Prof. Margaret Baldwin
Matt LaStar
Lark Hylton

Playwriting Stars of the New South

By Lauren Highfill

Each summer, a unique theatre festival happens in Atlanta’s trendy Little Five Points area. This event, the New South Play Festival (NSPF), features some of the best and brightest local playwrights, including Kennesaw State faculty members and current students.

Margaret Baldwin, a KSU instructor of playwriting, has developed multiple plays over the years for the NSPF. Her play that was performed as a staged reading at this year’s festival in June was “Night Blooms,” a comedic drama about families in Selma, Ala., who were largely ignored by the media coverage during the civil rights marches of the 1960s. Baldwin is developing the piece in collaboration with Associate Professor Karen Robinson as director.  The play also features acting by Assistant Professor Harrison Long.

“Most of the marchers in Selma were from out of town,” says Baldwin. “This play shows what it was like for the families living there in the midst of all this turmoil. Many of these families were in favor of change but caught in between extremes.”

“Night Blooms” serves the larger goal of the NSPF to present an out-of-the-box South through works by local playwrights, and the festival is helping to pass this message to the next generation. The New South Young Playwrights Contest and Festival challenges college and high school students to create and submit short plays for a chance to participate in the intensive one-week festival.

Matt LaStar, a junior interdisciplinary studies major in playwriting and screenwriting, and Lark Hylton, a theatre and performance studies major with an emphasis in directing, were two of the fewer than 20 winners of the playwriting competition. Initially accepted with a dramatic play, LaStar decided to try his hand at writing a comedy during the one-week event. “It was fun,” he says. “It was very helpful writing every day, and the festival really gave you a foot in the door with the writing community in Atlanta.”

During the week, students were given learning opportunities that few had had before. “There were workshops, seminars and everyone was assigned their own dramaturg,” says LaStar. “I’d never had a chance to work individually with one.”

Hylton also experienced some firsts at this year’s event. She won a spot in the festival with the first play she had ever written and says, “I learned more in this festival than I could have imagined.” Beyond the intensive workshops and seminars for their plays, students learned valuable information about “different aspects of the playwriting business,” says Hylton. “All of these combined gave me confidence in my art.”

One of last year’s young playwriting contest winners, Tai Courtney, a junior theatre and performance studies major with a minor in dance, also says the festival affected his thoughts about playwriting. “It helped me move beyond the conventional methods of seeking inspiration as a writer. I discovered that the most mundane things in life can become breathtaking when seen through the eyes of a playwright.”

The one-week session for young playwrights culminated on June 2 with staged readings of the students’ short plays by professional actors, which was “nerve-racking but a great learning experience,” says LaStar.

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