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SMC playwright wins regional competition

Bridget Feeney | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

 

While most students spent their winter break relaxing and recovering from the stress of finals, Saint Mary’s senior Emily Schmitt received some surprising news that made her break more interesting than usual.

In December, Schmitt won the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s (KCACTF) Region III full-length playwriting competition for her play “San Luis, 1989.” The play was read at the Region III festival, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign January 3-7.

“My play, ‘San Luis, 1989′ is an example of staged journalism,” Schmitt said. “This means that it is based on a true story that I conducted extensive research on.”

Her play addresses issues of racial bias and government corruption in regards to poaching in San Luis, Colo., in 1989. Schmitt first learned about the story of San Luis through Susan Baxter, professor of theatre and journalism at Saint Mary’s. Schmitt and Baxter were paired together through a Saint Mary’s Student Independent Study, Teaching and Research (SISTAR) grant project, a program that provides funding for teams of students and professors to conduct research.

Schmitt and Baxter collaborated intensely in their research of San Luis, making two trips to Colorado and discussing ways to bring real life events to a stage.

“I am working on a book which teaches playwrights to use journalism theory; Emily is my case study,” Baxter said. “We could not be more grateful to Saint Mary’s. If not for SISTAR, the play would not have happened.”

Baxter said the selective honor has gone to a graduate student in an MFA playwriting program for the past 10 years.

Despite the success of the play thus far, Schmitt said she encountered challenges throughout the process that sometimes made it difficult to persevere.

“The biggest challenge for me writing this play was simply not getting discouraged,” she said. Writing a play is a very lonely process, and after the fifth or sixth draft, you start to feel like it’s never going to work.  I call that the ‘dark place’ of the writing process.”

But Schmitt said pushing past the isolation and struggles strengthened her skills as a playwright.

“After [the ‘dark place’], something always gives way and the words start flowing out,” she said. “That is the best part of writing for me.”­

Baxter agreed that in spite of the obstacles Schmitt met, she was still able to develop as a writer and learn throughout the writing process.

“Emily is a self-starter, so I did not have to work very hard at all,” she said. “She jumped in and tried every technique I threw at her.  Not all was useful, of course, but both of us learned mightily from the process.”

Schmitt applied to several schools to earn her MFA in playwriting but will not be informed of acceptances until late February. In the meantime, her work with “San Luis, 1989” is not finished, as the play is currently in consideration for two national playwriting awards.

“My play is currently competing with the other regional winners for the [Michael Kanin] National Student Playwriting Award,” she said.  “I am also up for the National Partners for the American Theater Playwriting Award, which is granted to a new and original voice in playwriting.”

Regardless of the outcome of these awards, Schmitt said she is pleased with how things have turned out so far. She said she hopes more people will become better informed about the issues surrounding San Luis addressed in her play.

“The best part about winning this award has really been spreading the word about what happened in San Luis,” she said. “Winning this award is a huge testament to the political power of the stage.”