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December 1999
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The 1999 Playwright Discovery Awards

By Gregg J. Donaldson

I had the pleasure of attending the 1999 Playwright Discovery Awards, at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., in the Fall. The annual event is sponsored by VSA Arts, (formerly known as Very Special Arts). The award winning, one-act plays were by Ms. Danielle Mullen and Mr. Edward P. Mannix, respectively. The same cast did the two one act plays. The plays were simultaneously shadowed interpreted for the hearing impaired.

About the Playwright Discovery Award

Through the VSA arts Playwright Discovery Award, emerging playwrights realize their dream of having their work professionally produced in one of the United States' most prestigious arts centers. Each year, individuals with disabilities are invited to submit an original one-act script that documents the experience of living with a disability. One play in each of two age categories is selected for professional production at the Kennedy Center.

Ms. Danielle Mullen, won in Category I (ages 21 and under) for her script Under Achievement, about a high school student with learning disabilities. Mr. Edward P. Mannix won in Category II (ages 22 and up) for his script The Dirt Makers.

"Under Achievement," wonderfully told the story of Roscoe, a teenage boy in high school, (played by Richard Kirkwood), struggling with his learning disabilities and the frustrations that the cause during an exam day. His anxiety is doubled and manifests itself in the form of a gremlin, Fred Michael Beam, (who makes fun of everything), which only Roscoe can see and reeks havoc with him as he tries to concentrate. Roscoe's teacher Ms. Peters, (Robin Ervin), is called away from the classroom on a family emergency. She asks Rina, (Lakeeta Garfield), another high school student to oversee that Roscoe finishes the test. Roscoe frustrated by his dyslexia and gremlin decides to give up despite using the textbook during the test. He decides that 'it isn't worth it' and throws the book out the window. He is about to do the same with himself, when Rina stops him.

Rina is a straight A student and very popular. She is aided by the school geek, named Jeff, (Michael Rizzo). They convince Roscoe that staying in school is worth it and Roscoe will amount to something if he sticks with it. Rina also admits to him that he is not alone, she too has learning disabilities as well as countless others throughout history.

"The Dirt Makers," poignantly tells the story of the relationship between a middle-aged Son and his quite spirited elderly Irish Mother. (If you could ever call the Irish elderly). This one act play also explores several themes including narcolepsy and growing older. Barbara Conroy, (Dee Lilley Lyon), moves in with her Son to live, recovering in a nursing home first, because of a fall in her home. Her Son Ed Conroy, (Greg Chistopher), is a former lawyer, who had to quit his job because of his narcolepsy. He spends his time reading and discovering his Irish roots.

The play does an excellent job in discussing these universal themes as well as what and how a narcoleptic episode might effect a person. Ed explains 'narcolepsy as a sleeping state, where the person is usually conscious, but is unable to wake up or control how long they are out.' It could happen anytime or anywhere, but often happens after an emotional or vigorous activity.

More about the Playwrights

Danielle Mullen is 19 years old and lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. A recent Las Cruces High School graduate, she was a member of the staff the arts editor the school paper, Cruces Chronicle, and created and edited The Mad Pencil, a literary and art underground magazine. Under Achievement, Ms. Mullen's first play, was written while she participated in the Court Youth Center workshop 'On Stage." She is now a freshman at New Mexico, State University, majoring in special education. Ms. Mullen will be teaching a workshop at the Court Youth Center later this fall.

Edward P. Mannix, a graduate of Boston College and earned law degrees at Boston College Law School and Boston University Law School. Before becoming disabled with narcolepsy, he practiced in both the public and private sectors. He co-authored a book or Massachusetts law that was published in 1996. Mr. Mannix lives in a suburb of Boston with his wife Carole and children Michael and Elaine.

Both plays were excellent and showed disabilities in a positive light, highlighting the humorous and the serious of what is like living with disabilities. The cast was strong and very good in both plays, including the interpreters, Susan Karchmer and HankYoung, who shadow interpreted both plays.

I got a nice surprise, recognizing the Assistant Stage Manager, Patrick Martin. He also played a very good First Paramedic in "The Dirt Makers." We had worked together earlier in, "Our Town." He was Simon Stimpson, the drunken Choir Master.

About VSA Arts

VSA arts-promoting the creative power in people with disabilities

VSA arts (formerly known as Very Special Arts) is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting artistic excellence and providing educational opportunities through the arts for children, youth, and adults with disabilities. Founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith, VSA arts offers programs in music, dance, drama, creative writing, and the visual arts that develop learning skills, encourage independence, and promote inclusion. Millions of people across the United States and in countries throughout the world participate in VSA arts programs through a network of affiliate organizations and collaborators.

VSA stands for:
Vision of an inclusive community.
Strength in shared resources.
Artistic expression that unites us all.

For more information on VSA Arts, and their programs:
(National Office) 1300 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036.
Telephone: 202-628-2800. TDD: 202-737-0725.

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