Oct. 1, 2014
After years of writing and editing, three graduate students in the Department of Drama's
M.F.A. playwriting program are seeing their original plays come to life this semester at college campuses in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Students with productions being performed are Tearrance Chisholm, of St. Louis, Mo.; Lauren Mitchell, of Manteca, Calif.; and Amanda Zeitler, of Fresno, Calif. According to Jon Klein, director of the playwriting program, this is a new milestone for the drama department, as it is increasingly difficult for new playwrights to find platforms for their work, let alone while they are still in school.
"It's a remarkable achievement for the M.F.A. Playwriting Program to have three students who have been offered awards, productions, and performances at other prestigious universities - all in the same semester," Klein says. "It's a testament to the skill and originality of their writings.
"Amanda, Lauren, and Tearrance are just three of the many special reasons that CUAdrama continues to gain national prominence. I congratulate them and thank them for being such wonderful ambassadors for Catholic University."
Chisholm's play In Sweet Remembrance was commissioned and produced at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Va., as part of the Endstation Theatre Company's Playwrights Initiative, a program that brings playwrights to the college every summer.
In Sweet Remembrance tackles racial issues through the lens of the college's history. Once an active Southern plantation, the school still houses a slave cabin and cemetery.
The play centers on an African-American woman, played by CUA student Latia Stokes, who is hired to be the college's first tenure-track professor of color. When a racially charged incident takes place on campus and the professor refuses to get involved, she finds herself confronted with the school's past through a series of historic vignettes.
The play was performed in August as part of Sweet Briar's convocation ceremony. The show resulted in much discussion and debate on campus.
"It was really interesting to see something I'd written lived outside of the theatre space," Chisholm said. "You hope that you might really change someone's perspective or open someone's mind to have their beliefs questioned, but to see a real-time response to it was more than I could have asked for."
Mitchell's play, At the End of the Line, Tunnel Vision , tells the story of a young woman contemplating killing herself by jumping in front of a subway train. As she's standing on the platform waiting for a train, she runs into a woman who seems friendly, but knows an eerie amount about her.
After writing the play last fall, Mitchell won the WomenWorks national competition and a $1,000 prize. Now her play will be performed in a workshop at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., the week of Oct. 19.
Mitchell said she was inspired to write this play while riding Washington's Metrorail.
"Sometimes there are people who talk to you on the Metro and you don't necessarily want them to," she says. "I started thinking about, 'What if they knew something about you and you had no idea who they were?'"
Mitchell says she will fly to Tulsa for the performance and speak in some classes at the university. She is most looking forward to seeing her story performed on stage.
"This will be the first time I get to workshop it and get feedback on it," she said. "With playwriting, I like that you get to watch it come alive with people saying your words out loud in the moment every time it's done."
Zeitler's play La Llorona , which was recently produced at the Capital Fringe Festival in D.C., will be produced at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan., this November.
Zeitler, who won the 2013 Wichita State University National Playwriting Award, was inspired by a folk tale about a woman who kills her children after being left by her husband. She spends the rest of her life and afterlife walking up and down a river mourning and looking for their souls.
A legal drama, La Llorona tells the story of a woman accused of drowning her two children and the relationship she forms with the female attorney hired to defend her. While one woman is trying to prove her innocence, the other is facing marital problems with her husband over whether or not to have children.
"It's exploring how one relationship builds while another relationship crumbles," Zeitler said. "It's really exploring the woman's motivation and trying to understand why a mother would kill her own children."
Zeitler says one of her favorite things about theatre is how collaborative it is. After working with actors to produce the play over the summer for the Fringe Festival, she found areas where she could improve the script. Now she is looking forward to watching her newest version performed on stage. "Because you have so many different people who have hands in the cookie jar giving you advice, what you end up with as the final product may never be what you start out thinking it will be," she says. "I like that once I write a particular piece, I give it to someone else and, at least in my experience here at Catholic, then it gets better because you have people looking at it with fresh eyes and giving advice."
Zeitler's playwriting thesis, Mage Knights of the Eternal Light , will be fully produced on the CUA campus Feb. 14-21, 2015. For more information on this and other upcoming drama productions, go to http://drama.cua.edu/hartke-theatre/index.cfm.