The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis invites playwrights to submit original one-act plays for our 2020 Playwriting Initiative. At least three winners will be chosen by our panel of playwrights. The winning plays will be presented in a staged reading, with professional actors, as an element of the 2020 Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, May 7-17, 2020. 


The winning playwrights will be invited to attend the staged reading and to participate in a talkback panel—featuring the other winners and the judges—at the conclusion of the event. The plays, with playwrights’ biographies, will be listed in the official Festival program.The winning playwrights will be provided with Festival passes. (The Festival will not be able to provide other compensation or reimbursement.)

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams started out in St. Louis writing one-act plays, and one of his biggest breaks was winning a competition sponsored by the Group Theater in New York—the first time he signed his name as “Tennessee” rather than “Tom.” He wrote more than seventy throughout his career—sometimes edgy, often experimental, and always infused with his unsurpassed poetry. Many of them have been presented at the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, several as world premieres. We invite you to find your inspiration in his artistry and to share it with us.

The panel is chaired by Jack Ciapciak, winner of New York University’s 2017 Goldberg Playwriting Prize and winner of our own inaugural Playwriting Initiative. Judges also include Deanna Jent, whose play Falling has been produced on Broadway, and Gregory Carr, who teaches playwriting at Harris Stowe University. 

Guidelines for submission:

  • The play must be no more than 15 minutes long.
  • The play must not have been professionally produced (although plays that have been workshopped or presented as staged readings are acceptable).
  • The play must be submitted by the author of the play.
  • Only one submission per author.
  • The author must include a statement of no longer than 250 words, including a brief biography, contact information, and author’s availability to attend the staged reading and serve on the talkback panel. (Attendance is requested but not mandatory.)
  • The play must be in a PDF in Standard Playwriting Format. 
  • Submit your materials by March 1, 2020, to [email protected] with the subject line 2020 Playwriting Initiative.

Winners will be notified no later than April 1, 2020. By submitting the play, authors give performance rights to the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis for the May, 2020 event, as well as possible other uses in connection with the 2020 Festival. Authors retain all other rights. 

For more information, visit the website: www.twstl.org

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Unexpectedly charming and heartfelt, the experimental but relatable “Well”
breaks the fourth wall just enough to easily win over the audience.

In fact, the disarming play purported to be about health
and wellness is more like a fluid, thought-provoking conversation that pulls us
in – and a running internal monologue by the lead character, playwright Lisa
Kron, about family and neighbors, and in sickness and in health.

The keen Katy Keating is endearing as the exasperated Lisa,
whose ailing mother presses all her buttons and she turns into the perpetual
angsty and whiny 13-year-old she once was and has been desperately trying to
shed that old fragile skin ever since.

Lisa tries to convince us that her latest creation –
expanded as a change of pace from her one-woman shows – is “a multi-character
theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual
and in the community.”

But really, the complicated mother-daughter relationship is
its foundation, with a side trip into their racially integrated neighborhood in
Lansing, Mich., which was spearheaded by her compassionate, liberal mother.

Mom Ann (Lori Adams) has the usual aches and pains
associated with aging, but she suffers from some sort of undiagnosed ailment
that appears to be like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. She is
convinced allergies keep her homebound and infirmed.

She’s made her recliner the point of operations. She perks
up watching ice skating and giving her daughter pearls of wisdom.

Mom, in her current state, seems like a kind senior citizen
whose days pass without much consequence. But every so often, she has a burst
of energy.

As played by Adams, Ann would have been quite a Mom force in the neighborhood back in the day – and we would have taken an instant shine to her. Here, we wish the frail Mom would get better so she could be productive. But she’s lovable in that earth mother kind of way.

If Lisa would get out of her own way, she’d be more confident and less tied to the past. But it’s fun to see childhood memories spring from her talented castmates. And that’s a whole other tangent. She’s searching for answers that she might never be satisfied with, ever. (If she’d only listen to Mom — and herself.)

Mom tries not to intrude but does indeed pull focus in their wonderfully lived-in middle-class Midwestern-appointed living room, deftly decorated by scenic designer Bess Moynihan and props master Laura Skroska — the rabbit tchotchke! The dainty appliqued afghan!

The pair work beautifully together and convey that longstanding complex mother and daughter relationship so well.

The entire ensemble is first-rate, with Leslie Wobbe, Carl Overly Jr., Robert Thibault and Alicia Reve Like effortlessly transitioning into different characters – severely allergic patients, old neighbors, and even themselves.

But the formidable anchor is Katy, whose sincerity and natural affability carry the show. We root for her and believe in her, despite her wrestling with personal torment. Katy, who is such an intuitive performer, can go through a gamut of emotions in a nano-second.

Director Deanna Jent knows how to extract nuanced work from her players, and she has adroitly staged this show for maximum effect.

We’re engaged by the material, yes, but we’re also captivated by the production elements.

Playwright Kron is an interesting writer, allowing herself
to be transparent in her works. No wonder she won two Tony Awards for the book
and lyrics to the musical “Fun Home.” In 2004, she wrote “Well,” which was
produced off-Broadway. Two years later, it was on Broadway.

Her clever style works well in Mustard Seed Theatre’s Blackbox theater, and the production team’s attention to detail is superb, with Michael Sullivan’s lighting design and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design enhancing the setting. Costumes by Jane Sullivan are appropriate to the story.

Witty and whimsical, serious and playful, “Well” is a
multi-layered discourse that is both fresh and familiar. And it hits close to
home because of its captivating cast.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Well” by Lisa Kron Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. March 1 – March 17 in the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. For more information, visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Katy Keating, Carl Overly Jr. and Alicia Reve Like. Photo by Ann Auerbach.

By Andrea Braun
Contributing Writer“Last night I had the strangest dream I ever had before. I dreamed that men had all agreed to put an end to war.” –Chad Mitchell Trio
Entering Kyra Bishop’s set feels much like walking onto a battlefield. It is dark and dreary, no color to speak of, just browns and grays all around. There are rolls of copper wire, downed trees, and a backdrop so primitive it is held up by rope. Then, in the distance a man is singing a traditional Scottish ballad, “Will ye go to Flanders?” Gradually other voices join him and nine soldiers enter. It is 1914 at Christmas, and these guys are already tired of the fighting and their voices reflect that sense of weariness, of hopelessness.
But what they also demonstrate is a remarkable ability to sing solo, in ensembles or all together. This is the fourth production of “All Is Calm”  that Mustard Seed has mounted since its premiere in 2012, the third one I’ve seen, and the strongest yet.

The ensemble changes, though five of the cast members have appeared in the show at least a couple of other times. What is remarkable is that whoever is in front of us is fully believable, invested in the roles, and able to bring off every single number in the show from the sublime to the silly.
I couldn’t single out any cast members because they were all so good; here they are in alphabetical order: Kent Coffel, Anthony Heinmann, Christopher Hickey, Greg Lhamon, Gerry Love, Michael Lowe, Sean Michael, Abraham Shaw, Jeff Wright
The center of the story is a real event. On a memorable night in the first year of World War I, the British and Irish and the Germans stopped fighting. Just like that. They had been in mortal combat for days, perhaps weeks, and while they don’t exactly beat their swords into plowshares, they spend a night burying their dead together, playing soccer with each other, decorating a tiny Christmas tree, and most of all, singing the holiday songs of their cultures.
Besides song, the men recite quotations from soldiers’ letters, from the Pope and Winston Churchill, and most moving, two of the so-called “War Poets,” Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. These young men created a body of literature about the war experience, and there is nothing romantic about it, nothing “sweet and right” about dying for one’s country, as Owen expresses in his ironically  titled “Dulce et Decorum est,” about a slow and horrible death from mustard gas. All these statements give the audience a sense of how the troops from the lowliest private to the prime minister were feeling about the job at hand. So, why did they do it?
Because they were called to duty. Because patriotism motivates both sides in war. And, probably not least because they could be hanged for treason if they ran away. But there is also a sense of real camaraderie here, not only on one’s own side, but among all the men—perhaps more accurately boys—who have been called to kill the other side who look just like them. The Royal Family is 100 percent German, for example. They just changed their names from Saxe, Coburg and Gotha to Windsor. Done and dusted. It wasn’t so easy for the young men who had to take sides, however.
Lighting design is a character too. Generally, the lighting designer does the job by not being particularly notable, but here, the light literally brings life, especially in the Christmas tree scene wherein “Silent Night” begins in a minor key when the tree comes out, then as the lights gradually go up, the song becomes harmonic. Credit goes to Michael Sullivan.
Jane Sullivan and Zoe Sullivan handle costumes and sound respectively and with their usual expertise. Director Deanna Jent and Musical Director Joe Schoen keep everything moving, and in its fifth production, the show works like a well-oiled machine.
“All Is Calm” is by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach. Its history is fascinating, having had its public debut on Minnesota Public Radio. Jent notes that: “While not shying away from the horrors of war, it presents a moment of hope that seems to have been transformative for the men involved in the event.”
In only six years since All Is Calm was first presented, our country seems to have gone to war with itself. May the peace among a group of people whose immediate “job” is to kill the “enemy,” serve as an example of the way we might all treat each other and perhaps even someday agree “to put an end to war.”
“All Is Calm” will run through Dec. 16 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. Details are available at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.