Hollins 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.”