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The play’s the thing

FW Civic unveils winners of the first annual NE Indiana Playwright Contest

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The Ladies In Cabin 10, a story about five middle-aged friends on an annual summer vacation, is the winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s first annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Contest.

Winning playwright Nancy Carlson will have her play performed at the first annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival at the Allen County Public Library June 4 – 6.

Carlson was one of five playwrights honored. Second place went to Ruth Tyndall Baker for Papillons, while Jay Duffer’s Asleep In the Arms of God won third place. Staged readings of both plays will be part of the festival in June.

In addition, honorable mentions went to Chad Kennerk’s The Door, a story about three souls in a romantic triangle stuck together in a waiting room between life and the afterlife; and Profanity by local theater veteran (and FWR contributor) Chris Colcord, about a teen-ager’s suspension from school and the issues that arise between her, her father, and her guidance counselor.

The five winners were chosen from over 30 scripts sent in for the competition, which was open to current or former resident of Northeast Indiana within a 90-mile radius of Fort Wayne.

And while the guidelines called for the plays to be unproduced and unpublished, the winners all have significant experience and background in the theater.

Winner Nancy Carlson previously wrote three musical for children’s theater — all produced in different areas of the country — including The Magic Pebble, which was named Best Children’s Theater Play in Denver and published by Samuel French. But Carlson said she put her playwriting career “on hold” for several years “while I had to go out and make a living.” The Ladies In Cabin 10 was actually written 25 years ago. “I had a few people read it, and then I put it in a closet and got busy with my career,” she says.

Carlson has been involved with the Fort Wayne Civic Theater many times in the past, so when she heard about the contest, she dusted off her script and prepared to send it in. But… “It was awful,” she laughs. “It was the worst play in the world. I spent a month re-writing it.”

In The Ladies In Cabin 10, five middle-aged women, friends for years, get together for their annual boozy week at a lake resort. “They decide it’s become really boring,” says Carlson, who also contributes columns to The News Sentinel. “The lake has dried up, the resort is falling apart, and they decide to do something different.” They decide to “do an Eliza Doolittle” on Gus, the down-at-heel owner of the down-at-heel resort, but in the process, they end up examining their own lives. At heart, Carlson says, the story is about how everyone else’s life may look perfect, but the reality is far different.

Carlson is looking forward to having The Ladies In Cabin 10 produced at the festival in June. “When you create people in your mind, it’s really exciting to see them come alive on stage.” In the director’s chair for the production will be Jeff Moore, a veteran of local theater and a teacher at IPFW.

Second place winner Ruth Tyndall Baker also has an extensive list of theater credits to her name, with over 30 shows produced. “I started writing skits for my high school pep sessions and just… went from there,” she says. Previous plays include The White Whale (produced at The Looking Glass in New York) and Moshe (Kentucky Contemporary Theater in Louisville).

Born and raised in Fort Wayne and now back in her childhood home after stints in many different parts of the country, Tyndall Baker says Papillons — her entry in the contest — is a bit of a departure from her other work. It’s about Robert and Clara Schumann, the 19th century German composers. “Some plays I write in six months, but this play started a long time ago,” she says. “I read where Robert cut the skin between his fingers to get a larger extension on the piano. In doing that he mangled his hand, so he could no longer be a performer and turned to composition.”

“Actually, Papillons is as much Clara’s story as his, because she had to struggle to keep on top of things since he deteriorated into manic depression, and she too was a composer. It’s her struggle to maintain her own spirit.”

Tyndall Baker is very happy to see the Fort Wayne Civic Theater helping to promote original work. “Not many theaters produce developmental work, especially in Indiana,” she says. “This is only the third one I know of. One is in New Harmony Indiana, and the other is in the Bloomington Playwrights Project, but both of those are open to national submissions project. So where do Indiana playwrights go? Now we have the Civic.”

Jay Duffer won third place with his multi-generational family drama Asleep In the Arms of God. It’s his second play, partially written while he was living in New York City as an actor, director, and playwright. His first play, a comedy called Big Girl, Little World, was accepted into the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival and received some great reviews. Asleep In the Arms of God was developed by Threads Theater Company’s New Work Series and was accepted to be a part of Algonquin Productions 2008 Reading Series. “I’ve been writing it for a long time,” says Duffer, who moved back to Northeast Indiana this past summer with his wife. “I started around June 2004, and it was a slow process involving a lot of editing and a lot of paring down.”

Asleep… is about three generations of a Northeast Arkansas family that struggle with issues of faith, bigotry, and identity. The story covers the 1920s through 2003, but Duffer says the scenes are non-chronological. “The patriarch of the family had a major conversion of faith and became a southern Baptist preacher,” Duffer says. “But his son is an agnostic, and his son falls somewhere in between.”

“I thought: what could be more dramatic than a southern Baptist preacher and an agnostic?” he adds, laughing.

While announcing the winners of the contest, Phillip Colglazier — the Civic’s Executive Director — thanked the five finalists and by extension everyone who submitted work to the contest. “We thank each and everyone of them for their talent, for their support, and for their dedication,” he said. “Playwriting is sometimes a thankless job, so we want to say thank you.”

I asked some of the playwrights what Colglazier might have meant by the phrase “thankless job.” “It’s lonely work sometimes,” Carlson says. “You sit in a room with a yellow pad of paper, and hope what you’re doing makes sense, and that someone will appreciate it.”

Duffer thinks it has to do with the essential invisibility of the playwright, the fact that, if the play is good, the audience usually doesn’t think “someone wrote this.” And according to Duffer, that’s just fine. “If you’re lucky enough to have your play move from the pay to stage, the last thing the audience thinks about is the playwright,” he says. “They’re mesmerized or involved in the story and the characters on stage. They don’t think of the writing. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I almost feel as though it’s a compliment.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theater is hoping to make the contest and the festival in June an annual event. Guidelines and details for the 2nd Annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Contest are already available on the Civic’s website at fwcivic.org

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