Student Wins National Playwriting Awards

National Playwriting Competition in NYC, Young Playwrights Competition in LA

August 06, 2013

Nicole Acton at The Blank Theatre

Knox College student Nicole Acton is headed for a national playwriting conference, after her one-act play, "War" was judged one of the best in the nation in the 2013 National Playwriting Competition.

Acton's play was one of seven winners selected from 694 submissions to the competition sponsored by Young Playwrights, Inc., a professional theater founded by famed lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim to identify, develop and promote playwrights under the age of 18. Acton will receive an all-expense paid trip to the Young Playwrights Conference in New York City in January 2014.

Alt_Text_HereStudents Nicole Acton, left, Emily Ioppolo and Andrew Purvis move set furniture for a production earlier this year in Harbach Theatre at Knox College. More photos in the gallery below.

Acton also was one of just 12 winners in the 21st Annual Young Playwrights Competition & Festival at The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles. The award included a fully staged production this summer of her play "Survival Strategy."

Nicole Acton talks about the awards and her work in theatre:

Q: What are the details of the National Playwriting Competition award?
A: I won with a one-act play called "War." The winners were judged in several rounds by theatre professionals. At the Young Playwrights Conference, we will participate in workshops, see a variety of theatre, and receive staged readings by professional actors and a professional director of the winning plays. Before going to New York, the playwright is also assigned a mentor, who is a professional playwright or dramaturg, who helps with the revision of the play.

Q: What is the play about?
A: "War" is about a married couple, Lucy and Tucker, who are stranded in their house during a blizzard. Tucker has a disorder called congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, which causes him to lose his ability to regulate his breathing when he falls asleep. He sleeps with a ventilator, but the blizzard has killed the power, and he and his wife are snowed in. Lucy is forced to keep Tucker awake until the power comes back on, but as the night wears on, she isn't entirely sure that she wants to.

Sherwood KiralyQ: How and when did you write it?
A: I wrote the play during Fall term 2012 during my Intro to Playwriting class. I then received a staged reading as part of the fall Playwrights Workshop, and through that, got a lot of feedback and a sense of how the play sounded out loud.

Q: How have experiences at Knox helped develop your work?
A: Sherwood Kiraly, an instructor of fiction, screenwriting, and playwriting, has been incredible. I wrote the original draft of "War" in his class. As a professional playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, his ability to answer my questions that extend beyond the classroom -- delving into things like agents and how movies are made -- has been invaluable.

The New Plays Festival [held at Knox in the spring of 2013], which highlighted the work of student and alumni playwrights, was also an amazing opportunity. The festival gave me a chance to throw myself headfirst into theatre. My full-length play, "McComb 1964," ended up being produced, which was amazing in itself, but the most incredible part of the experience was talking to the actors and the director, all students, who offered deep, intelligent, and often unexpected insights about the characters and plot.

Elizabeth Carlin MetzAbout a week after the performance of "McComb 1964," I met with theatre professor Elizabeth Carlin Metz. We talked long enough that I was late to my next class. If you're serious about revision, about creating the best possible art, there is nothing more precious than a willing and thoughtful critic, someone who sees the best part of your play -- or your story or your essay or your poem -- and wants to help you make it even better. I've been lucky to find many such people at Knox.

Q: You also won another national playwriting competition this year, which gave you another opportunity in theatre.
A: I went to Los Angeles at the beginning of the summer as part of the Blank Theatre Company's Young Playwrights Festival. They choose 12 winners, who received fully staged professional productions of their plays. I was in LA for almost two weeks, working with my cast and my director, and at the end of the trip, I saw the professional production of my play "Survival Strategy."

Q: Have you received any funding to help with your work this summer?
A: Yes! I applied for and received a Richter Grant through Knox to pay for the travel to and from LA. I wouldn't have been able to have such an incredible -- and truly educational, when it comes to understanding the professional world of theatre -- trip without the support of the Richter Fund.

Q: How do you see your work this summer benefiting what you do in the future, in other projects or activities at Knox, and career plans beyond Knox?
A: The professional connections I've made as part of this competition have already helped me. Though receiving a production of my play was incredible, the lasting impact will be in my understanding of the role of a playwright in the world of professional theatre and my relationships with the professionals who work with the Blank Theatre.

Furthermore, the plays are staged in a 100-seat theatre with very limited technical capabilities, so working with them has helped me to be more mindful in writing plays that are produceable -- that is, plays that don't require an elaborate light scheme or fancy costumes or a cast of 20, which I think will be beneficial when it comes to trying to get plays produced outside of a school setting, because people don't usually want to put a lot of money into a play by an unheard-of playwright.

Nicole Acton at The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles and working at Harbach Theatre at Knox College

Photos at The Blank Theatre by Anne McGrath