wright way

Despite NC State’s reputation as a STEM school, the Wolfpack is home to incredibly creative minds taking an interdisciplinary approach to producing impactful art. In 2011, Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf, a research professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine who is passionate about acting, recognized the overlap of technical and artistic ability in NC State students and established the Creative Artist Awards for the performing arts.

The Creative Artist Awards, funded by the Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf Endowment for Creativity in the Creative Arts, gives students the rare opportunity to workshop and produce original works in music, dance and theater. 

For the theater award, this means the winning playwright receives mentorship from playwright and 2020 Piedmont Laureate Tamara Kissane along with several open readings to receive feedback and a full production of the finalized one-act play. 

Mia Self, assistant director of acting, directing and theater academics, said the support for awardees after they win separates the Creative Artist Awards from other playwriting competitions.

“There are a lot of places where work gets read,” Self said. “There [are] not a lot of places where the work gets read, developed and then produced.” 

This year’s awardee is Kiran Soma, a third-year studying chemistry and communication, whose play “What We Grew Up With” follows an immigrant family navigating post-9/11 America.

“[‘What We Grew Up With’] explores what it means to be an immigrant in the United States,” Self said. “What does it mean to be a first-generation American? What does it mean to own your personal choices about how you interact with the world and present and uphold your identity when it's challenged?”

Through The Wright Way program, the piece is about to begin going through readings where anyone is welcome to attend and read through the current script or simply listen as others read. This serves as a type of workshop where Soma can hear his work read out loud and receive feedback from readers and audience members. 

Judges for the award assess entries based on a rubric examining producibility, characters and plot, relevance of premise or conflict and potential to benefit from developmental process. Self said Soma’s piece fit into each of these categories, particularly the relevance of the premise.

“The piece [is] wrestling with the big ideas around how are we, on a day-to-day basis, making choices about othering or including others,” Self said.

Self said producing Soma’s piece at a predominantly white institution challenges those involved in the process to intentionally connect with communities holding identities represented in the story and invite them into the development process. To this end, University Theatre is in the process of bringing an outside director to campus to direct the show in the fall.

“We really think that we need a director who is Indian or Southeast Asian, who has experience that allows the actors who are involved in this to be themselves without mediating their own experience with a white director,” Self said.

“What We Grew Up With” faced fierce competition with other entries that grappled with similarly nuanced and complex concepts.

“We tend to get really sophisticated explorations of relationships,” Self said. “Why are we here? What is our obligation to others? What is our obligation to becoming our best selves? Are we beholden to past identities? Even really simple things, like explorations of love stories.”

This sophistication comes through no matter the topic of the script. Wyat Hamilton, a second-year studying civil engineering, earned an honorable mention for his play “Lethean,” which follows a soul through the Greek mythological underworld in search of their lost memories. Hamilton said he enjoys telling stories that focus on individual experience within larger significant contexts.

“[This approach], I think, puts into more perspective the more individual lives we lead rather than the big picture,” Hamilton said. “So many stories focus on the chosen one … the hero's journey [where] you have to stop this big thing that's happening. What if we just didn't focus on the big thing that's happening? What if we just talk about some guy's life impacted by the big thing that's happening?”

Mackenzie Cayco, a third-year studying biological sciences, described her honorable mention-winning script “Light of Jupiter” as a cute little dramedy, but it is also an exploration of the friendship created through shared experience.

“[Topics are] being explored in really sophisticated ways,” Self said. “It's using myth and metaphor and symbol in ways to attempt to get to the core of what matters to these writers.”

In the absence of an academic major in theater, Hamilton finds University Theatre pulls in students with diverse interests and knowledge, ultimately enhancing his theater experience.

“I have a deep admiration for a theatrical group that brings together so many disparate people with disparate interests, who were there for the love of theater and nothing else,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s somehow purer than … that being your major.” 

Despite spending their semesters studying science and engineering, Soma, Hamilton and Cayco each find value in the arts which they have found a channel for in the Creative Artist Awards. As program director Josh Reaves puts it, University Theatre is not the steak, but the baked potato — great on the side.

“We get people here who grew up believing that the quality of their lives [is] better when they're engaged in some way with the arts or they're [in] some way creatively expressing themselves,” Self said. “As much as they want to be scientists and mathematicians and philosophers and … poultry farmers, they want that space to be creative and to be in connection with other creative people. And so we are a venue for that to occur.”

The Wright Way readings of “What We Grew Up With” begin this Friday and will continue in April. Anyone is welcome to attend and participate to whatever extent they feel comfortable.

The 2022 Creative Artist Award-winning play, “Muse” by fourth-year Gaven Bell, will be performed March 30 through April 2. Tickets are currently on sale through the University Theatre website.

Assistant Culture Editor

I am a third-year studying English Rhetoric & Professional Writing. I started writing for Technician as a correspondent in January 2021 and became a staff writer in November 2021. I currently serve as the assistant culture editor.

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