January 24, 2008

Junior Whitney Rowland competes in playwright competition in Nebraska:

Rowland started writing plays in high school as an extra credit assignment

By Andrew Wiebe

Nurse Sara (Dana Dajani) flirts with Aidan (John Volk) in "Lights Fade, Curtain" by Whitney Rowland.

What began as an extra credit assignment has evolved into a passion and possibly a career for junior playwright Whitney Rowland. However, this process has been almost a decade in the making.

Rowland’s career as a playwright started while in theatre class at Olathe North High School. She needed extra credit for her class, so she wrote a play for it.

“When I got the assignment I was like ‘well I need some extra credit so I’ll do it,’” Rowland said. “I have called that teacher since then and thanked him so much because I think I would have found out another way that that’s my passion but I’m glad that I found it when I did.”

Now, seven years later, her full-length adaptation of that first work, now titled “Tabula Rasa,” is competing at this week’s regional Kennedy Center competition.

In addition to “Tabula Rasa,” Rowland’s one act play, “Lights Fade, Curtain,” and 10-minute play, “Erika’s Kite,” will compete for the opportunity to enter a national event at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Omaha, Neb. in April. “Lights Fade, Curtain” was performed at the Lawrence Arts Center on Jan. 19 prior to the competition.

Plays are chosen through readings where the judges know neither the name of the playwright or the school he or she represents, according to professor of English Stephen Lim.

At 25 Rowland said she knew she hadn’t taken the most direct route to the University but believed her extra experiences made her a better writer.

The summer after she graduated from high school, Rowland decided that writing plays was her calling.

While attending the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ken., one performance changed her life.

“There was a play that I saw there that just shook me to my core,” she said. “It was as if someone was speaking my language, like I had never heard my native tongue before.”

The next fall Rowland enrolled at JCCC and immediately became involved in the school’s drama department. Her writing talent was immediately recognized by arts history coordinator Beate Pettigrew.

“When she was first at JCCC she really wasn’t sure what she was doing and where she wanted to go, but we knew instantly that she was a very gifted writer,” Pettigrew said. “As she gained more confidence in her writing and decided that this was indeed going to be her focus, she just took off like a racehorse.”

During the past two years Rowland has been at the University, she has worked with Lim.

“She just keeps getting better and better and honing her craft,” Lim said. “She has wonderful stories to tell and she tells them passionately and honestly.” There is a good chance at least two will advance to the national competition in April, Lim added. He said this is the first time he can remember a student has had three plays chosen to compete in the regional competition.

Rowland said her dream was to become a professional playwright but that she would also love the opportunity to become a teacher to help students. Either way, she said she couldn’t envision doing anything but becoming a playwright after graduation.

“I can’t really get away from it,” Rowland said. “There is nothing I love more than writing.”

—Edited by Nick Mangiaracina

Original Story Located Here

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