January 12, 2003

KU students write, act their way to regional theater festival
Record-setting five English Alternative Theatre playwrights make cut

By Mindie Paget, Journal-World Arts Editor
Photos by Aaron Lindberg

Fifty-fifty odds aren't bad.

That's the likelihood that at least one student playwright from Kansas University's English Alternative Theatre will advance past the regionals of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival later this month to compete at the national level.

The reason for the high odds? A record-high five plays written by KU students were selected for the Region V contest.

"This year, it's just most incredible," said Paul Lim, EAT artistic director and KU English professor. "We've never had this many."

Also selected for the festival was a University Theatre production of Euripides' tragedy "Iphigenia at Aulis," directed by Sarah K. Armstrong, Cushing, Okla., graduate student.

It and "Fatherland," a one-act by fall graduate Adam Merker of Stilwell, deal with the questions and complexities of war. Both were staged last fall in Lawrence.

The public can catch one last performance of "Fatherland" at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Lawrence Arts Center before it heads to competition Jan. 21-26 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The benefit performance will help cover expenses for taking the play, the playwright and the 12-member cast and crew to the festival.

"Fatherland" was one of two one-acts chosen to compete at the festival. It will get a full performance at the competition. The other four original KU plays -- all 10-minute pieces -- make up half the entries in that category. They will get staged readings. Adjudicators will choose one play from each category to advance to nationals in April.

All five of the student playwrights wrote their works in Lim's beginning playwriting class. In the past years, two of Lim's students have won national recognition at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and had their works performed at the Kennedy Center.

Here's a look at this year's plays and their writers:


Adam Merker, fall 2002 journalism graduate, Stilwell

"Fatherland" follows three American soldiers in World War II Germany who learn that the Nazi prisoner they're hauling in is really a 17-year-old American. As the story proceeds, the soldiers find themselves turning into the very enemy they're fighting.

Merker said he got nice feedback after the play's run in October at the Lawrence Arts Center. His own grandfather, who fought in the war, told him the language may have not been 100 percent accurate, "but he said I got the feel of it right."

"That was nice to hear," Merker said.

He said he was still a bit shocked that his play had advanced to regionals.

"No matter what happens, I'm honored," he said. "It's been quite a ride. It's been surreal."

The Smog Also Rises

Paul Shoulberg, Lawrence senior in film

Shoulberg said his 10-minute play was about "the moment in a relationship when something from the outside forces their real motives to surface."

It's the story of a writer whose girlfriend pretends she's pregnant to force him to be more ambitious. A big-name movie star has offered to buy the rights to a manuscript the young man in the play has written.

Shoulberg, whose previous work has included plays at least 45 minutes long and screenplays at least 90 minutes long, said the 10-minute genre was tough.

"Writing a short play is incredibly challenging because you can't waste any words," he said. "Everything has to push the plot or concept forward. You can learn a lot by forcing yourself to write that tight."


Kristin Soper, Amarillo, Tex., senior in creative writing

"Ketchup" is about an elderly man looking back on his life, especially his marriage and his wife. It's written as a series of memories: how the man and his wife first met; when the man went to war; when the couple had its first child; their life after the child left home and the death of his wife.

It's based on the lives of her own grandparents.

"I had never written a play before," Soper said. "I was very surprised" to be selected for the competition.

One Last Time

Carol Dias da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil senior in creative writing

Da Silva jokes that her play is about "gay people and cigarettes."

And, at its most basic level, it is. The play chronicles 10 minutes in the lives of two men in a bar. One man is dealing with the fact that his wife just left him and he's trying to quit smoking. The other, a waiter, is a heavy smoker and is hitting on the customer.

Da Silva said her writing was about people and their reactions to situations.

"The characters, they come alive to you. You start thinking of them as real people," she said. "Writing is like playing God. You can get them to do whatever you want them to do. But their reactions are their own."

Attack of the Asians

Tim Macy, fall 2002 graduate in English, Noel, Mo.

The play is "essentially about an old couple, each with debilitating diseases, who are struggling to get by in the busy modern world and feel isolated from their children and society."

The idea sprung from Macy's experience with elderly couples through the years: hearing their conversations, listening to their complaints about their children never calling and their friends dying.

"I was quite glad to be selected," Macy said. "And I'm looking forward mostly to the opportunity to see all of the other works in Cedar Rapids."

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