Original works by IU playwriting students receiving national recognition

Both MFA playwriting students who unveiled original works at IU Theatre’s “At First Sight” series last spring will see their plays receive professional readings at national venues, a coup for the university’s newly reinvigorated playwriting program.

“Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” by MFA student Nathan Davis, is one of six scripts selected for the annual National Showcase of New Plays in San Diego in December. The showcase is a traveling festival that presents the country’s best unproduced plays in staged reading format to a group of theater professionals.

(a love story)

A scene from “(a love story),” courtesy of Ethan Bennett Photography.

And “(a love story),” written by MFA student Kelly Lusk, was one of seven scripts read in November as part of PlayFest! The Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays, a nationally recognized program put on by the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in partnership with University of Central Florida.

“I’m thrilled for Nathan and Kelly, and it’s great for the program as well,” said Ken Weitzman, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance and director of the department’s newly reinvigorated playwriting program. “Our goal is that when our students leave IU, they’ll already have significant connections in the field. They won’t be starting from scratch, but instead will have plays under their belt that have taken several steps toward full-scale professional productions. It will give them a great start in what is essentially a very small community, and I couldn’t be prouder of Nathan and Kelly.”

IUB’s playwriting program fell into dormancy in 2008 following the retirement of professor emeritus Dennis J. Reardon. It was re-launched by Weitzman in late 2010.

Davis and Lusk said both are appreciative of the chance they’ve received.

Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea

A scene from “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” courtesy of Ethan Bennett Photography.

“It’s a huge opportunity for the play to be seen as a staged reading by a lot of people who may have an interest in producing it,” Davis told Art at IU via email. “Center Stage Theatre in Baltimore nominated ‘Dontrell’ for the showcase, and when I got the email with the news, I was absolutely thrilled. Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Baltimore again and work some more on the play at Center Stage. They’ve been very supportive and even invited me out last December to get a sense of the city, as the play is set in Baltimore. This time around, we workshopped the play with actors, which was very productive and helped me see the play in motion again.”

Lusk said he was approached by the person in charge of new play development while taking part in a MFA Playwrights’ Workshop at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, where he said he was “proud and humbled” to be working next to “giants” in his industry, including Mark Bly, known as the father of modern American dramaturgy, and Tina Parker, a director/actor who had a regular part in AMC’s popular television series “Breaking Bad.”

“Getting a reply that the PlayFest folks would like the play to be part of their annual festival was super exciting,” Lusk said via email. “Not only is it reassurance of ‘Hey, there is actually something here,’ but that the play is speaking to people in ways that it spoke to me, which is always nice for a writer to discover.”

Both Lusk and Davis are hopeful these chances are only a beginning for their original scripts.

“There’s no feeling like putting on a play,” Davis said. “And certainly I’ve put my heart and soul into this story, so the prospect of sharing it with theaters throughout the country is almost a dream come true. At the moment, I just feel overwhelmingly thankful that it’s come this far in a relatively short time, and much of that is due to the support I’ve received here at IU as well as Baltimore and Washington, D.C.”

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