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And the winner is…

Denise Buhr’s Discom-BOOB-ulated snares first place in the 2nd annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival.

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Ten pages.

That’s how much time aspiring playwrights have to impress the judges reading submissions for the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival.

And, according to John O’Connell, who served on the judges’ panel for this year’s competition, ten pages are more than enough. “I can usually tell in five pages if it’s a play I’m attracted to,” he says.

O’Connell, who heads up the IPFW Theater Department when he’s not judging playwright competitions, was one of the five judges who read submissions for the festival this year. The judges read the first 10 pages of the 15 scripts they received, and then did a full read of the five finalists before selecting the three winners.

10 pages sounds like a tough standard, perhaps, but really, we make similar judgment calls all the time — how many minutes do you give a new TV show before reaching for the remote? How many chapters in a book? How many choruses in a song?

O’Connell explains that he used to produce original plays in New York, and that the “five to ten page rule” is pretty common and very reliable. For him, it’s a matter of believing the “voices” in the script. “There are usually two voices — the voice of the play, and the voice of the characters,” he says. “Is there authenticity in both those categories? Do I really believe in these people I’m learning about? Is the language accessible? I think that’s a problem playwrights have, really making the dialogue authentic to the character they’re introducing us to.”

Phillip Colglazier, the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s Executive Director, adds that though the judges did not work together or even know who else was on the panel with them, the individual rankings all tend to be pretty close. “There’s not much discrepancy,” he says. “There winds up being a lot of consensus, even though they’re working independently.”

The three winning playwrights will see their work featured as part of the Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival at the Allen County Public Library June 3 – 5. All the writers, in the words of one judge, “surfaced pretty quickly” during the judging process.

Rachael Kooi’s Struggling For My Sanity took third place this year, earning her $250 and a staged reading of the play during the festival. The story sounds like a metaphor for fiction writing in general — Grace (“The Boss”) is having trouble maintaining order and civility among the characters in her mind, and only solves the situation when she gives them liscence to run amok for a bit.

The second place winner ($500 and a staged reading) was Knitter’s Row by Ruth Tyndall Baker. Set in 1943, Knitter’s Row is about a young woman working in a knitting mill and raising a son while her husband serves in the army. This is Baker’s second win in the Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival; last year, her play Papillon also took second place. Baker says Knitter’s Row was partially inspired by growing up across the street from the Wayne Knitting Mills and hearing the humming of the looms throughout her childhood.

Denise Buhr took first place with Discom-BOOB-ulated, about a woman’s struggle with breast cancer and “how this abrupt change in her life affects her relationships with the people around her.” Buhr received $750, and Greg Stieber will direct a full production of Discom-BOOB-ulated at the festival in early June.

Like all the winner, Buhr has been writing for years. She says her first plays were “all melodramas,” written for the ACPL Players and performed at the Johnny Appleseed festival. In 2005, her play Her Women Were Called To Gather was presented at St. Francis University, and more recently, a play about women in the military (Fighting Words: A Dialogue of Women In Combat) had a staged reading.

Discom-BOOB-ulated has been workshopped and gone through a reading, but Buhr is excited to see what happens with a full production. “It’s always fascinating to me to see how other people interpret one of my plays,” she says. “I have one vision, one idea, and then the actors and directors get involved and suddenly I think ‘oh, I didn’t know that about that character.’ It was in the script, they found it, but I wasn’t aware of it. It’s always exciting to see that happen.”

The 2nd annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival will also include a production of The Timekeepers by internationally-recognized playwright Dan Clancy, plus a writer’s workshop on the “journey” The Timekeepers took from page to first reading to its stage debut in London. Clancy will be there for the workshop, and he’ll also lead a panel discussion with John Tolley and Phillip Colglazier on the writing process.

The Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival happens June 3- 5. We’ll have more in a few months, but in the meantime, for more information on the festival — and to read the complete guidelines for the playwright contest — you can visit fwcivic.org.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.