Meet the Playwrights

For the annual New Voices Play Festival, GVT reached out to our selected playwrights to get their perspective on their writing, their inspirations and how thrilling it can be to see their work performed. Here's what they had to say.

Nicholas Thurkettle

Breakfast for Quartet - Four strangers sit at a diner counter. Each has their own story, just like each has their own order for the waitress. But if you listen, you can sometimes hear harmonies.

Q- In what way do personal experiences influence your writing, and this play in particular?

A- Every day they're going into the stew pot. Sometimes I look at scripts I wrote years ago and think "Oh, *that's* where you were at. Sorry, man." With this, because it has such a confessional quality, I gave myself rare permission to express a writer's doubts and anxieties pretty directly through the writer character. That overtly personal and vulnerable thread seemed to tie it all together because I wasn't revealing anything about the others I wouldn't reveal about myself.

Q- How do you feel when you complete a play? How did it feel when your play was selected for GVT's New Voices Play Festival?

A- There's always some sense of relief and pride; but I'm so accustomed now to the ongoing work of editing, submitting, workshopping et al, that you sort of have to trick yourself into that moment because deep down I know the work isn't done at all! The New Voices selection was quite a rush, because despite my usual obsessive self-criticism, there's something about this script I think is promising and good; and this message (the first response I've received on this play) arrived like outside affirmation of that.

Q- Are you ever nervous when you see one of your plays live?

A- It's such a roller-coaster, because you have this opportunity to have the richest experience at all, spotting some special and unexpected choice an actor makes with the text, or an interpretation a director found in a scene that I never considered but feels fully-justifiable and thrilling. And I do want to watch for that, but to me it is so crucial for my own growth to be plugged into that audience, and feel the ebb and flow of their engagement. Theater offers a unique space in which to perceive that attention; and no matter what else we might do as dramatists, that's the only question that ultimately matters - Those people in the chairs. Do I have them? If they're not connecting with it, I'm in agony!

Nicholas Thurkettle is a writer, actor, and filmmaker based in Southern California whose short plays have been produced throughout the U.S. He is a producer, writer, and performer of original audio dramas for the award-winning podcast Earbud Theater, and he spent five seasons with the acclaimed outdoor festival Shakespeare Orange County. He is the co-author of novels Seeing by Moonlight and A Sickness in Time, and author of short story collection Stages of Sleep. He studied Theater Arts and Music at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, and is a proud member of the Writers Guild of America and the Orange County Playwrights Alliance.

Being Ferried - While traveling to New York City on the ferry with her mother, Ashley's future is foretold.

Q- How did you hear about GVT"s New Voices and why did you decide to participate this year?

A-  There are several online resources I use, especially NYCPLAYWRIGHTS.blogspot.com. I've submitted to GVT before but this is the first time I was selected.

Q- What do you enjoy most about theatre and what drew you towards writing?

A- I've been involved in professional theatre since my twenties and started writing for a Theatre for Children program I ran in Vermont as part of a summer theatre. I began to write adult plays in 2007.

Q- How does it feel to see your work performed live on stage? Do you ever get nervous when going to see a performance?

A-I like seeing my work brought to life! I hear my character's voices when writing, but I love to hear other interpretations. Sometimes casting is not what I expected and I like that too. Once a play leaves my computer I've learned to let it go to new voices.

Marj O'Neill Butler is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the International Center for Women Playwrights. Produced Plays: TRUE BLUE, JULIA TUTTL: THE MOTHER OF MIAMI, TAKING THINGS IN HAND, LOOKING FOR SEASONAL WORK and many more. A published playwright and mother of two grown sons, Marj is a proud member of Equity and SAG-AFTRA.  Visit her online at MarjONeill-Butler.com.

Slammed! - Recently retired, Richard takes up a new hobby – professional wrestling. His wife, Nancy is horrified and solicits the help of their youngest son, Donnie, to help talk some sense into her husband. The conversation does not go the way Nancy planned, as the men remember Donnie’s childhood and his wrestling heroes. After an argument about Richard’s plan, Donnie comes up with a compromise. Nancy is going to be the girlfriend in the corner and keep an idea on her husband.

Q- Do you ever write full length plays? If so, how do they differ from writing short plays? What do you enjoy most about writing?

A- I have just finished my first full length play with the advice of my great mentor, the award-winning playwright, Will Newkirk.  It is very different than the 10 minute plays.  You may rewrite scenes 5 times. You may even (like me) have to change the protagonist and retitle the play.  But, it is all worth it.  You get lost inside your imagination, you hear the words, they become a play, the play feels like reality.  This is what we love.  This is why we write.

Q- At what age did you find you wanted to be a playwright and what sparked that interest for you?

A- I did not become a playwright until age 66.  I was an actor at age 6. I wanted to return to the theater.  My acting was rusty, my confidence was nowhere. I had written academic articles and books, so I thought maybe I could write plays.  I was lucky to find the Orlando Playwrights’ Round Table. It looks like it could work out.

Q- Have you ever had the opportunity to direct or perform in any of your works, and, if so, how does that feel?

A- I have not acted in any of my plays, nor have I directed one. I feel my job is to write the script. It is the director’s job to interpret the script, and the actor’s job to interpret the characters.  Even if I go back to acting, I will stay out of my plays, and let the other artists invoke their skills into the presentation.

James T. Kitchens received his B.S. in Drama and M.A. from the University of Georgia, and his Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Florida. He has owned a political consulting firm since 1983. Jim returned to theater as a playwright in 2016 when he “semi-retired”. He has had four plays produced in seven venues since 2016.

Notice - Two strangers meet at a bus-stop and find different meaning in a single word. It could change their lives.

Q- Have you ever had to opportunity to work on any of your plays, such as directing or acting?

A- No, I wouldn't go near my own work! I'm kidding but only slightly. I was an actor - I'm now in recovery - and I've never directed or wanted to direct. One of the things I love about creating a new play and making it "work" is the fact that it's such a collaborative process - actors and directors and other theatre artists all contribute ideas and perspectives that enrich and deepen the piece and that you, the playwright, have never though of. And the audience completes the creative circle with their reactions and responses to what they see and hear.

Q- What inspired Notice?

A- I love language, and I'm always playing around with words in my head (and on paper). I'm also perpetually curious about how people misinterpret or misunderstand things that are said to them. That all came together in Notice. You might say that it's a play on words!

Q- What are some challenges you face when writing, both full-length and short?

A- First off, you need to have an idea that excites you and that you want to share with other people. Because you're going to be immersed in the play for along time - thinking about it, doing research, writing and rewriting ad nauseam. On average, I'd say it takes me between 12-18 months to bring a full-length play from conception to stage readiness. And then, of course, you hope you're lucky enough to get the thing produced, which is a whole other challenge: a lot of writers are chasing too few opportunities among the small minority of theaters that produce new work. (Thank you, Greenbrier Valley!!).

Peter Snoad is a British-American playwright who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. His plays have been produced throughout the U.S. and internationally. He is the recipient of writing fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Peter’s most recent full-length play, The Draft, about personal experiences with the Vietnam War draft, received two Best New Play nominations from New England theater critics.

Reflections - Two sisters finish clearing out the old family home after their mother’s death. The final item is their mother’s antique hand mirror. While reflecting upon its value, they come to discover its greater worth.

Q- What plays that you are most proud of and why? Why did you choose to submit this particular play?

A- Among my published full-length plays, I'm most proud of a comedy called When Bullfrogs Sing Opera, which won the McLaren Memorial Comedy Play Writing Competition at Midland (TX) Community Theatre in 2001.  Besides the comedy in the play, it contained a lot of heart about family relationships.  Among my published one-act plays, I have a special fondness for "Foster's Hat," about a man who is bequeathed a hat from a recently deceased friend who was mentally challenged.  The play spoke of the friend's value to everyone who knew and loved him.

Q- What are some highlights from your career?

A- The highlights of my career have been the times I won various national playwriting competitions, both full-length and one-act.  These wins resulted in productions by the theaters sponsoring the contests and later led to publication of the plays.

Q- What advice would you give to new writers nervous about submitting their work for festivals like New Voices?

A- I would advise new writers not to be nervous at all when submitting to festivals.  For one thing, if your play doesn't make the cut, it's a long-distance rejection, so it doesn't hurt so much.  They should keep in mind that all judging is subjective.  On numerous occasions I have had plays that weren't accepted by one festival, yet went on to be accepted in some other festival.  So my advice would be to keep submitting, while at the same time examining your play for any weaknesses you can correct, especially if you receive feedback from the judges that may highlight some particular area of concern.

Carl L. Williams'  full-length and one-act plays have won numerous national playwriting competitions. His plays have received over 350 productions around the country, as well as Canada and Mexico. More than 35 of his plays have been published, with several one-acts appearing in anthologies. Carl is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Texas Nonprofit Theatres, and the American Association of Community Theatre. He is also the author of a western novel called FOOL’S PLAY, available in bookstores virtually nowhere.

Wednesday's Child - Arthur and Georgianne, married 30+ years, read together in the park on a Wednesday afternoon. Then Georgianne spots an unattended bassinette that appears to hold . . . a baby? The question of what to do? re-opens arguments the couple had thought long closed.

Q- At what age would you say you first became interested in theatre, and what drew you to it as a career?

A- My parents took me to a production of Les Miserables, in Baltimore, when I was eleven, and I was spellbound. I auditioned for the school play the following year, got a part, and fell in love with performing. Eventually, I began to dabble in playwriting, and as I wrote more I realized I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed acting, and by my late twenties, I'd made the transition from aspiring actor to aspiring playwright.

Q- Have there been any particular playwright/authors who have had a great influence over your career? What work have they done that has been particularly inspirational?

A- My two favorite playwrights are Shakespeare and Chekhov --- I love the bottomless depths of Shakespeare's characters, and I love how Chekhov layers so much meaning into the smallest of actions. As for contemporary playwrights, my favorite is probably Sarah Ruhl --- I love her theatricality and humor.

Q- Do you have any advice for beginners who are trying to get their name out in the theatre world?

A- Read a lot of plays, see a lot of theatre, enter every conversation with an open mind, and join the Dramatists Guild.

Brent Englar is from Baltimore, Maryland, and works as an editor for an ed-tech company. His plays have been produced throughout the United States, including in Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C. He is also a former Regional Representative (Baltimore) for the Dramatists Guild of America. To learn more about his work, please visit his website: www.brentenglar.com.

Meet Me in the Endive - A widow needs help with her garden, but won’t admit it until she receives a visit from her late husband who’s on probation from limbo.

Q- What would you say first inspired you to write plays and how old were you?

A-  In my late 30s, I tried writing a mystery novel. However, I wasn't any good at it -- didn't have enough words in me. Several years later, in my early 40s, I started writing plays. What inspired me? When I was a teenager, my father took me to see A Man for All Seasons on Broadway and the next year to see Man of La Mancha. It also inspired me that George Bernard Shaw started writing plays when he was in his early 40s and was a journalist like me. In addition, have always liked plays -- the intimacy, good talk, good stories, drama. The compression of language also appealed to me.

Q- How would you explain your writing process and how have you perfected it over the years?

A- For a full-length play, I do extensive research, then develop bios of my principal characters, followed by an outline, then start writing scenes, working from the beginning of the play and moving forward. Usually I need to know how the play ends, but not always. I'm fortunate enough to belong to the Playwrights Group of Baltimore which meets twice a month mostly during the school year. We can bring a scene from a play we're working on, generally 10 pages, with enough copies for members of the group to assume the various characters while the writer listens. Then the "actors"/playwrights offer feedback and the writer is encouraged to ask questions of the group. Have also asked other playwright friends to read a full length play and offer feedback. In addition, when working on a full length play, I've attended a couple of conferences for playwrights, notably Sewanee at the University of the South and the Summer Writing Workshop at the University of Iowa. Over the years, I've learned that our playwrights group works best in offering constructive criticism (what's working? what could work better?) on 10-minute plays rather than full-length plays. Our structure is best suited to shorter works. Usually it takes me two years or more (as long as seven) and several rewrites to complete a full-length play. A 10-minute has taken as long as a year, also with several rewrites. With one full length, I also went through Play Penn and hired a dramaturg to obtain her feedback; that was very helpful too.

Q- What made you want to participate in GVT's New Voices Play Festival?

A- As a member of the playwrights binge, I was reminded of your New Voices Play Festival. Have submitted on my own in the past, but this is the first time that a play of mine made it to the finish line. Thrilled!

Theatrical Mining Company has produced two of Susan Middaugh’s full-length plays, Black Widows and A Modern Pas De Deux andLazy Bee Scripts has published her short plays, Table for Two and  Just a Bus Driver. Fourteen of her short plays have had productions by 27 community theaters in the U.S., England and Canada and she is a member of the Dramatists’ Guild and the New Play Exchange and a charter member of the Playwrights Group of Baltimore.

The Night Sky - Stan and Stella are two midsized stars, living a midsized life. Theyquestion their purpose in the universe, as well as their strained relationship.

Q- Where do you find your inspiration and would you say you prefer writing long or short plays?

A- It's hard to pinpoint where the inspiration comes from, because it can come from anywhere. Sometimes it's visual art or personal experience or just the general strangeness of the world. I like writing both long and short plays for different reasons. Writing longer plays is great because you really get to sit in the world for a long time and work things through, but writing short plays is also rewarding because you get to do this little snippets of life.

 

Q-  What are some challenges you face while writing a play?

 

A- There are a number of challenges I face when writing a play and the experience of writing each play is so different it's hard to compare. The process for The Night Sky was unlike any I had ever had. The initial draft was part of a commission to write a play using Voice Recognition software. I had to hand write the play first and then read it to the software, calling attention to every word and punctuation. As you can imagine, there were a lot of challenges involved in this process, and a lot of happy, humorous accidents.

 

Q- How does it feel to know that your work is going to be produced? What is it like to see your work live on stage?

 

A- It's very exciting! It's the biggest thrill and it's why I write.

 

Eugenie Carabatsos's plays have won several awards such as the Kennedy Center Harold and Mimi Steinberg National Student Playwriting Award, have been produced by many different theatres such as the  Trustus Theatre, Stages Theatre, and South Park Theatre, as well as in a number of festivals and development programs including the Great Plains Theater Conference. She graduated with her MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016, and received her BA from Wesleyan University in 2010.

Laura Kastenbauer