held February 9-10 at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

The event is sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

Hollins competed head-to-head against other student teams from Virginia’s independent colleges and universities, debating a variety of case studies highlighting ethical dilemmas. The theme of this year’s event was “Ethics and Health Care.” Many notable personalities from business, law, education, finance, journalism, and other fields listened to team presentations and offered reactions.

Team members from Hollins included Morgan Blalock ’16,  Madchen Specht ’16, and Rory Keeley ’17. Associate Professor of Philosophy James Downey served as faculty coordinator.

Hollins first won three of its four Commonwealth Division matches, beating Washington and Lee University, Sweet Briar College, and Lynchburg College (the team’s lone loss was to Randolph College). Hollins and Sweet Briar shared 3-1 records to lead their division, but Hollins was awarded the tie-breaker for the division title as a result of defeating Sweet Briar head-to-head.

In the Ethics Bowl final, Hollins earned victory against Cardinal Division winner Bridgewater College. “Our team chose to defend a more difficult position that was probably not the one most people would agree with,” said Downey, “but they did a great  job of arguing that view and their presentation was sharp. The  judges clearly saw that.”

He added, “None of our team members had been to the Ethics Bowl before, and none were juniors or seniors. I am very proud of our Bowlers.”

Founded in 1952, the VFIC is a nonprofit fundraising partnership supporting the programs and students of 15 leading independent colleges and universities in the commonwealth. In addition to Hollins, VFIC members include Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Sweet Briar College, University of Richmond, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Washington and Lee University.