The Little Dramatic Writing Program that Could

by Charlie Schulman

Spalding MFA Playwriting and Screenwriting Faculty

I’m on the Playwriting and Screenwriting faculty at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program, and as the February 1 application deadline for spring and summer semesters approaches, I’d like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of our alums and current students who are winning grand prizes, placing in national screenwriting competitions, getting produced in major regional theaters, and most important, telling stories that matter. Stories that are inclusive, expand the definition of who we are, and broaden the sense of what it means to be living in these complicated times.

We are proud of Spalding MFA screenwriting alum Rebekah Reaves (Spring ’12), who was recently named the Grand Prize winner of the Spotlight Screenplay Competition. Her script, Offsides, which she began in one of my screenwriting workshops, tackles the issue of women still facing the proverbial glass ceiling (in this case, coaching men’s NCAA football). This follows an earlier win for Rebekah for The Morning After (which she also wrote at Spalding), which won 2nd place in the comedy category for the Page International Screenwriting Awards. Rebekah’s wins came on the heels of Stephen Woodward (Fall ’11) winning First Place the WriteMovies.com International Screenwriting Competition for feature drama/comedy. Stephen adapted his screenplay Crush from his novel of the same name. I worked with Stephen in one of Spalding’s “Adaptation from Novel to Screen” workshops and enjoyed mentoring him the following semester. Larry Brenner ( Fall ’10), a former student who is now a member of the dramatic writing faculty, was a winner of the Final Draft Big Break Contest, a win that led to the sale of his script Bethlehem and helped launch his screenwriting career.

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Rebekah Reaves

That we are a small program that now consistently wins and places in contests against the behemoths of MFA programs and the world at large is a testament to our students and faculty working together in a supportive and non-competitive environment in which creativity and craft thrive. At Spalding, our faculty works to communicate a sense of cohesion and continuity with an awareness of how our own unique skill sets can complement one another to help students become multi-faceted dramatic writers who are prepared to cross genres and mediums. What sets Spalding apart is a hardworking generosity of spirit that permeates the entire program that has made working at Spalding one of the rewarding experiences of my teaching career. It is something that is difficult to convey and can only be experienced.  

Currently rehearsals are under way for Synthia Williams (Spring ’09) new play Domestic Damages, which opens at the New African Grove Theater Company in Atlanta where she is the Associate Artistic Director.  Synthia’s play about domestic abuse features seven women telling their own true stories.  One of our current students Marilyn Millstone’s new play The Hope Slope has been selected for an upcoming staged reading as part of this year’s Baltimore Playwrights Festival, and recent grad Brett Neveu’s (Fall ’15) play Pilgrim’s Progress recently completed a hugely successful sold-out run at Red Orchid Theater in Chicago that featured 2016 Golden Globe nominee Michael Shannon. In other Regional theater news, The Loudest Man On Earth, by Catherine Rush (Fall ’12), was seen at Theaterworks in Palo Alto  (See this outstanding review in the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Loudest-Man-review-Small-story-with-huge-heart-4665041.php) Or if you’re in Louisville, you can see a local alum Justin Dobring (Spring ’14) perform as his hilarious alter ego, self-help guru J.D. Pryor. When Justin isn’t performing in local venues, he teaches theater and playwriting at Western Kentucky University. Recent grad Jeffrey Fischer-Smith’s (Summer ’15) ten-minute play Reservations has had over a dozen productions including several international play festivals and is quickly becoming one of the most often produced new ten-minute plays in recent memory. These are just some of the highlights, as I know I’m leaving out a number of alums and current students who are having their work performed and produced across the country and internationally.

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I do want to mention that Amina McIntyre (Fall ’09) was named 2014-15 City of Atlanta Emerging Theatre Artist of the Year. Amina says her favorite Spalding memory was having an informal “class” at The Raven, a pub in Bath, England. Which brings me to the marvelous wonders of Summer residency and the upcoming residency in Rome. Come with Spalding to Italy this summer. It’s not too late to register for this once-in-a-lifetime literary and cultural adventure. (If you’re reading this after February 1, contact mfa@spalding.edu to ask about getting an extension on the application deadline.) Summer residency is a highlight of the Spalding experience and it’s not to be missed. Come with us as we eat, be merry, write, watch plays in Italian (that we’ve previously read in English) and soak in Italian art and culture. It is not to be missed.

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Applications for Rome residency due Feb 1st!

Finally, when we’re not writing or producing theater or making films, many of our alums teach at Universities and community colleges around the country. Matt Wohl (Spring ’13) was recently named Chairperson of Film, Television and Radio at Miami Dade College. Kim Stinson (Fall ’07) teaches Play Production at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina, where she recently won the Excellence in Teaching Award for 2015. Kim says her work at Spalding absolutely prepared her for teaching the craft of playwriting to her students. “We discuss style and craft in a positive environment where we use critical thinking to process issues of diversity and create meaningful pieces that resonate with our audiences, inspiring conversations about difficult topics,” Stinson said. That’s what studying Dramatic Writing at Spalding is all about. Come join us in Louisville this spring (the residency runs May 27 – June 5) or in Rome this summer (residency is June 29 – July 11). Why not commit to paper that play or screenplay that best represents your true capabilities as a dramatic writer and expresses the essence of who you are. Let the faculty and staff help you realize your writing goals.

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From a pub in Bath, England during residency.

What are you waiting for?

Charlie Schulman’s new musical, The Goldstein Variations, is slated for an open-ended commercial run Off-Broadway in 2016. His one-act play Natural History X just finished a short run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre in New York City. He recently completed a pilot, “Earlybirds,” and a screenplay, “Duke of Rainbow Cove.” He is currently guest Drama and Film editor for The Louisville Review.

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3 thoughts on “The Little Dramatic Writing Program that Could

  1. This was a beautiful, and well-written review. Congrats to all of the recipients of such high honors; may you continue to soar.

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  2. Bravo to you, Charlie, for inspiring me and so many others in this program to take risks in our writing, revise fearlessly, remember to laugh…and ultimately create our best work.

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  3. You really inspire me Charlie. I’m a recent graduate in nonfiction and I love theatre and have written a few plays. You make me think about coming back to Spalding for an enrichment semester in playwriting. Are you going to be on the faculty this summer in Rome?

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