Southern Theatre, Vol. 60, Issue 4

Page 1

Volume LX Number 4 • Fall 2019 • $8.00

Women’s Work Doors Are Opening (Slowly) for Female Playwrights

STEAM It’s on the Rise in the South

Twin Power Getchell Winner The Other Half Examines Bond


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Volume LX Number 4 l Fall 2019 l Southern Theatre – Quarterly Magazine of the Southeastern Theatre Conference

Features Departments 4 Hot off the Press Plays Featuring Complex Roles for African American Actresses by Zackary Ross

8 Women’s Work Doors Are Opening (Slowly) for Female Playwrights by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

20 In the South, STEAM Is on the Rise by Becky K. Becker

6 Outside the Box: Design/Tech Solutions

2019 Charles M. Getchell Award

Need to Create a Curved Hard Cyc? Use an English Wheel as a Roll Bender

30 The Playwright

by Matthew Leckenbusch

Getchell Award Winner Mark Cornell Explores the Unbreakable Bond of Twins in The Other Half interview by Laura King

36 Words, Words, Words … Review of The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America review by Richard St. Peter

32 The Play Read an excerpt from The Other Half, the 2019 winner of the Charles M. Getchell New Play Award, given by SETC to recognize a worthy new play. The entire play is available for reading online at

Cover Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham was produced at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in January and February 2019 in repertory with another Ham play, Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963. Shown clockwise from bottom left are cast members Crystal Sha’nae, Gabrielle Beckford, Soara-Joye Ross and Darlene Hope. Ham was one of 11 women on American Theatre magazine’s list of 20 most produced playwrights in 2018-19. See story, Page 8, about the quest for gender parity in the artistic seasons at American theatres. (Photo courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival; Photoshop work by Garland Gooden; cover design by Deanna Thompson)

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 3

Plays Featuring Complex Roles for African American Actresses by Zackary Ross


hen I select plays for this column, I attempt to find works that were published in the past six months, were written by lesser-known authors, and challenge the white male dominance typical in the publishing field. This third point was especially important for

the theme of this column; it also proved to be a challenge not easily overcome. Only three plays published by the major companies in the last six months were written by African American women, and each had already appeared in previous columns. It’s clear that our industry needs to publish more plays by people of color, especially women, to ensure that our stages reflect the lives and experiences of our audiences. Rather than abandon the theme of this column, I’ve relaxed the benchmarks a bit this time, including plays published over a longer time frame. Three of the plays were written by African American women, one is by a white woman and another was authored by an African American male. All feature strong, well-developed roles for African American women. Following each description, you’ll find information about the cast breakdown and a referral to the publisher who holds the rights. Bella: An American Tall Tale, Book,

Cast breakdown: 8 females

senator, and even her own self-interest,

Music and Lyrics by Kirsten Childs

Publisher: Dramatists Play Service

Congresswoman Millsap refuses to back

Looking to escape her scandalous past,

down in order to do what she sees as right.

Bella sets out on a romping, raucous adventure out West to reunite with her

Pipeline, by Dominique Morisseau

Cast breakdown: 3 females; 1 male

sweetheart. This soulful musical comedy

Despite being a dedicated inner-city public

Publisher: Dramatists Play Service

tests Bella’s fortitude as she crosses paths

school teacher, Nya is committed to giving

with a colorful mix of characters and her

her son an elite education at an expensive

journey to find love turns into one of the

private school. When he is threatened with

Blackademics, by Idris Goodwin

zaniest adventures ever to transpire on

expulsion stemming from a violent incident

To celebrate getting tenure, Ann has invited

the tracks.

involving a teacher, Nya has to confront her

her friend and colleague Rachelle out to a

Cast breakdown: 5 females; 7 males

own failings and try to reach Omari before

trendy new restaurant. When they arrive,

Publisher: Samuel French

he is lost to the machine that treats young

they are stunned by the mysterious nature

black men as expendable.

of the restaurant and the odd behavior of

Cast breakdown: 3 females; 3 males

their hostess, Georgia. As Ann and Rachelle

School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls

Publisher: Samuel French

discuss the trials of navigating academia as

Play, by Jocelyn Bioh

black women, their experiences waiting for their meal become stranger and stranger

As the most popular girl at an exclusive boarding school in Ghana, Paulina is used

Kings, by Sarah Burgess

and the play veers into absurd satire.

to getting what she wants. When her status

Kate, a Washington lobbyist tasked with

Cast breakdown: 3 females

as leader of the pack is challenged by a

drumming up support for a medical bill,

Publisher: Playscripts, Inc.

newcomer, Paulina gives in to her survival

has a meeting with Sydney Millsap, the

instincts and sets out to undermine her new

first African American woman to represent

competition in any way she can. Full of

Texas’ 24th district. Representative Millsap

biting humor, the play is a refreshing take

has made it her mission to target corporate

on the “mean girls” trope and reveals how

loopholes and private-interest money in

woefully universal jealousy can be among

politics. Pitted against her party, special

teenage girls.

interest groups, her powerful home-state

4 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

Zackary Ross, an assistant professor of theatre at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, also works regularly as a director and a dramaturg.

Theatre s o u t h e r n

From the SETC President


Deanna Thompson





Southeastern Theatre Conference 1175 Revolution Mill Drive, Studio 14 Greensboro, NC 27405 336-272-3645 PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE

J.K. Curry, Chair, Wake Forest University (NC) Gaye Jeffers, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Laura King, Gordon State College (GA) Derrick Vanmeter, Clayton State University (GA) EDITORIAL BOARD

Tom Alsip, Oklahoma State University Lamont Clegg, Osceola County School for the Arts (FL) Larry Cook, University of North Georgia Amy Cuomo, University of West Georgia F. Randy deCelle, University of Alabama Kristopher Geddie, Venice Theatre (FL) Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University Scott Hayes, Liberty University (VA) Edward Journey, Alabama A&M University Stefanie Maiya Lehmann, Lincoln Center (NY) Brooke Morgan, University of Montevallo (AL) Tiffany Dupont Novak, Lexington Children's Theatre (KY) Richard St. Peter, Northwestern State University (LA) Jonathon Taylor, East Tennessee State University PROOFREADERS

Kim Doty, SETC Communications Specialist Denise Halbach, Independent Theatre Artist (MS) Philip G. Hill, Furman University (SC)


What is theatre without a play to present? In this issue of Southern Theatre, we focus much of our attention on new plays and issues surrounding their development. In our cover story, playwright Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder looks at the struggles

and successes of women writers as they pursue gender equity in the artistic seasons at theatres across the U.S. Women playwrights and artistic directors share their perspectives on what has changed in recent years and the hurdles still to be overcome.

In our regular “Hot off the Press” column, we address a related issue – the

difficulty many theatres face in finding works that offer strong roles for women of color. Zackary Ross digs deep to find five plays that offer complex roles for African American women.

Continuing our emphasis on plays, Richard St. Peter reviews The World Only

Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America, a book by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois that documents the development and impact of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking play, including the controversy over productions in places such as Charlotte, NC, and Washington, DC.

We also celebrate the work of the playwright with an excerpt from the win-

ning play in SETC’s annual Charles M. Getchell New Play Award competition, The Other Half, which explores the special bond between twins. The entire play is published online at Laura King also interviews the winning playwright, Mark Cornell, about his work and the development of The Other Half.


Clinton Press, Greensboro, NC

involved in STEM fields recognize the value of including the arts in their


Southern Theatre welcomes submissions of articles pertaining to all aspects of theatre. Preference will be given to subject matter linked to theatre activity in the Southeastern United States. Articles are evaluated by the editor and members of the Editorial Board. Criteria for evalua­tion include: suitability, clarity, significance, depth of treatment and accuracy. Please query the editor via email before sending articles. Stories should not exceed 3,000 words. Color photos (300 dpi in jpeg or tiff format) and a brief identification of the author should accompany all articles. Send queries and stories to: Southern Theatre (ISSNL: 0584-4738) is published quarterly by the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc., a nonprofit organization, for its membership and others interested in theatre. Copyright © 2019 by Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc., 1175 Revolution Mill Drive, Studio 14, Greensboro, NC 27405. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without permission is prohibited. Subscription rates: $24.50 per year, U.S.; $30.50 per year, Canada; $47 per year, International. Single copies: $8, plus shipping.

STEAM is an acronym that is gaining strength across the country, as those

endeavors. Becky Becker shares a series of projects in the South where theatre practitioners and scientists came together to tell powerful stories.

Finally, we turn to more technical matters in our regular “Outside the Box“

column, featuring innovative, cost-effective design-tech solutions. Matthew Leckenbusch details how he used an English wheel as a roll bender to create a wall that appeared to blend into the corners for a production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive.

The play truly is “the thing.” In our case, it’s the lifeblood of our industry.

This great issue explores the challenges of producing plays as well as the joy of finding new ways to share stories with our audiences. Enjoy!

Jeff Gibson, SETC President Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 5



Need to Create a Curved Hard Cyc? Use An English Wheel as a Roll Bender

by Matthew Leckenbusch


uring our first production meeting at Clemson University for How I Learned

To Drive by Paula Vogel, we determined that the play would take place in a world where the set had presence but also felt distant Photos by Matthew Leckenbusch

and cold. The set would be oriented in the corner of our black box, with projections used to help establish space and time. Using a fabric projection screen would have brought a softness to the space, so we decided instead to go with a lauan-covered wall. Given its size (15'9" tall x 16' wide), we did not want the wall to have thick sides. Steel was selected as the best framing material to create a low profile. The overall challenge was determining how to create a wall that looked like it was blending into

The finished set for How I Learned to Drive is shown with a projection on the lauan-covered cyc. The show was presented in November 2017 at Clemson University’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts.

the corners. The question we needed to answer: How could we create a hard cyc

to form compound curves from flat sheets

with a continuous 16' curve?

of metal (think of a fender on a car). It had

the spaces in so the lower anvils (wheels)

Once we had the pieces cut, we welded

Researching Ideas

the bones of what I needed and gave me an

had sufficient room to rotate but not

After researching roll benders and deter-

opportunity later to learn how to manipu-

enough to shift out of the slots. After testing

mining the amount of space required to

late multiple curves on sheet metal. It had

a short piece, we added 1" x 1" guides so

roll 16' long pieces of 1" x 1" 14g box steel,

a large-diameter wheel (8" anvil) and it had

the metal sticks would not slide out of the

I knew I would need something that was

a set of wheels (3" anvils) that came with it

wheels when they were pushed through.

both portable and substantial in weight. My

and fitted onto a quick-adjust lower anvil

shop was not an ideal space for this project,

yoke for easy leveling. More importantly,

that an English wheel bottom yoke is meant

but our black box, where the show would

it was on clearance and was substantially

to pivot and move to allow a sheet metal

ultimately take place, was a workable alter-

cheaper than anything else I had found in

piece to roll through. We did not want this

native and was available during the day.

my research.

option, so I made a simple wooden jig to

I needed a solution that we could move out

Developing a Concept

keep constant pressure on the yoke while

of the space during rehearsals at night and

Once I got the English wheel back to

still giving the yoke enough space to adjust

easily set up again the next morning.

the shop and assembled, the real planning

up and down to release the steel. If we had

My preliminary research indicated I

began. Our first challenge was to figure out

made the jig out of metal instead, there

needed one wheel with a large diameter

how to split the anvil yoke into two pieces

would have been too much tension, caus-

and two wheels with smaller diameters.

evenly spaced around the upper wheel. I

ing it to bind and making it impossible to

To save money on what might be a one-

decided to create a saddle that fit onto the


time-use tool, I went to Harbor Freight and

anvil (wheels) yoke. We have access to a

scouted out what they had available on

CNC plasma cutter on campus, so I knew

steel back and forth between the smaller

the floor. Since my shop has limited space,

I could cut an accurate Âź" steel plate for

anvils on the bottom and the large anvil on

I prefer to invest in multipurpose tools,

the sidewalls. I worked with one of my

the top was binding on the 1" x 1" uprights.

which led me to the English wheel. It is a

students to draft out the metal sidewalls of

Working with a stick of steel over 16' in

metalworking tool that normally is used

the saddle to fit two anvils and the yoke.

length, students found it difficult to push

6 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

A second problem we encountered was

One problem we ran into while pushing

Left to right: 1. The wooden jig is shown with the yoke at its lowest point. 2. Two students needed to work together to push material through. You can see how much bend is needed. 3. The lauan is sprayed with hot water to give it flexibility and then is attached to the finished metal frames. 4. The finished cyc is shown in place in the black box under work light.

forward in a perfectly straight line. We

than if we had a roll bender with a crank,

solved this issue by putting ¼" UHMW

but after creating our first curve we had a


squares on the inside of the roller guides

good system in place.

to help keep the steel straight so it could

easily slide through.

but there was too much surface area

Another issue was the profile of the

to create a curve like we wanted. After

anvils. Of all the anvils that came with the

multiple attempts, we were only able to

English wheel, only one was flat enough to

create a slight bend in the metal so we

English wheel $239.00 English wheel anvil set 59.00 ¼” Plate Steel (scrap) 0 1”x1” 14 g steel (scrap) 0 ¼” UHMW scraps 0 Estimated cost: $298.00

use in the saddle. The others had a slight

decided to double up the 1" x 1" by welding

curve to them that caused the steel to push

it together.

piece with a counter curve to create an eye

into the guides. It was cheaper to buy a set

We also had to build the cyc in two

for Measure for Measure. We repeated the

than to just buy the one we needed with

pieces to fit through the doors. Therefore,

process of drawing it out and marked out

a flatter profile, which means I now have

we cut all our curves in half and welded

different stopping points on the steel. Once

quite a few anvils I need to store!

and bolted them back together, essentially

we were confident with the first bend, we

Creating the Curve

making two 8' wide x 15'6" tall panels.

flipped the steel to have the counter bend.

Attaching the Lauan

This worked shockingly well. After push-

of the machine, we had to determine the

The next step was to attach the lauan

ing through 18' sticks of steel, we found it

best way to measure the curve and the

to the metal frames. First, we sprayed the

easy to push 10' pieces through.

length of the steel. We cut the steel into 18'

rear of the lauan with hot water to give it

Bottom Line

pieces, which gave us an extra 1' on each

flexibility. Next, we attached the lauan to

We were able to create a usable roll

side. This gave our students something to

the frame using self-tapping screws with a

bender that did not break the bank. Since

hold onto as we pushed in both directions

Phillips countersunk head. In hindsight, it

the English wheel is bolted together, it can

back and forth through the anvils. We drew

would have been better if we had created

be taken apart for storage, which is a nice

the curve on the floor in the corner of the

two more curves as toggles for support,

option when you need floor space. n

space and periodically checked the curva-

but the lauan held the curve once it was

ture of the steel to ensure that we created a

attached. Once in place, the wall fit together

consistent curve.

as planned and the curve looked natural

After bolting the English wheel to a

to the space.

4' x 8' platform for stability, we pushed the

After we finished the cyc for How I

steel through, following each pass with one

Learned to Drive, we were asked to make a

After troubleshooting some of the quirks

We did attempt to bend a piece of 1" x 2",

Matthew Leckenbusch is the technical director for the Department of Performing Arts at Clemson University.

full turn on the anvil screw to bring the bottom anvils closer to the top anvil. Then we pushed it through again. This process was repeated until the curvature of the steel was close to what we wanted. It does take a little more effort to push the steel through

Do you have a design/tech solution that would make a great Outside the Box column?

Send a brief summary of your idea to Outside the Box Editor F. Randy deCelle at

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 7

WOMEN’S WORK Doors Are Opening (Slowly) for Female Playwrights by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder


Donnetta Lavinia Grays is one of the fortunate ones. When she was writing her play Last Night and the Night Before, the Women’s Voices Fund at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts provided monetary support to help develop it. Then the play earned a spot in the Center’s 2017 Colorado New Play Summit, where it was workshopped and given a public reading. When the second act still needed work, Grays was able to return for a closed workshop with a director and a cast. Finally, in the spring of 2019, she watched as Last Night and the Night Before received its world premiere at the Denver Center’s Ricketson Theatre. Her success in moving her play from page to stage is the exception, rather than the rule, for women playwrights across the U.S. According to the Broadway League’s annual demographics report for the 2017-2018 season, women make up 66% of theatre audiences; however, women represented only 16% of the writers with plays on Broadway. Nationally, the numbers are higher for women playwrights, but gender parity is still a long way off.

Consider the findings of The Count – a national

Obstacle 1: Visibility

survey and report funded by the Dramatists Guild

and the Lilly Awards – which tracks gender parity in

many theatres have used for not producing plays

Lack of access to female-written plays is the excuse

productions at 147 professional theatres throughout

by female playwrights. However, that is changing,

the country. In 2015, their first report included data

thanks to organizations and programs that are giving

from 3,970 productions produced between 2011 and

greater visibility to women’s work.

2014. The Count discovered that:

One of those is the Kilroys, a collective of 13 writ-

• 79.7% of the plays produced were written by

ers, directors, performers and agents dedicated to

men, with 89.8% of those being white men;

advocating for women writers, which got its start at

• 20.3% of the plays produced were written by

a Los Angeles gathering hosted by playwright Annah


Feinberg in 2013. The group believes that before more

• 10.2% were written by writers of color.

plays by women can be staged, theatres need to know

Their follow-up report, The Count 2.0, analyzed

about them, so they decided to create the List. The

data collected over six seasons – from 2011 to 2017 – to

first List in 2014 shared the most noteworthy plays by

track changes in the plays being selected for produc-

female and trans playwrights as identified by industry

tion. While the number of plays written by women

professionals. Since then, 200 plays by women, trans

increased only minimally, the growth illustrated a

and non-binary writers have made the List.

trend toward achieving gender parity. The number

There is no application process for the Kilroys

of plays produced by writers of color increased 4.9%,

List; rather, plays are nominated. For the 2019 List,

and the number of plays by women increased 8.5%.

315 influential members of the theatre community

Meanwhile, the League of Professional Theatre

– artistic directors, literary managers, professors,

Women reported in its November 2018 Women

producers, directors, playwrights and dramaturgs –

Count report that 42% of the shows produced by 22

who had read or seen at least 40 new plays in the past

off-Broadway theatres in the 2017-2018 season were

year were each invited to recommend three to five

written by women, up from 36% in 2013-2014.

plays. From more than 800 nominations submitted,

So, what are the obstacles that have kept women’s

the top 4% were selected for the List. Making the List

work from reaching parity? And how are those bar-

serves as validation for a playwright’s work. In

riers being knocked down?

fact, a place on the List has become coveted, leading

Donnetta Lavinia Grays Playwright Opposite Page: Keona Welch (left) and Zaria Kelley appear in the world premiere of Last Night and the Night Before at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which assisted playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays in developing the play. Photo by Adams Viscom.

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 9

Courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival

Antonisia Collins, Jalyn Crosby, Jhordyn Long and Trinity Ross portray the young girls killed in the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, in Christina Ham’s play Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963, presented at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in January and February of 2019.

Christina Ham Playwright

10 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

many writers to campaign for a spot.

to continue to find a way to endorse work that lacked

Now, when artistic directors complain that they

attention and parity by becoming involved with the

don’t know where to find plays by women, the Kilroys


List can serve as a resource. The power of the Kilroys

is evident as more plays from the List make their way

who has seen the benefits of making the Kilroys List.

to stages around the country.

The play she developed with assistance from the

Donnetta Lavinia Grays is one of the playwrights

The Kilroys’ founders have stepped aside to make

Denver Center’s Women’s Voices Fund, Last Night

way for a new generation of artists. In 2018, a new

and the Night Before, made the List in 2017, while

team of 14 female-identified women was selected

another of her plays, Laid to Rest, received an honor-

from more than 200 applicants nationwide. One of

able mention. “It got people talking,” she says. “You

those selected is playwright Christina Ham, whose

want to be in the conversation. It felt good to know

acclaimed play Nina Simone: Four Women received

that I was part of that conversation.” Not only did her

multiple productions last season. She launched her

work become part of the conversation, it also was read

career at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis

by theatres around the country. “You can’t be ignored

after earning her MFA in playwriting. “The body of

because all of these people are saying your play is

work that I’ve created today was begun during my

worthy of being read,” she said. “More people have

time there,” she said. “Not only did I receive their

had their eyes on my play because of it.”

Jerome Fellowship, I also received two McKnight

Festivals featuring the work of women also

Fellowships from there, I was a Core Writer twice,

provide an opportunity to increase the visibility of

and I was a part-time staff member that ran the Many

their plays. In 2015, Washington, DC, area theatres

Voices Fellowship Program, a fellowship program for

joined together as a group to create the Women’s

early-career writers of color.”

Voices Theater Festival. At the inaugural event, more

The opportunity to give other writers the visibility

than 50 theatre companies produced world premiere

her work received at the Playwrights’ Center moti-

plays by female writers. With the support of Michelle

vated Ham to apply to be one of the new Kilroys. “I

Obama and playwrights Beth Henley, Quiara Alegría

wanted to become a member because I wanted to find

Hudes and Lynn Nottage, the festival culminated in

a way to continue the work I started in Minneapolis

the nation’s largest collaboration of theatre companies

at the Playwrights’ Center, advocating new work by

dedicated to showcasing the work of women. Their

emerging playwrights of color in particular,” Ham

efforts to create more visibility for female playwrights

said. “Part of my work there was to try to aid in get-

paid off: Between the premiere of the festival in 2015

ting this work to American regional stages. I wanted

and the second festival in 2018, the percentage of

Daniel Rader

Max Sheldon, Michelle Veintimilla and Zeniba Britt appear in Afloat, with music and lyrics by Zoe Sarnak and book by Emily Kaczmarek, as part of WP Theater’s 2018 Pipeline Festival. The festival showcases the work of female and trans playwrights who participated in the WP Theater Lab, a twoyear residency.

female playwrights being produced in the DC area

Director’s Forum, designed to cultivate the talents of

jumped from 15% to 33%.

female directors. In the 1990s, the organization added

Another resource that can help theatres across

playwrights. Recognizing that giving more women

the U.S. find plays by female playwrights is the

roles in leadership would be empowering, the Lab

National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange.

later began including female-identified producers.

Playwrights of any gender can upload scripts, which

become part of a searchable database that theatres can

erful platform for launching theatre artists into the

use to look for plays that meet their specific needs.

field while also building collaborative relationships

Theatres that are interested in women’s voices can

that celebrate women’s work,” said Lisa McNulty,

quickly locate plays written by women.

producing artistic director for WP Theater.

Obstacle 2: Getting Support to Develop Plays

Donnetta Lavinia Grays, one of the playwrights

Since long before the Kilroys and the National

selected for the 2016-18 Lab, says she benefited in

New Play Network, the Women’s Project Theater

many ways. “In addition to development, those two

in New York City has been working to advance the

years in the Lab are also about building community

work of female playwrights. Julia Miles created

and learning how to navigate the business,” Grays

the Women’s Project, now known as WP Theater,


as the artistic community embraced second-wave

Other programs created to help women play-

feminism. Originally operated under the umbrella

wrights develop their works include the Denver

of the American Place Theatre, WP Theater quickly

Center for the Performing Arts’ Women’s Voices

grew into its own independent organization. Now in

Fund, which commissions, workshops and produces

its 40th season, the organization touts itself as “the

new plays by women through a fund valued at more

nation’s oldest and largest theatre company dedicated

than $1.5 million. It has provided help to 58 women

to developing, producing and promoting the work of

playwrights, as well as 47 women directors, since it

women at every stage in their careers.”

was established in 2005.

Today, WP Theater supports female and trans

playwrights through the WP Theater Lab, a two-year

and the Night Before through the fund, says the help

residency for playwrights, directors and producers,

she received was vital because plays by women aren’t

where playwrights network and develop new work.

allowed to fail: They are expected to be a sure thing.

The residency culminates in the Pipeline Festival,

“If you fail, institutions can say that women’s work

showcasing the work of the participants. The WP

doesn’t sell or that they tried it and it didn’t work,”

Theater Lab began more than 30 years ago as The

Grays said. The Women’s Voices Fund, she said, offers

“The Lab format ultimately gave the WP a pow-

Lisa McNulty Producing Artistic Director, WP Theater

Grays, who received support to develop Last Night

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 11

Kelle Groom Education Director, Fine Arts Work Center

women playwrights “a safe place to risk failure.”

In summer 2019, the Fine Arts Work Center’s Summer

The increased focus nationally on gender parity in

Program launched its new Women Playwrights Series

productions has resulted in a number of new mentor-

with writing workshops led by playwrights Jonatha

ship programs for women playwrights, including one

Brooke, Leigh Fondakowski and Sarah Ruhl.

at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.

Obstacle 3: Overcoming the Bias against

Kelle Groom, the education director at the center, was

‘Women’s’ Stories

inspired to start a program after reading the 2017 New

Often there is an assumption that female play-

York Times article, “Two Female Playwrights Arrive on

wrights can only write plays about the female experi-

Broadway. What Took So Long?” The article, which

ence and that their identities are defined by marriage

featured Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel, two women

and motherhood. As Christina Ham sees it, “In the

whose work has been heralded by the theatre commu-

past, women’s work that was produced was perceived

nity for years, stated: “The fact that these two writers

as being attributed to a handful of topics, including

are just now making their Broadway debuts raises

childbirth or mental fragility, for example.” However,

uncomfortable questions for the theatre industry,

women’s voices and experiences extend far beyond

which season after season sees plays by men vastly

that narrow scope. The Pulitzer Prize-winning plays

outnumber plays by women in the all-important com-

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks and Sweat by

mercial spaces where money can be made, reputations

Lynn Nottage, which both experienced successful

burnished and Tony Awards won.”

Broadway runs, dispel those assumptions.

Groom started to look at ways the Fine Arts Work

Not only are the majority of plays produced each

Center could be a resource for female playwrights.

year written by men, they are specifically written by

“I contacted Paula Vogel and asked if she would

white men, which creates a situation where the sto-

provide mentorship to help me create a Women

ries being told are one-sided. Jacqueline Goldfinger,

Playwrights Series for the Fine Arts Work Center’s

a playwright whose play Babel is on the 2019 Kilroys

Summer Program. Paula said yes,” Groom recalled.

List, says the white male point of view “has previ-



12 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

Jacqueline Goldfinger Playwright

14 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

Courtesy of The Court Theatre

Roy Snow (left) and Monique Clementson appear in the international premiere of Jacqueline Goldfinger’s play The Arsonists at The Court Theatre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in August 2019.

ously been seen as ‘objective’ and ‘universal.’ So,

color become ignored because it’s easy to always go

when plays present a different point of voice (female,

for the brand-new person that no one’s heard of, but

LGBTQIA+, nonwhite, etc.), it is often considered too

it’s much harder to give space to those whose veneer

‘different’ or ‘confusing’ or ‘niche’ rather than simply

has seemingly worn off.”

a point of view that we have not witnessed before;

therefore, theatre decision-makers often think the

and production opportunities at theatres that focus on

piece will not appeal to their audiences because it is

spotlighting women’s work, such as WP Theater in

not ‘universal.’ Contemporary theatre needs to accept

New York and Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, which

that there is no ‘universal’ view, only a wide variety

produces theatre with the goal of uplifting the voices

of stories that connect universally with the human

of women and girls. Eighty-five percent of Synchron-

experience in different ways.”

icity’s plays are written by women. Additionally, two

Women of color face more hurdles than other

plays each season are geared toward families and are

women, says Ham, who spent much of her time at

meant to be socially significant in a way that enhances

the Playwrights’ Center trying to promote the work

the experience of parenting.

of writers of color. “When I think about the work by

women of color, those voices were even more muted

ance Theatre and now managing director of Syn-

and there doesn’t seem to have been a status quo,

chronicity, says the theatre’s goal is to produce plays

exactly, of what they wrote,” she said. “This was

that both celebrate women and engage audiences in

great in some ways, but the drawback is that they

difficult conversations. “Theatres that produce one

weren’t seen.” Ham does see a change in the theatri-

or two women make those women very visible,”

cal landscape: “I think now the sky is the limit, and

she said. “But if the theatre is producing women all

there are so many women writers who are coming at

the time, then that’s the norm and women have less

story from a variety of unique perspectives that can’t

responsibility to represent an entire gender.”

be categorized or caged, and that’s very exciting.”

One way to combat the unreasonable expecta-

Ham also argues that the mid-career doldrums

tions placed on female-written plays is to make

pose specific challenges for women playwrights

them the norm, rather than the exception. When

as they strive to tell stories that are relevant and

women have more opportunities, “the less the token

compelling. As they grow older, she said, they face

burden applies,” Kalke said. When the focus is simply

“issues with invisibility, not when it just comes to

on having “women” playwrights, “then they are

race, but when it comes to a shift from emerging to

expected to write from that perspective. Women can

mid-career. Suddenly female writers and writers of

write plays that aren’t just about being women.”

Female playwrights often find increased visibility

Celise Kalke, former literary manager at the Alli-

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Michael Braugher in Bill Gunn’s The Forbidden City PHOTO: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Celise Kalke Managing Director, Synchronicity Theatre

16 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

Jerry Siegel

Rebeca Robles and Joe Sykes are shown in a scene from The Hero’s Wife at Synchronicity Theatre in April 2019. The play by Aline Lathrop was presented by Synchronicity in a joint world premiere with 16th Street Theater in Chicago. Obstacle 4: Getting in the Artistic Director’s

and Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD.


Ultimately, it’s all about getting women’s work

a prominent part of their mission. Round House

produced. McNulty, producing artistic director at WP

Theatre, located in the greater Washington, DC, area,

Theater since 2014, says that she is seeing more aware-

puts its commitment to diversity front and center

ness of women playwrights, but that there is still a

on its website, with a web page devoted to equity,

long way to go before there is equal representation on

diversity and inclusion, where the theatre notes, “In

stage. “Producing plays by female-identified writers

every season since 2013-2014, at least half of the plays

is something artistic directors should have been doing

that Round House produces are written by women.

all along, but now there is a consequence,” she said:

We have won the 50/50 Award from the International

Audiences, particularly female audiences, are holding

Centre for Women Playwrights more times than any

theatres accountable for their programming choices.

other theatre in the region.”

In McNulty’s view, providing representation of

Similarly, Know Theatre of Cincinnati notes on

female-identified playwrights isn’t that difficult: “If

its website the low percentage of plays produced

producing work by diverse artists matters to you,

nationally that were written by women and states:

then just do those plays. If you want to do a season

“We believe that it is part of our ongoing responsibil-

that represents your audience, then do those plays.”

ity to change that statistic.” The theatre says its goal

Increasingly, that’s a step more theatres are taking.

is “gender parity in the playwrights we produce as

The International Centre for Women Playwrights

well as in the makeup of our artistic teams. Season

(ICWP), which tracks parity through its 50/50

22 is our fifth season in a row with at least 50% of the

Applause Awards, recognizes theatres that divide

plays in the MainStage season written by women.”

their seasons equally between male and female play-

Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre Company has made

wrights. Of the 62 theatres honored internationally in

gender parity a goal since the 50/50 Applause Awards

2017-18, 47 were in the U.S. They encompass a number

debuted. “It’s important to me personally, and as

of theatres in the Southeast, including Synchronicity

cofounder and producing/artistic director, I am able

Theatre and Horizon Theatre Company in Atlanta

to make it happen,” said Lisa Adler, who cofounded

and Burning Coal Theatre Company in Raleigh, NC,

the theatre with husband Jeff. “As a female artistic

as well as Tony Award winners on both coasts, such as

director, I am passionate about telling stories by and

Signature Theatre Company and South Coast

about women and believe it is my duty to do so.”

Repertory, plus theatres of all sizes in other parts of

the country, including Know Theatre of Cincinnati

that support Horizon’s mission: “Our theatre’s mis-

Some of those theatres have made achieving parity

She says it’s not difficult to find plays by women

sion is to connect people, inspire hope and promote

enough canon of women-written plays that it isn’t dif-

positive change through the stories of our times, and

ficult to achieve parity in the play selections,” he said.

I find many women’s values align with that mission.”

“It also makes sense that if you want to present a full

view of the world, you would be presenting plays by

In planning her seasons, Adler says she looks for

plays by and about women first. “We still produce

as many different types of playwright as possible.”

plays by men, but they are often the hits from NYC

and regional theatre that best serve our mission – or

of playscripts, I see a lot of productions, and I look

perhaps a play by a writer of color or a Southern

at two publications regularly: Theatre Record (British)

writer,” she said. “If it is a world premiere, we only

and American Theatre,” Davis said.

produce work by women, artists of color and/or art-

At Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which has been

ists from our Southern region.”

nurturing new work through its Southern Writers

Jerome Davis, artistic director at Raleigh’s Burning

Festival since 1990, Rick Dildine has made a commit-

Coal Theatre Company, also has made a conscious

ment to developing and showcasing female writers

decision to have at least 50 percent of each season’s

since he was named artistic director in 2017. Ham saw

plays written by women. Such a commitment is essen-

two of her plays – Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963

tial to achieving parity for female writers, he says.

and Nina Simone: Four Women – produced together

“There’s a 3,000-year history of mostly male

in repertory during ASF’s regular session in 2018-19.

playwrights and their plays – and really only about

Of the 10 non-Shakespeare plays scheduled for ASF’s

50 years of history where women were regularly

2019-20 regular season, four are by women.

contributing to the larger canon of dramatic work,”

“Women make up a majority of our audiences,

Davis said. “So, in order to achieve parity, it has to

so I want to create a new Southern canon that repre-

be done intentionally, it can’t just be random.”

sents the region,” he says. “I feel like I have been sur-

His first responsibility is to present material that

rounded by great female playwrights my entire career,

moves the audience, Davis says. “There is now a large

and now I am in a position to bring those voices to the

To find plays that enable a 50-50 mix, “I read a lot

Jerome Davis Artistic Director, Burning Coal Theatre Company Nationally Recognized Faculty Member of U/RTA & USITT NAST Accredited Professional Summer Theatre


Acting, Costume Design, Costume Technology, Directing, Lighting Design, Playwriting, Scenic Design, and Theatre Technology


Musical Theatre Contemporary Dance


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The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee, 2018. Photo by Jeremy Hogan

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 17

forefront. That is important to me. I know what it feels

playmakers, Jacqueline Goldfinger has launched a

like when I hear myself and see my story on stage.”

digital resource for theatre artists, Page by Page. She

To do this, Dildine looks to his staff as collabora-

also celebrated the international premiere of her play

tors. “At ASF, we have a reading group composed

The Arsonists at The Court Theatre in New Zealand

equally of men and women,” he said. “We read plays

in August 2019. Christina Ham will see her play

equally by men and women in consideration for our

Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges produced at Alabama

upcoming season. I thought it important to have

Shakespeare Festival this season, after making Ameri-

diversity of thought and perspective at the outset.”

can Theatre magazine’s list of the 20 most produced

But he also recognizes the responsibility that comes

playwrights in 2018-19. And Ham wasn’t the only

with his leadership position. “It also starts with me,”

woman or the only African American on that list – in

he said. “I give a mandate each season of what we

all, it included 11 women and six playwrights of color.

are going to program, and female voices are always

in that. It starts with the leader, and s/he has to have

atre artists who are making the conversation about

a curiosity and willingness to seek out those voices

visibility, diversity, inclusion and gender parity a

and not slip into something that would be easy.”

priority, the numbers are slowly shifting. Very slowly.

Looking Ahead

In the meantime, women playwrights continue to do

what they do best: write new plays. After all, women’s

The quest for gender parity continues, but women

playwrights have some successes to celebrate. Donnetta Lavinia Grays will see the co-world premiere of Rick Dildine Artistic Director, Alabama Shakespeare Festival

her play Where We Stand next spring at WP Theater and Baltimore Center Stage. Recognizing that playwrights need a centralized place to research submission and development opportunities and fulfilling her own desire to cultivate an online community of

Thanks to the dedicated and diligent work of the-

work is never done. n Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s latest play, Looks Like Pretty, premieres at Geva Theatre Center in 2020. The Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence at Sewanee: The University of the South, she was a 2019 SETC Convention keynote. Visit to learn more.

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18 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

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In the South, STEAM Is on the Rise by Becky K. Becker


Robot fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream help behavioral scientists identify ways to improve human interactions through artificial intelligence. A children’s musical changes minds about climate change by promoting an emotional connection to scientific facts. Both are examples of using theatre as a powerful vehicle for exploring questions related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). When the arts are added to the equation, STEM becomes STEAM, and the resulting synergy can be profound. Although challenges are inherent in STEAM

actual production was to be cast, rehearsed and

collaborations, the benefits can be substantial for those

performed during fall 2009, giving the team about

involved in STEM fields – as well as those involved

seven months to prepare the designs and conceptual

in theatre.

workings of the robot drones that would accompany

“It helps prove our worth to the university by

the human fairy actors.

highlighting performance as research,” said Amy

Guerin, an assistant professor in the theatre program

engineering team understand the production process:

at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). “It

“The fact that we met as a production team monthly

broadens how people who aren’t within the theatre

over the course of that spring and summer, and that

think about theatre. You change mindsets, you grow

once the school year started again we met weekly as

experiences when you do STEAM collaborations.”

a group just blew their minds.” For the engineers,

An early innovator in STEAM collaborations

the time commitment associated with this type of

involving theatre, Guerin got her start while teaching

collaboration was completely foreign.

in the Department of Performance Studies at Texas

A&M University a decade ago. She and then-

challenge for us,” Guerin said. Simple terminology

department chair Judith Hamera had a meeting with

such as “stumble through,” indicating the first time

Robin Murphy, the Raytheon Professor of Computer

the cast moves through a play after blocking it,

One of her first steps, Guerin said, was to help the

“Sharing process, sharing jargon was the biggest Opposite page: Virginia, the robot fairy for Oberon, king of the fairies, is shown with the human fairies in the prologue to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Texas A&M University. Loud and dangerous as a weed whacker, Virginia had to be relegated to the opening and closing scenes of the play. Photo by Department of Performance Studies, Texas A&M University.

Science and Engineering at Texas A&M, to discuss potential collaborations in theatre using artificial intelligence. Murphy’s area of specialization is studying and enhancing artificial intelligence to assist in emergency rescue operations. She was interested in how artificial intelligence might be better designed to interact with humans and gain their trust in emergency situations. For example, in a situation where a human being is trapped in a space where other humans cannot go, how might a robot assist them empathetically in escaping from that space. According to Guerin, “I very jokingly said, ‘I’m doing Midsummer. What if we had Autum Casey

flying fairy robots in Midsummer?’ And Robin said, ‘Oh yeah, we can do that.’” A Midsummer Night’s STEAM

To begin the collaborative process for the Texas A&M production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Guerin brought her production team together with Murphy’s lineup of faculty and graduate students during the spring of 2009. The

Moth, one of the fairies, helps cast a magic spell with a robot in her hand in a scene from Texas A&M University’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 21

factor in robot/human interaction. All data collected by the engineers was important to them since it would Department of Performance Studies, Texas A&M University

help them better understand how to design robots to assist humans in emergency situations.

Despite the challenges posed by bringing theatre

and engineering together in a collaborative process, there were no turf wars. “At no point were there any robot vs. theatre arguments,” Guerin said. “It was really just an explanation of ‘this is why this can’t work.’” Both fields found there was much to be learned from their cross-disciplinary colleagues. “The one thing that was the most eye-opening part of the process, especially working on Midsummer with the robots, was watching audience members really be amazed and surprised by what they were seeing,” Guerin said. Perhaps the most rewarding robot/audience exchanges came when things went slightly awry. As Guerin describes such moments, her voice takes on Mustardseed taunts the human-again Bottom in a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

22 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

had no meaning to the engineering team. Another

an air of wonder: “The smaller robots crash-landed

equally challenging aspect was the rehearsal process,

in the audience all the time. And to watch the audi-

particularly when the robots – drones of varying sizes

ence members really be very gentle and pick up a

– were incorporated into the action of the play. For the

little robot and help it fly – wow. It was really cool to

engineers, Guerin explained, it meant learning “that

watch students who had to come see this play for a

we could plan all we wanted but we might have to

grade – Shakespeare, ugh – be just awestruck by what

make changes as we went along because [the drones]

they were seeing.”

weren’t going to work, artistically.”

Guerin’s first experience working on a STEAM

Such was the case with the robot for Oberon, the

project not only resonated with audiences, but

king of the fairies, which was supposed to be ever-

also attracted media attention, with stories about it

present throughout the play. An unexpected technical

appearing in Wired Magazine and on NPR’s Science

glitch made that impractical. “We had to cut the

Friday. It also provided her with clear ideas about

robot because it was so loud that no one could hear

how she prefers to approach STEAM: “My thing with

anything when it was present,” Guerin said. “It was

STEAM is that I don’t ever want it to get too much like

about a four-foot diameter quad rotor drone robot. It

a skit. I’m interested in STEAM collaborations that ask

was big. We called it the Weed Whacker of Death.”

really big questions. We asked and answered a lot of

During the rehearsal process, Guerin made strategic

really interesting questions during Midsummer.”

adjustments to the blocking so that Oberon’s robot

When theatre and engineering are paired, ques-

would appear with him at the beginning of the play

tions about human behavior that are typical to

until Oberon dismissed it with a gesture. Oberon’s

Shakespeare’s plays only became bigger, according to

robot appeared again at the end of the play, in a sense,

Guerin. “How do you as a human actor work with an

bookending the audience’s experience.

acting partner that is pre-programmed to respond to

While this was more satisfying artistically for the

you in a certain way?” she asks. “How do we as organ-

theatre team, it was disappointing for the engineering

ic performers respond to mechanized performers?”

student who piloted Oberon’s robot, Guerin said: “It

And for the sci-fi fans out there, “What happens if we

meant he wasn’t going to get the data he needed to

get to the point where we can use plays that involve

discuss how humans interact with robots in a confined

AI [artificial intelligence] and call for androids – and

space in a high-pressure situation.” Although not able

we can use honest-to-goodness androids?” Given the

to collect the same type of data as the other robotics

quick pace of technology, answers to these and other

collaborators, Oberon’s designer still learned some-

big questions may be within reach using STEAM as

thing valuable: that sound might play an important

the guide.

Collaboration: It’s Not Rocket Science

At her current university, Guerin has not abandoned STEAM. In fact, she seems to have embraced it even more, given UAH’s mission as a STEM institution geared toward advancing the space program. Shortly after arriving at UAH, Guerin began a collaboration with Bryan Mesmer, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Engineering Management. Together, they have been working for the past two years to Kathy Prosser

secure a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Interestingly, the same theatrical process her collaborators at Texas A&M found so astonishing is the impetus for pursuing the NSF grant at UAH. According to Guerin, Mesmer “wants to use theatre as a surrogate to model ways to improve the engineering

the video walk-throughs in preparation for the

process because theatre, in our production process,

production, which was mounted during spring

repeats a process with an end product on a fairly short

2018. For example, Guerin said, “where there’s

time frame – you know, six months, three months,

a voice-over that says ‘And now you’re going to

a year.” Basically, Mesmer wants to find a quicker

walk down the street two blocks, go through this

process for moving from brainstorming to sending a

place, pick up the hammer …’ we actually had

rocket to Mars.

that projected and animated so the audience saw

While the grant application process is slow,

a first-person viewpoint as they moved through

the collaborators have received positive feedback

the game.” The video transitions provided a more

prompting many revisions. Guerin notes that there

immersive experience for the audience and created

are “very small, granular steps to achieving an NSF

an opportunity for the “cross-college collaboration

grant that I certainly didn’t anticipate when I met

that universities love to brag about,” Guerin said.

with Bryan in my first year.” However, “the hope

is that we’re able to combine the theatre students

for rich collaborations and partnerships, it also illus-

and the engineering students in a way to have the

trates that faculty and students must be prepared

engineering students understand the theatre process

to invest plenty of time and planning to complete

and the theatre model and use that to help generate

STEAM projects. In all of the cases cited, collaboration

data to improve engineering. And the theatre students

began at least six to nine months prior to the begin-

will improve their design process methodology

ning of rehearsals, and in the case of the NSF grant,

and understanding of how set pieces have to be

years of preparation have gone into the work.


STEAM Is the Art of Changing Minds

Though much smaller in scale, one of Guerin’s

recent directing projects at UAH also involved a

change minds is what prompted Michael Childress,

STEAM approach. Her concept and process for Neigh-

associate professor in Biological Sciences at Clemson

borhood 3 by Jennifer Haley included a collaboration

University, to join forces with local artist Kathy

with the Digital Animation Department. For this

Prosser of Education Entertainment, LLC, to produce

process, Guerin said, “We did get a grant in the form

a children’s musical and exhibit in upstate South

of a student research project. The university funded

Carolina. On a whim in May 2018, Prosser attended a

the student the summer before the show went up.”

screening of the Netflix original documentary Chasing

Neighborhood 3, a play about a zombie video game

Coral at OLLI, Clemson’s Osher Lifelong Learning

come to life, includes “walk-through” transitions

Institute. The film documents the growing threat to

between the scenes that are intended to mimic move-

the world’s quickly-diminishing coral reefs due to

ment in the video game.

climate change. Following the screening, Childress

With the help of the grant, a student from Digital

and graduate student Kylie Smith fielded questions,

Animation spent the summer of 2017 creating

the first of which happened to be whether they were

While Guerin’s work demonstrates the potential

Michael Childress, a Clemson University biology professor and Kathy Prosser, an artist, collaborated to produce Something Very Fishy (above), a children’s musical that focuses on a young female scientist’s journey to understand and address climate change. Cast included (left to right) John Fallon (Boss, the Great White Shark), Elijah Powell (Sunny, the Seal), Julie Edwards (Narrator), Cheyenne Veach (Sandy Carson), Kate Riedy (Octavia, the Octopus) and JJ Pearson (Mr. Pidder).

The power of the arts to communicate ideas and

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 23

cal, written and directed by Prosser, focusing on a young female scientist’s journey to understand and address climate change. Prosser worked to get schools on board, find a venue, and eventually cast, stage and rehearse the show. Childress and students in his Creative Inquiry course devised and built an accompanying immersive science exhibit, allowing children to experience aspects of marine life following Photos by Kathy Prosser

each performance. The musical and exhibit were presented at the Pickens County Performing Arts Center in January 2019, featuring a cast of local actors, with Clemson University students serving as docents for the accompanying multi-faceted exhibit.

As is typical with performing arts ventures – and

certainly STEAM ventures – what was shared with audiences did not reflect the scope of the behindAbove: Michael Childress (right) and two Clemson student docents, Madeline Saverance (left) and Alex Cuisart (middle) assume the role of marine animal veterinarians at the Marine Park Hospital, a display of hundreds of live touch-tank marine invertebrates.

the-scenes work that went into creating and shaping

Right: John Fallon (Boss, the Great White Shark) interacts with an audience member following a production of Something Very Fishy.

interdisciplinary research and was a useful vehicle

24 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

the production and exhibit. During the summer of 2018, while Childress was away doing research in the Florida Keys, Prosser promoted the project to area schools, lining up 22 K-5 schools to participate in the January 2019 production. During fall semester 2018, Childress led a Creative Inquiry course focused on researching, preparing for and mounting the exhibit that would accompany the production. Creative Inquiry is a Clemson initiative that promotes for garnering students from outside biology. In planning to present information about damage to the

addition to students from biology, education and

world’s coral reefs in the public schools.

beyond, faculty and staff from across the university

According to Prosser, “Kylie looked at Michael and

provided support, including Melissa Fuentes,

Michael looked at Kylie, and their response was ‘Well,

curator in the Campbell History Museum, who

we really want to do that and we’ve been thinking

had worked previously in an aquarium designing

about it, but we’re not really sure how, and it’s a fund-

exhibits. According to Childress, when they were in

ing issue.’” Adding to Prosser’s remembrance of that

the initial stages of trying to figure out what to do, it

initial dialogue, Childress noted, “And an access to

was Fuentes who said, “Let’s build a coral reef.”

the schools issue. We didn’t even know how to begin

to get into the schools.”

projects designed to create a marine environment the

A playwright and an award-winning children’s

children could explore after seeing the musical. “We

songwriter whose work is well-known in her home

spent weeks – you know, I would project pictures of

country of Australia, Prosser had successfully toured

the corals while we were sitting around a table with

with a program educating children about the effects

modeling clay, and we were fabricating corals as we

of climate change on the ocean prior to coming to the

went,” Childress said. “And the next thing we knew,

U.S. Recognizing an opportunity to make an impact

we had an assembly line of coral-making, and from

on something they both clearly care about, Prosser

there it expanded to building giant 2 x 4 frameworks

shared her background with Childress. They set up a

and chicken wire, extrusible foam, and suddenly my

meeting to explore ways to collaborate, and according

research lab had become a set department.”

to Prosser, “It just kind of grew legs really fast.”

Soon, Childress and Prosser were collaborating

Very Fishy Creative Inquiry class had created the set

to produce Something Very Fishy, a children’s musi-

for the musical theatre production, which consisted

The coral reef was just the first of a series of smaller

By the time the production opened, the Something

Editor: Scott And that’s what the arts do.” InPhillips contrast, Prosser counters, “My problem was getting informed enough. So, it’s a pretty good marriage, really.” The strong reaction of children and parents to the message communicated in Kathy Prosser

Something Very Fishy underlines the symbiotic relationship STEM disciplines can have with the arts. “I think the thing that motivated and inspired me the most was the indirect impact of the show on the parents In addition to watching the play Something Very Fishy, children took an imaginary field trip underwater to visit a coral nursery, transplant a coral to the reef and see themselves as coral restoration biologists.

through how motivated the kids were,”

of two parts of a coral reef, along with sev-

Grant, which would provide sizable fund-

‘Oh no, here we go.’ So, we went over to ask

eral extra-theatrical environments in which

ing to expand and continue the project.

her what was going on, and she said, ‘My

the children could witness a pre-recorded

Meanwhile, Prosser is applying for an

son just came to me and said, “Mom, this

marine dive, participate in plastic recycling,

Antarctic Artists and Writers Program

is why I’ve been trying to get you to take

examine a wide range of marine creatures

NSF Grant. If funded, she plans to travel

bags into the grocery store.”’ And she was

and speak to individuals in a variety of

to Antarctica to observe what scientists do

just in tears because she was like, ‘I didn’t

careers, including the performing arts. “I

there and turn it into a musical that would

know it mattered that much to you.’ So, she

thought we did exceptionally well for the

go into production around 2022. In its new

was a changed person from that.”

first year because we were really pushing

iteration, the female scientist character from

to get [the production up],” Prosser said.

Something Very Fishy, Sandy Carson, would

about that story: “When Michael told me,

Full STEAM Ahead

travel to Antarctica for Something Even

he had tears in his eyes, and I just saw in

Childress said. “There was a mother, she was really upset in the lobby and I thought,

Prosser chimes in, noting what she loved


that moment – I knew that he knew that

year” says a lot about the process and this

this was going to work.”

team’s commitment to making an impact.

has been pivotal in helping them accom-

STEAM Offstage: A Plotting Robot

As soon as the production closed, they

plish the goals they have for their work.

began researching, planning and submit-

Childress reflects how, in recent years,

aren’t limited to storytelling. At Clemson

ting grant proposals to continue their

being a scientist has cost him credibility

University, Performing Arts faculty mem-

work. Prosser found a grant from the South

among some groups. “Because they have

bers Shannon Robert and Matthew Lecken-

Carolina Arts Commission and shared

this impression that ‘You’re a scientist,

busch have received a $49,700 Innovation

it with Childress. Having never applied

that means you’re progressive, that means

Research Grant from USITT (United States

for arts funding, he took it to the college

you’re not in my tribe, that means what you

Institute for Theatre Technology) to create

grants office for assistance. They helped

say probably I should take with a grain of

a plotting robot. Robert and Leckenbusch

him secure an $11,000 grant from the com-

salt,’ “ Childress said. “But if I approach

are beginning work on the project in fall

mission to create a workbook – sometimes

somebody from the perspective either as an

2019 in collaboration with Brad Putman,

called a production study guide – which

educator or from the arts, and I can talk to

associate dean of the College of Engineering

will include pre- and post-assessments of

them about science not as a scientist but as

at Clemson, as well as Clemson students.

the theatrical program, along with puzzles,

a community member or somebody who’s

word games and art activities.

really into this theatrical production, it

phase of our PlotBot, which is an autono-

changes their willingness to listen to what

mous plotting robot where people can take

pursuing a South Carolina Sea Grant, which

the message is.”

their CAD-based drawings and have them

has a Marine Science Outreach Education

According to Childress, scientists are

drawn out on the stage or any flat surface,”

component. As of this writing, the pre-

slow to recognize the need to shift strate-

Leckenbusch said. For stage managers,

proposal has been selected, so the team

gies. “It’s not a knowledge issue,” he said.

carpenters, technical directors and poten-

submitted a full proposal and is awaiting

“We can’t solve the barriers by simply

tially even event managers, the ability to

results. Childress also plans to apply for a

throwing more facts at the problem … The

automate this type of work is a significant

NSF Advances in Informal STEM Learning

way to do it is to engage the emotions.

time-saving opportunity.

The fact that Prosser refers to their “first

In addition, Childress and his team are

26 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

For both Prosser and Childress, STEAM

STEAM collaborations involving theatre

The grant “will allow us to do the first

Leckenbusch says the PlotBot will “take

something I have done.” For Leckenbusch,

years to develop and test,” but the team’s

whose STEAM-related projects began

ultimate goal is to secure a patent for the

about five years ago, cross-disciplinary

device and partner with professional col-

collaboration is a similar theme: “Things we

laborators in the field. Leckenbusch also

do in theatre would not be possible without

“wants to expand one day to scenic moving

the science and engineering to back it up.”

robots and other scenic moving ideas,” so

Robert says one of their favorite projects

the PlotBot is just a first step.

was a STEAMroom, for which they “invited

Cross-disciplinary collaborations of

Thomas Strange, director of Research and

this kind represent learning opportunities

Development from St. Jude’s Hospital,

for students and faculty in the arts and

to discuss the intersection of design and

sciences, but the professional implications

technology for the pacemaker he and his

are equally exciting. “This will give us an

team patented.”

opportunity to fill a void in the tools used

Why is this duo so committed to

for load-ins in our industry but might

STEAM? “There is absolutely no innovation

have multiple applications outside of the

without creativity,” Robert said. “When we

industry – the goal is to make it affordable,”

separate and silo, we are not at our best.

Robert said.

Businesses across the world are leaning in

The idea for the plotting robot came to

to arts training for collaborative retreats and

Leckenbusch in a discussion with Robert

team-building. The Alan Alda Center uses

about projects they might be able to do

theatre improv training for scientists. One

with the Engineering School at Clemson.

of the goals is to help them become better

Leckenbusch had “been bouncing the

communicators about difficult concepts –

idea around for years and was looking

something we definitely need in our world

for something we could do across campus

right now.”

with the other colleges.” Since the pair had

already worked with Putman and several

all disciplines – STEM fields and theatre –

other professors and graduate students

benefit from the synergy created through

in Clemson’s STEAM network, it seemed

their collaborations. Given the current

natural to find another way to partner.

emphasis on STEM fields in education

According to Robert, “Matt went to the

and industry, it would be easy to assume

DEN (Design Entrepreneurial Network)

that the arts have the most to benefit from

to pitch the idea for the PlotBot and started

STEAM partnerships. Not so. Creativity

working on some plans for it.” Although

is as necessary an ingredient in science,

he and Robert knew they wanted to pitch

technology, engineering and math as it is

a Creative Inquiry course, they didn’t have

in the arts.

the funds to do it. As Robert describes it,

As Leckenbusch notes, “It is hard for

“Matt was incredibly busy at the time, so

[STEM or the arts] to exist without the

Brad and I took the reins on writing the

other. Both help the other become better.”

grant proposal using the idea Matt initially

When STEM and the arts join forces, the


possibilities are expanded. STEAM is an

Such collaborations aren’t foreign

excellent way to dream big, change minds,

to the professors. Between the two of

deepen collaborative processes and make

them, Robert and Leckenbusch have been

an impact. n

working on STEAM-related projects for more than 15 years. Robert began her foray into STEAM at Clemson in 2006, but acknowledges that “using creativity and working with people from the science and math disciplines has always been

STEAM partnerships demonstrate that

Becky K. Becker is a professor of theatre and chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Clemson University. A past editor of SETC’s Theatre Symposium, she now serves on the journal’s steering committee. Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 27

Interested in Pursuing a There are many ways for theatre artists to find and participate in STEAM ventures. Building on what has worked for them, Amy Guerin, Kathy Prosser, Michael Childress, Shannon Robert and Matthew Leckenbusch shared the following suggestions.

Best advice for people who would like to create STEAM projects? Sell tickets & classes, manage marketing & members, and everything in between.

“Do it! Everyone


learns in this

about ALL the


different ways

Two heads are

your technology-

better than

based project

one. When you

goals might be


executed with

with someone

people who

in a different field that has completely

think differently. Make a list of the dif-

different strengths, collectively you

ferent approaches and start thinking

bring much more to the table than you

about how those might be executed.”

could ever do alone. Immerse yourself

Shannon Robert Associate Professor of Scene Design Clemson University

in the collaborator’s world so you learn how to ’speak their language.’ Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

“We can expand

Kathy Prosser Playwright, Songwriter Education Entertainment, LLC

the possibilities of art with knowledge of

“Be bold! If you

science, engi-

don’t ask, the

neering and

answer is always

math. Every

no. Be prepared

show has a new

to cold call/cold

opportunity to expand what is possible.

email and pitch

We should embrace what we don’t

people on your

know and collaborate with others who


don’t realize they are artists yet.”

Amy Guerin Assistant Professor of Theatre University of Alabama in Huntsville

Matthew Leckenbusch Technical Director Clemson University

“Share your ideas with everyone who will listen and offer advice, but most importantly believe in yourself and others will believe in you, too.” Michael Childress Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Clemson University

28 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

STEAM Collaboration? How can you find STEAM opportunities in your university or community?

Kathy Prosser recommends that you “network, network, network! Find out what

others are doing in their field and find ways that you can help each other … win/win.”

Shannon Robert suggests: “If you work on a campus, talk to your colleagues across

the university to start the conversation about collaborating on mutually beneficial projects that might be engaging research for your students.”

More ideas: • Ask your department chair and/or dean to connect you with STEM faculty. • Check your institution’s monthly/quarterly magazine and major press releases regarding STEM research to find STEM faculty. • Develop your own STEAM idea and use your institution’s website to find STEM faculty to bring in as collaborators. • Check out what is happening behind the scenes in almost any producing theatre. STEAM is likely to be happening in a variety of areas, including sound design, projection design and lighting design. • Look for fabrication labs and maker spaces in your area. Shops that have the ability to experiment with the latest technology also tend to facilitate innovative work. • Look for elementary and secondary schools that are using STEAM-based educational approaches for potential partnerships. • Advertise on a community board to see if you can find collaborators for projects. • Enroll in or audit a class on project-based learning to make cross-disciplinary connections. • Create a STEAM contest or “challenge” for students to innovate an existing process using technology.

How can you locate grant opportunities that will fund STEAM projects?

Amy Guerin suggests that you “use your institution’s own research support resources

to help you find grants.” Kathy Prosser notes that grants can be found in places you might not expect: “I searched online and found an arts grant ... for a science department! They had never considered applying for an arts grant.” More ideas: • Does your institution have a Technical Writing or Grant Writing class or professor that specializes in this work? Contact them for help in where to look, or to use your project as a research project for their students. • Does your university have a grants office? They can assist in grant-finding and writing. • USITT Innovation Grants are open to members of that organization. • The NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities), NEA (National Education Association), and NSF (National Science Foundation) have grants specifically geared to fund STEAM-related projects. • Check out these links to grant opportunities: Search the keyword “STEAM.” - Becky K. Becker

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 29

2019 SETC Getchell Award P L AY W R I G H T

Getchell Award Winner Mark Cornell Explores the Unbreakable Bond of Identical Twins in The Other Half Interview by Laura King


ark Cornell (right) won the 2019 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award for his play The Other Half (see excerpt, Pages 32-33). Cornell is a playwright, director, screenwriter and filmmaker. He

earned an MFA in playwriting from UCLA and is the author of more than 85 plays, including Sprucehaven B, Two Turtle Doves and On Pine Knoll Street, the latter of which was a winner of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) NewPlayFest 2020 and will be produced at The Sauk in Jonesville, MI, in February. Cornell’s short plays include Bad Thing (LW Thomas Award), Story Road (Best Playwright at Pittsburgh New Works Festival) and The Rental Company (Short and Sweet Award, Brisbane, Australia). He is co-creator of Full Nelson Theater and an ensemble member of Moonlight Stage. His short films, produced by Marked Men Films, include Two Guys in a Bar, Man in the House, Medals, Until the End of Time, and Apollo and Artemis (official 2018 selection of the Carrboro Film Festival, among others). He is also the author of the novel Duped, a story of the struggle and enduring love between a stay-at-home father and his developmentally delayed son. At the 2019 SETC Convention in Knoxville, TN, Cornell’s Getchell-winning play was given a staged reading with response by Craig Pospisil from Dramatists Play Service, followed by a discussion with the audience. Unfortunately, Cornell could not attend the reading because of illness (although his identical twin was there!). Below is an interview with the playwright conducted after the SETC Convention. LAURA KING: How did you come to

What a gift! The faculty were real play-

produced. I don’t have the energy for it.

playwriting? How did you learn the craft?

wrights and theatrical scholars willing to

The second least favorite part is spending

MARK CORNELL: I was living in Sacra-

tell me what they knew. I had amazing

years on something and realizing it doesn’t

mento, after having lived in LA through

actors and resources at my fingertips. I

work. At all.

most of my 20s, hoping to make it as a

formed a tight bond with the other play-

KING: It can be difficult to get new plays

screenwriter in Los Angeles but struggling

wrights in my cohort. They were fun and

produced even if you enjoy sending out

to do so, so literally on a whim I decided to

funny and supportive. UCLA was a dream.

your work! What steps do you take to get

try to write a play. I had seen only a hand-

And, yes, I would recommend graduate

your plays produced?

ful of plays in my life, so I went out and

school to anyone. But that doesn’t mean

CORNELL: I sometimes produce my own

purchased three plays I knew (but never

graduate school is for everyone. You can’t

work, which is hard and time-consuming,

read) – A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of

go into it thinking you’re going to walk out

but rewarding. Otherwise, I send short

a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross – read

of it with 10 off-Broadway theatres want-

plays to festivals and longer work to the-

them, loved them and wrote a play about,

ing your work. And you get out of it what

atres I’ve developed relationships with or

well, baseball. I know baseball. The experi-

you put into it. I wanted time to write and

ones I’ve researched and thought my work

ence was life-changing. I took it to a writers’

learn, and so I poured all my energy into

and their aesthetic were a good match. I

group at the B Street Theatre in downtown

that. And that’s what I got.

don’t have the luxury of having an agent.

Sacramento, and the group, led by Richard

KING: What are your favorite and least

KING: What types of plays do you write?

Broadhurst, did a staged reading of it and

favorite parts of playwriting?

Any particular ideas or themes you are

from there I was hooked. I moved back to

CORNELL: My favorite part of playwriting

drawn to?

LA, joined another writing group at a the-

is the actual writing, especially the rewrit-

CORNELL: My work has evolved over the

atre in the valley, and then went to UCLA

ing, when I’m on draft 50 and I’m making

years. I started out writing snappy, comic

and got my MFA in playwriting. My UCLA

small choices. I also really enjoy watch-

plays, then I went very dark for a long time,

years were two of the best years of my life.

ing the play come to life in the rehearsal

and now my work tends to be more senti-

KING: What made those years at UCLA so

room and collaborating with directors and

mental. Or, I should say, hopeful. Or at least

special and do you recommend graduate

actors who like the new play process. My

plays that have a sliver of hope anyway. I’m

school for emerging playwrights?

least favorite part is the sending out of the

much more drawn to my own life now, as

CORNELL: UCLA allowed me to write!

work. I’m terrible at trying to get my work

opposed to trying to write someone else’s

30 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

story or some theatrical epic or something

and I are very close. Always have been.

clever I think people will like. If I can help

When we were growing up, our lives were

Theatre & Dance

it, I’m just going to tell stories from my own

so intertwined that, looking back, I don’t

life. I tend to write about regrets, loneliness,

sometimes remember who did what. We

within the Liberal Arts

fathers and sons, people making sacrifices,

are very similar people. I wanted to write

how life can be pretty sad sometimes. My

about that. I suppose I could write about

work is getting more hopeful, but I still

being a twin the rest of my life and never

too often get overwhelmed by how hard

run out of material.

life can be.

KING: It sounds like being an identical

‘My favorite part of playwriting is the actual writing, especially the

Highly Competitive Academically Rigorous Nationally Ranked

rewriting, when I’m on draft 50 and I’m making small choices.’ KING: You are also a screenwriter. Do you

twin has informed much of your writing.

enjoy playwriting or screenwriting more?

CORNELL: Certainly, but I wouldn’t say

CORNELL: Playwriting. Sometimes I find

I’ve been conscious of it. Being a twin is all

the crafting of a screenplay, especially a

I know. I think being a father has informed

feature, to be too daunting.

my writing more than anything.

KING: Do you have any particular influ-

KING: Why did you write The Other Half?

ences on your writing? Any particular

What did you want to tell us with the play?

writers you admire?

CORNELL: I wrote it because I wanted to

CORNELL: I’m influenced by ordinary life.

write a love story. I don’t think I’d written

Ordinary people living simple lives. I still

one, truly, before. And I wanted to write a

gravitate, sometimes, to darker material,

play about twins. What did I want to tell

like Martin McDonagh, but I’m a huge fan

you with this play? That the bond between

of Conor McPherson, Annie Baker, Tracy

twins is strong. That it goes beyond family


and brothers. That what my brother and

KING: Unfortunately, you couldn’t attend

I share is unique, and that nothing can

the reading at SETC, but generally do you

come between us. But, also, we can love

find readings of your plays helpful? What

other people, and those relationships can

do you get out of the experience?

be sacred, too. What’s funny is that, in the

CORNELL: Most of the time I find readings

end, the play really belongs to Michelle, and

helpful. I do readings all the time in Chapel

it’s from her perspective we get to know

Hill, where I live. I always need to hear

the twins, since they are never on stage at

the words aloud, and I like to hear them

the same time.

from different actors to get different takes.

KING: The Other Half has a nonlinear struc-

I always hear new things. When I do a new

ture. Do you write a lot of nonlinear plays?

draft of a play, I am eager to hear it aloud.

CORNELL: No, I don’t write a lot of non-

KING: What was your inspiration for writ-

linear plays. This one just sort of came

ing The Other Half?

together that way.

CORNELL: Wanting to tell a love story

KING: I’ve found that plays have a way

with identical twins in it. I’m an identical

of telling playwrights what they need by

twin, and I haven’t really written about

leading the writer to a particular structure,

it, strangely. I think it is so much a part

plot point or character. Have you found this

of who I am that I was afraid I wouldn’t

to be true in your writing?

be able to articulate its importance well

CORNELL: I suppose so. Sometimes you

enough, but I am glad I’ve done it. The

have it in your head what you want to do,

female in the play is completely made up,

but once you get started, the play begins to

but the situations and conflicts are all based

forge paths, often unexpected ones. I tend

on my experiences as a twin. My brother

(Continued on Page 34)

10 Reasons to study Theatre & Dance at Wake Forest! 1. Small, individualized classes, integrated with production and performance 2. Beginning to advanced study in all aspects of theatre 3. Opportunities to double major/minor 4. 4 major productions and 2 dance concerts yearly 5. Two well-equipped spaces: proscenium and thrust 6. Faculty and student directed productions; multiple student producing groups 7. Talent-based scholarships for performance and production 8. Both merit and need based financial aid 9. Funding opportunities for student projects, summer study and travel 10. Over 400 approved study abroad programs in 70 countries

For information contact: Department of Theatre and Dance P.O. Box 7264, Reynolda Station Winston-Salem, NC 27109 336-758-5294 ◆ Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 31

2019 SETC Getchell Award P L AY



JOHN, late 20s to 30s MICHELLE, late 20s to 30s LUKE, late 20s to 30s, John’s identical twin brother and Michelle’s husband (The characters of John and Luke will be played by the same actor.)

The Other Half is a love story. It centers around Michelle, a tough, but damaged young woman, and John and Luke, the identical twins in her life, one of whom she falls in love with. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in Placerville, CA, the play tells its story jumping backward and forward over a six-year period.

SETTING Various locations in and around Placerville, CA. All sets should be minimal.

TIME From 2011 to 2017.

FOR PRODUCTION Mark Cornell 310-738-0796 © 2019 by Mark Cornell 32 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

EXCERPT ACT I SCENE 1 Fall 2017. Late afternoon. A living room in a small house in Placerville in northern California. In glasses, MICHELLE, 30s, sits in one of two bad dining chairs. She’s in an uncomfortable, cheap, dark dress. She is distraught. She has a small bottle of something in one hand. She’s looking out at the room, the people in it (we can’t see them), unsure who they are. JOHN, 30s, in a disheveled dark suit, enters with two cans of Diet Coke. JOHN: Hey. MICHELLE: Hi. JOHN: I brought you a Diet Coke. He offers her the drink.

MICHELLE: I’m good. Showing him her bottle … MICHELLE: (continued) Your Uncle DavidEric madeKelley Phot another batch of beer in his basement. … She takes a swallow. He sits next to her. JOHN: Don’t drink that shit. Have the Diet Coke. MICHELLE: He told me I’d forget everything. JOHN: Yeah, but you don’t want to forget everything. MICHELLE: (looking out) Who are these people? He looks where she looks. JOHN: Artists from the studio, I think. MICHELLE: I went to parties with Luke at the studio. I don’t remember these people. JOHN: It’s a big studio. MICHELLE: That woman over there in that stupid Bob Ross wig. The one with fistfuls of my pistachios. She hasn’t said a word to me. Not one. JOHN: She probably doesn’t know what to say. MICHELLE: Do these people not know somebody has died? That guy over there is wearing a fucking hubcap around his neck with a shitty painting of my husband on it. JOHN: I think they’re honoring him somehow. MICHELLE: Honoring him? JOHN: He was an artist. Like them. MICHELLE: He was nothing like them. JOHN: That guy with the hubcap won’t even look at me. He’s not the only one.

MICHELLE: They’re just afraid. Looking at you is like looking at Luke. JOHN: You’re not afraid, are you? She doesn’t look at him. MICHELLE: No. Beat. MICHELLE: (continued) I hate this dress. I hate wearing dresses. I hate girls who wear dresses. JOHN: You want something to eat? My mother made a run to Safeway. MICHELLE: She did? I have food out. I have pistachios. I have Funyuns. JOHN: She got some party plates. MICHELLE: It’s not a party. JOHN: She’s just trying to help. MICHELLE: Where is your mom? JOHN: Aunt Caroline gave her a Valium. She’s sleeping upstairs. MICHELLE: Good. (beat) It’s good to see you, John. JOHN: You, too, Michelle. MICHELLE: Someone told me you drove here. JOHN: Straight through. 52 hours. MICHELLE: You guys always loved to drive. JOHN: Yeah. But really it was just that I couldn’t fly. Beat. He looks at her. Stares. He has something on his mind. It’s a long time before he speaks. JOHN: (continued) I want to tell you something. MICHELLE: What? He just stares. She turns to him. MICHELLE: (continued) John, what is it? JOHN: Luke called me. On my cell. As the plane was going down. MICHELLE: What? JOHN: Luke called me as the plane was going down. MICHELLE: How? JOHN: Well, I guess if the plane gets low enough, your cell will pick up a tower andMICHELLE: What are you talking about? Why didn’t you tell me? JOHN: I was going to tell you immediately, but everything was so crazy and then a couple days went by andMICHELLE: You actually spoke to him? JOHN: I didn’t speak to him. I had an early shift at the casino. I didn’t see the call until later that day. tography He left a message. MICHELLE: What did he say? John pulls out his cell phone. MICHELLE: (continued) Jesus Christ, you have it right here? JOHN: Do you want to hear it? MICHELLE: Yeah, I want to hear it. He presses some buttons and hands it to her. She listens. Little by little, she cracks. She gives him back the phone. JOHN: I’m sorry, Michelle. She tries to hold it together. Can’t. JOHN: (continued) I shouldn’t have told you. I’m such an idiot. MICHELLE: I’m glad you did. JOHN: No, no, I- … and then let you listen to the call? Here? I should haveMICHELLE: What, and kept it a secret? She wipes her eyes. Hard. MICHELLE: (continued) Why do you suppose he called you? JOHN: What do you mean? MICHELLE: Why didn’t he call me? I’m his wife. JOHN: There was no time, obviously, to make two callsMICHELLE: Yeah, OK, but why did he decide to call you and not me?

JOHN: He could have pressed any buttons given the circumstances. MICHELLE: I heard the message, John. Luke knew who he was calling. JOHN: So what? MICHELLE: You have one call to make, I think who you choose says a lot. JOHN: MichelleMICHELLE: Hey, look, I know, OK? Your mother warned me. JOHN: About what? MICHELLE: When I married Luke, your mother pulled me aside at the church and said, “You’ll never come between the twins.” JOHN: She said this at the wedding? MICHELLE: In front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which, I promise you, I won’t ever forget. JOHN: That’s unbelievable. MICHELLE: I think it was just her way of saying “be careful.” And she was right. Luke chose you all the time. I could never get where you were. JOHN: Michelle, that’s not true. MICHELLE: Oh, come on, John. Your whole lives have been totally intertwined. I’ve never seen any two people as close as you two. JOHN: But I moved away. I’ve been in Maine for five years. MICHELLE: So what? I saw his emails. Spam, then you, spam, then you, spam, then you, you, you. Zillions of texts. Every time he got a phone call, it seemed like it was you. Every day. Three times a day sometimes. JOHN: But we talked nonsense. Stupid shit. Insulting each other. You two had a marriage. MICHELLE: So? You two were a constant reminder that no matter how much Luke said he loved me, I was all alone in the world. JOHN: Jesus, Michelle, we’re all all alone. MICHELLE: Are we? JOHN: Yeah. MICHELLE: Let me ask you, have you ever really felt alone? I mean, really alone? Beat. JOHN: No. MICHELLE: See? JOHN: Except for these last six days. MICHELLE: Oh, John. I’m sorry, I … I don’t know what I’m thinking. JOHN: Hey, it’s been a rough time. MICHELLE: I know, but … JOHN: Forget it. MICHELLE: I’m so sorry. JOHN: We’re going to really need each other, Michelle. Forget it. MICHELLE: It’s just … that phone call. Why did he call you and not me? I know that’s selfish, I know it. I can’t help it. I feel like being selfish right now. If I don’t think about how I feel I’m just going to

absolutely lose it. JOHN: Michelle, pleaseMICHELLE: (hysterical) And don’t tell me to fucking calm down! Beat. He looks around, as if the guests have heard her. She doesn’t care. MICHELLE: (continued) I wish Luke and I had kids. Then I wouldn’t feel so goddamn alone. Beat. MICHELLE: (continued) Who would you call? JOHN: What do you mean? MICHELLE: You know what I mean. JOHN: Let’s not do this, Michelle. MICHELLE: You don’t have to answer. I know. It’s Luke. Of course it is. JOHN: And who would you call ifMICHELLE: Luke! Who do you think?! Beat. MICHELLE: (continued) Can I listen to the message again? JOHN: Why? MICHELLE: I want to hear it. JOHN: No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. MICHELLE: What do you mean “no”? JOHN: I mean, no, you can’t listen to the message. MICHELLE: I want to hear it again! JOHN: No! MICHELLE: Give me your goddamn phone! He’s my husband! A little pissed, he pulls it out, punches some buttons, gives it to her. JOHN: Here! She starts to listen. She presses a button. JOHN: (continued) What did you just do? MICHELLE: There. It’s gone now. She gives him the phone. JOHN: You deleted it? MICHELLE: I can’t have his final moment be about you and not me! I will not let you come between me and Luke right here at the end! JOHN: I’m not coming between you and Luke! MICHELLE: I have news for you, your entire existence has come between me and Luke! Beat. John gets up, to walk away. He doesn’t. He looks down at her. MICHELLE: (continued) We don’t have to pretend, John. We both know the truth. He loved you more than he loved me. He exits. She sits a moment. Then downs her beer. Lights fade out.

Read the remainder of the 2019 Charles M. Getchell Award-winning play, The Other Half, online at:

Are You a Future Getchell Award Winner? SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Award recognizes worthy new scripts written by individuals who live or go to school in the SETC region or by SETC members who live in or outside the region. Entries are accepted annually between March 1 and June 1. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and an all-expenses-paid trip to the SETC Convention, where both a critique and a staged reading of the winning play are held. More info: Visit

Fall 2019 x Southern Theatre x 33

(Continued from Page 31)

KING: What advice do you have for

to follow them. If I try to force my intention,

emerging playwrights?

it usually comes out forced.

CORNELL: Do not assume the theatre

KING: What’s your plan for the play now?

world owes you a career because you’ve

CORNELL: My plan is to produce the play

written a play. Put away jealousies, if you

where I live, in Chapel Hill, NC. I have a

can. Don’t compare yourself to others.

director and a cast. I’m just trying to find

Enjoy the experience of making something

the right venue.

from nothing. If you don’t love it, don’t do

KING: Are you currently working on

it. Don’t let the reviews get to you. Don’t

anything new?

let other people decide how you feel about

CORNELL: Sure. Two plays in particular.

your own play. And, finally, if you read a

One, Carolyn Adams, which is about rein-

good play or see a good production, what-

carnation and set in a used sporting goods

ever it is, shout it from the rooftops! The

shop in California, is going to be produced

theatre community needs all the support

by a theatre (The ArtsCenter in Carrboro,

it can get. n

NC) close to me in November. The other is

Laura King is a professional playwright, a member of the SETC Publications Committee and the chair of the SETC Playwriting Committee.

Southern Used, a play about faith and race set in a used book shop in the South, where a young African American boy believes he has seen God in the shop. That one has been overhauled a couple of times. It’s a big play.

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Advertising Info:; 336-272-3645 Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram 34 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS . . . Editor: Lamont Clegg

Words, words, words … [Hamlet II,ii] reviews books on theatre that have a connection to the Southeast or may be of special interest to SETC members. Lamont Clegg, director of the drama program at Osceola County School for the Arts in Florida, edits this regular column. If you have a book for review, please send to: SETC, Book Editor, 1175 Revolution Mill Drive, Studio 14, Greensboro, NC 27405. The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois 2018, Bloomsbury USA; ISBN: 978-1-63557-176-9 Pages: 448 Price: $30 (hardback); $18 (paperback) $12.06 (Kindle)

view the members of the

on Angels in America’s

original Broadway cast –

role in the mid-1990s cul-

Stephen Spinella, Joe Man-

ture wars, particularly the

tello, Ron Leibman, Kath-

controversy surrounding

leen Chalfant, Marcia Gay

productions of Angels at

Harden, Jeffrey Wright,

Catholic University in

David Marshall Grant and

Washington, DC, and at

Ellen McLaughlin – they

Charlotte Rep in North

also were able to inter-


view pre-Broadway work-

The book also features

hen Tony Kushner ’s Angels in

shop cast members in San

a sidebar comparing Mil-

America premiered on Broadway in

Francisco and Los Angeles

lennium Approaches to

1993, it was the culmination of a long and

and at NYU. They had in-

Perestroika. Conventional

arduous development process that includ-

depth interviews with pre-

wisdom has held almost

ed actors, directors, designers and drama-

Broadway directors Oskar

from the beginning that

turgs with workshops and performances

Eustis and Tony Taccone,

in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles,

as well as Declan Donnellan – who directed

the superior part and Perestroika is much

London and back to New York. The epic

both parts of Angels at London’s National

more sprawling and perhaps unfinished

two-part play opened with Hamilton-like

Theatre before and during their original

due to the pressure to get it quickly to

buzz around it, ultimately winning a slew

Broadway runs – and Broadway director

Broadway. While opinions on the two parts

of Tony Awards in 1993 and 1994, with Part

George C. Wolfe. Given the seemingly limit-

tend to run the gamut – Taccone thinks

One of the play, Millennium Approaches, also

less access Butler and Kois achieve, they are

Millennium is “like a perfect play,” while

winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

able to weave a Rashomon-like story about

director JoAnne Akalaitis prefers Perestroika

As a professor of dramatic literature,

the development of the play, both as an

– referring to it as more experimental,

I have long argued that Angels in America

unparalleled work of art and as an artistic

adventuresome and poetic. Kushner him-

represents the most important American

commodity capable of making or breaking

self compares it to Goethe’s Faust, One and

play of the second half of the 20th century



– if not the most important American play

ever written.

ment. Butler and Kois structure the book

both parts of Angels in America exist. The

There have been many articles,

linearly with a five-act format detailing

World Only Spins Forward is an outstanding

interviews and stories written about Angels

the birth and continuing life of the play.

and fascinatingly sprawling series of first-

in America, but the most comprehensive

Each act includes interludes with in-depth

person accounts that allow the reader to

book about the play – an oral history from

examinations of the individual characters

examine the plays from any angle. Moving

the people who were there – was published

in the plays by the actors who played them.

forward, this is the book people will reach

in 2018, for the 25th anniversary of the

For example, actors discussing the char-

for when contemplating the creation and

Broadway premiere. Isaac Butler and Dan

acter of Louis include Joe Mantello, Jason

continuing impact of Tony Kushner ’s

Kois’ The World Only Spins Forward: The

Isaacs, Adam Driver and Ben Shenkman.

Angels in America. n

Ascent of Angels in America, is a remarkable

The personal insights into the characters

achievement of documentary storytelling.

also reveal the processes by which the

Butler and Kois have seemingly inter-

individual actors went about creating their

viewed anyone ever involved with a pro-


duction of Angels in America anywhere in

the world. Not only were they able to inter-

of Southern Theatre is a chapter focusing

by Richard St. Peter


36 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2019

What results is an amazing accomplish-

An area of particular interest for readers

Millennium Approaches is

Ultimately, what is important is that

Richard St. Peter is an assistant professor of theatre at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He is the chair of SETC’s Directing Committee and a member of the Editorial Board of Southern Theatre.


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