Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Student playwrights debut original work at festival

This weekend’s Agnes Nixon Playwriting Festival was the culmination of an intensive, quarter-long endeavor for three Northwestern students.

“It’s a fast and furious process,” Communication Prof. Laura Schellhardt said.

Schellardt teaches the class in which the three winners of the Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award workshop and rehearse their work before showing it in front of an audience. Communication senior Emily Acker, Communication sophomore Benjamin Sullivan-Knoff and Communication junior Hilary Flynn won this year’s prize after a competitive process Winter Quarter.

The three student playwrights did everything involved in putting on a play, from choosing directors to auditioning actors. The writers were even adding new pages to their work up until the last days before the performance at Struble Theatre, Schellhardt said.

The class and festival occur every year, and Schellhardt said both are unparalleled opportunities for undergraduates to have their work performed in a festival setting. The festival’s sponsor is Agnes Nixon (Communication ’44), who Schellhardt described as a “soap opera maven.” Nixon created “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.”

“It’s a rare opportunity for young writers to hear their work read out loud,” Acker said.

Acker said the class is helpful in teaching how much of a collaborative effort playwriting is because students are working with directors, actors and producers to put together the performance in less than a quarter.

Acker’s play was performed 8 p.m. Saturday on a stage that was empty, with the exception of six chairs and six stands with scripts on them — one for each actor. The play tracked the struggles of a pregnant young girl at risk of expulsion from her religious high school.

Sullivan-Knoff, another winner, said he had a great time preparing the play, especially working with his directors and actors to turn it into a cohesive performance.

“The cast is amazing,” Sullivan-Knoff said before the performance. “When I’m doing revisions, I even hear their voices.”

Communication senior Stacy Moon, a friend of Acker, attended the Saturday night performance and said she thought the play was wonderful.

“There’s so much nuance in how she writes,” Moon said. “I loved the detail of everything.”

The students also have the opportunity to write an episode of “All My Children,” which was re-launched online in April.

Although the three playwrights originally planned to write the episode before, Acker said they postponed it until after the festival.

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Student playwrights debut original work at festival