By Charlie Schulman, Spalding Low-Residency MFA Dramatic Writing Faculty
This is the first of an ongoing series that will report and promote the accomplishments of Spalding University’s MFA Dramatic Writing alums and current students. In this edition we will be featuring four MFA Playwriting alums who are making contributions to the field by creating theater-making opportunities for themselves and others.
This is at the heart of the ethos of the Spalding program: the writer as provocateur who builds and sustains community while creating opportunity for themselves and others.
The Spalding MFA Dramatic Writing program is very proud of recent graduate Julia B. Rosenblatt (PW ’18) for being inducted into The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (while still a student in the MFA program). Julia is one of 11 women inducted at a ceremony on November 5th. The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame is an educational outreach organization whose mission is to honor publicly the achievement of Connecticut women, preserve their stories, educate the public, and inspire the continued achievements of women and girls.
Julia was honored for her work as a playwright and as co-founder of HartBeat Ensemble. A playwright, director, and recognized theater educator, Julia is the recipient of numerous grants and awards for her writing and education work, including the National Endowment for the Arts New Works award. She stepped down as Artistic Director of HartBeat Ensemble after 17 years when she began the MFA program.
“I produce theater because it is the ultimate collective art form,” Julia says. “It is my expression of spirituality, my tool for social change and hopefully the way I contribute to my community, Speaking of which, community is something I thought I had enough of before I started the Spalding MFA program. I was wrong. At Spalding I have found a community of writers, both peers and mentors, who challenge me in the most loving, supportive way possible. This has given me the courage to identify myself as an individual artist after years of working within an ensemble.”
Synthia Williams (PW ’09) is a founding member and associate artistic director of the New African Grove Theatre Company, a community theater in Atlanta created to encourage African-American participation and involvement in all aspects of theatrical production. Its mission is to provide a nurturing work environment for artists, encourage diverse culture, and increase awareness of African-American theater contributions by producing both African-American classics and new theatrical works for the stage. New African Grove carries on in the spirit of the first African-American theater company in the United States, the original African Grove company, established by free blacks in 1821 in New York City.
Synthia says that creating the company with several others was for her the natural next step of what she wanted to accomplish in theater after starting out as an actress. She now directs and produces in addition to having several of her own plays produced by the company, including Domestic Damages, Boxing Memories (written at Spalding) and Sins of the Father.
The company was formed when Synthia was finishing her MFA at Spalding. According to Synthia, “Spalding gave me the confidence to take the next step.”
Amina McIntyre’s (PW ’09) play On the Third Day was recently produced by Vanguard Repertory Theatre in East Point, Georgia. The play follows the Lansing family, who must examine their own grief in order to piece their family back together. The play is Amina’s first intersection of all her worlds as a writer/minister, and surveys African-American grieving experiences. Her plays are typically performed either in churches or theaters, with content catering to a specific audience. On the Third Day was inspired by how chaplains handle grief practices and family systems theory. Amina says, “The hope is to use the play as a talking point for people to discuss their grief, which was accomplished by the feedback we received.”
As a minister who has served as a chaplain, Amina incorporates drama, dance, music, visual arts, technology, and social media into the worship experience within her denomination. Amina writes short plays based on scripture/sermonic themes or that are based on the worship ritual and are designed to be part of the worship experience. For example, her play Living Right was written around a Jesus figure; the prayers are from scripture after the crucifixion, and the congregation partakes in communion as they are also members of the play.
Starting in 2019, Amina will be co-directing a creative cohort called Creating 2 Create, which allows art ministers to discern and implement their craft in spiritual spaces. Her goal is to give artists a space to explore the “sacred moments in their work and reimagine themselves as a part of their larger faith communities.” The program lasts for 10 months, will have no more than five to eight members, meets weekly, and encourages individual and communal art projects. The cohort members are interdenominational and are intended to partner with their faith community.
Elizabeth Harris (PW ’15) is a playwright, actor, director, and co-artistic Director of Cincinnati LAB Theatre. “We develop and produce new works,” Elizabeth says. “My passion is helping playwrights, new and experienced, bring their plays to life through a workshop process in which the playwright is teamed with actors and a director to help further grow the playwright’s piece.” Cincinnati LAB Theatre produces a New Works Festival every summer. Spalding alums who have been involved in the New Works Festival include Heather Meyer (PW ’16) with The Hired Man and Jeffrey Fischer Smith (PW ’17) with When the Son Is Shining. Two of Elizabeth’s plays have also been produced in the festival: Daughter of War (written while Elizabeth was at Spalding) and Judas. Elizabeth and Cincinnati LAB produced Led Thespian last summer at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the next installments of “The Little MFA Dramatic Writing Program That Could,” we will celebrate the creation of Spalding Dramatists, the Facebook page currently curated by Jeffrey Fisher Smith and seven other Spalding alums and faculty. We will also rejoice in the stunning explosion of ten-minute plays being produced across the country and abroad by Spalding playwriting alums. (Is any of this a direct result of contests posted by Spalding Dramatists?) We will also celebrate alum Portia Pennington (SW ’17) and current student Theresa Carey (and others) for the positive attention their screenplays are receiving in various screenwriting contests. We also plan to talk to alum Keith Nixon (SW ’08) about writing and directing his first short film and to alum Matt Wohl (SW ’13) about writing and producing his first feature film. We will also ask alum Jane B. Jones (PW ’17) about her work teaching playwriting, producing young people’s plays, and serving as Education Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville. We will also celebrate Marilyn Millstone’s (PW ’16) full-length stage play Proprioception, which recently won the AACT NewPlayFest 2020 competition! There are six winning plays in all; each will be produced by an AACT member theater and published in an anthology issued by Dramatic Publishing.
Charlie Schulman is on the Spalding MFA Dramatic Writing Faculty. His Musical GOLDSTEIN is being published by Stage Rights Theatricals, and The Off-Broadway Original Cast Album is being distributed by Broadway Records in January.