Meet the Playwrights Behind Angels First Flight Festival!

by Diane Gonzolas, Angels Theatre Company Board Member

The Angels Theatre Company’s (ATC) fifth annual First Flight Festival July 17 through 28 will feature the work of 14 playwrights, all members of the Angels Playwriting Collective.   The plays will be presented in three “flights” at UNL’s Studio Theatre at the Temple Building, 12th and R streets.  Talk-back sessions with the playwrights will follow each performance.

We asked three of the playwrights — Jillian Carter, Brian Bornstein and Dave Chapelle —  to tell us about their experiences writing plays and participating in the Festival.

Tell us about your playwriting history and why you wanted to write plays.

Jillian:  I started writing plays in college, when Judy Hart created a class called Actors and Playwrights. I found it to be the most therapeutic writing I had ever done, and I have been hooked since!

Brian:  I’ve dabbled in playwriting as long as I can remember, starting with skits written and performed for family when I was a kid, then with various social groups in high school, college, and graduate school. I love all forms of writing, but I am especially drawn to plays because they are such a visual medium and usually (though not always) emphasize dialogue. I started getting more serious about it in the mid-2000s, but I didn’t have an outlet for it or means of getting feedback or seeing my work produced until Angels started the Playwriting Collective.

Dave:  In 1992, I was involved in a small theatre group in need of a fundraiser. Melodramas had been floating around town as fundraisers, so we decided to try one. I’d performed in a couple by that time, so I volunteered to write one. It worked. A short time later, John Burkhart asked if I’d be able to write one for Mahoney State Park. That one worked too. Twenty-five years later I’ve written over 40 plays for Mahoney State Park. After production in Nebraska, Burkhart Enterprises offers them for production for a nominal fee.  Since the first melodrama, I’ve also written radio dramas, a couple of unpublished novels, and in 1995, I was a finalist for a Touchstone Fellowship in Screen Writing.

What makes a great short play? 

Jillian: A great short play, in my mind, allows the audience to explore a topic through the characters’ eyes. It allows you to see things in a different,  but very personal way.

Brian:  There are many routes to the same end. Unlike a full-length play, a short play can engage the audience even without a strong narrative arc as long as it has interesting characters and good dialogue. But it still needs to be going somewhere, to have a point. And it can’t take too long to get there, or it isn’t a “short” play!

Dave:   Short play, long play, short story, novel, or screenplay all require a good story and language. By language, I mean dialogue. Putting the words together in an interesting way.

What are the benefits of participating in the First Flight Festival?

Jillian:  The First Flight Festival is the only thing of its kind in the area. To get the immediate benefit of seeing my work come to life and hear the audience’s reaction has made me a much better playwright.

Brian:  Gosh, there are so many. Discovering the wealth of talent in Lincoln and being able to work with so many amazing people. Learning more about this play I wrote just from hearing/seeing it, getting critiques from other playwrights in the months leading up to the festival, and listening to the comments and questions of the actors and director. It’s always such a thrill seeing this thing I wrote being performed live, on stage. It really brings home that in a very real sense, we all created it together. And, of course, there’s the thousands of dollars in performance rights and royalties:)

Dave: It helps keep the tools oiled, polished and in good working order. If you’re working on a longer piece, you can pull a scene and work through problems and build on strengths. Another advantage of working with the Festival is that a short piece might grow into a longer piece. There is also the possibility that you might write a perfect little jewel that stands nicely by itself.

Any other pearls of wisdom?

Jillian:  Short plays are really their own animal. You have such a small amount of time to capture the audience’s attention, develop your characters, and make a full story with conflict and objectives. It’s much more challenging than most people realize!

Brian:  The plays come from the Angels Playwriting Collective, and it’s an apt term. It’s a collection of folks who work collaboratively, without a lot of individual egos getting in the way, along with a large team of actors, directors, musicians, techies, volunteers, and more. FFF is a unique treasure, and I hope it continues for a long time.

Dave: Writing is a beautiful dream; sweet, gentle, cool, and clear. Editing is the nightmare, cold sweat and anxiety inducing demon you must befriend.

Jillian has two plays in this year’s Festival — “Just a Drill” and “Two Pink Lines.”  Brian also has two  — “Wheelchair Karma” and “Make My Decision for Me.”  Dave has four  — “Closing Time,” “The Beast,” “A Cool Margarita” and “Swipe Left.”

The other playwrights in this year’s Festival are Brigid Amos, Robin Buckallew, Cecelia Burkhart, John  Burkhart, Paul Burrow, Linda Cooke, Andy Dillehay, Stephen Enersen, Judy Rae, Charisa Ramsey and Paula Ray.

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