New England Playwright Breaks A Leg In Script Contest

Colonial Players Award Goes To 'Sisters'

March 29, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

The playwright went to her mailbox in western Massachusetts and found a check. It wasn't a big check by show business standards, but it was money, money to reward a prize-winning play, the first American dollars this playwright had earned for her work.

It was a good day in the life of playwright Cynthia Kennison of New Braintree, Mass., the 10th writer to win the Colonial Players' Promising Playwright Award. Twenty years after the theater company chose its first contest winner, the group is still in the business of finding, rewarding and encouraging talent.

"These people are just beginning to blossom as playwrights," saidBeth Whaley, president of the theater company and founder of the contest. "We're hoping some day we'll find a Tennessee Williams, but it doesn't seem likely."

"Colonial Players has always given people a chance to try acting, try directing," said Frank Moorman, a Baltimorehospital publications director now serving as contest coordinator. "It's a natural extension to give people a chance to see their writtenwork come to life."

In this case, the winning work may come to life on the Colonial Theater stage in the summer. The theater's board of directors voted Monday night to produce Kennison's play "Sisters" on two weekends at the end of July and beginning of August, if it can find a director in time.

Kennison's play was one of 63 submitted in the fall and early winter of 1990. Through the first three months of 1991, a 10-member committee read the plays and winnowed the stack to the best five. Then Jerry Whiddon, artistic director of the Roundhouse Theater in Wheaton, was asked to help pick the winner.

On a Thursday evening in August, Kennison got a phone call from Tissie Bowen, then contest coordinator, telling her that her play had been selected.

"A very nice phone call," said Kennison, who has written 12 plays, including "Sisters," and has published stories in Seventeen magazine, Vassar Review and several small literary magazines. After retiring from elementary school teaching after 21 years in 1990, Kennison has been devoting most of her time to writing.

"Sisters," a two-act comedy/drama, tells the story of two sisters who meet in a woodlandcabin to discuss their plans for property they have inherited. One sister wants to sell it, the other wants to keep it in the family.

Kennison said her own family provided "the germ of the play," as her mother and her mother's sister inherited property in Sturbridge, Mass., "and they fought about it all their lives." Kennison started writing the play in 1977 and finished it in 1978 while she and her husband, a Clark University math professor, spent a year on sabbatical in Brighton, England.

The play was selected as full-length play of the year in 1978 by Sussex Playwrights, a prize of 15 pounds. The $750 Promising Playwrights award was the first American money she's made from her play writing. She has seen her plays read by theater groups, but never produced before an audience with full costumes and set.

Kennison has never visited Annapolis, but said "Oh yeah, I would love to" be here if the play is produced.

The Colonial Players have produced five of the winning plays since the contest began in 1972, growing out of a play-writing competition held by the Annapolis Fine Arts Festival in the mid-1960s. In 10 years, the various committees have read through 708 plays from writers all over the country who respondedto Colonial Players notices in writer's magazines and Dramatist's Guild newsletters.

This year, the subjects of the plays ranged from the history of molecular biology to the death camps of World War II, to stories of Catholic priests, a waste-disposal scandal, forgotten saints, and a romance between a Vietnamese immigrant boy and a woman in the American south.

Moorman, who studied theater in college and has been active with Colonial Players since 1987, said he's learned alot about play writing from reading contest entries, even the bad ones. "There were things that you saw that in the right hands could dance, but in this case just died."

The next award will be presented in 1993. Colonial Players will accept manuscripts between Sept. 1 andDec. 31. For information write to Frank Moorman, Promising Playwrights Coordinator, 99 Great Lake Drive, Annapolis, 21403.

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