Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Polar Bears Flies to Florida

Winning the second place prize of Washington University’s A.E. Hotchner playwriting competition would seem like success enough for one year, but for Marisa Wegrzyn that was only the beginning.
On the strength of her play Polar Bears on U.S. 41, the sophomore was also recently chosen to take part in an intensive, two-week workshop in Florida in the company of some of the most reputed theatre professionals in the industry, and six fellow talented playwrights from colleges all over the country.
As a freshman, Wegrzyn submitted her play to the review committee in charge of judging the annual A.E. Hotchner competition. Her play was chosen along with Junior Peter Hanrahan’s Caught in Carnation. Wegryzn was notified of her selection just before last year’s spring break, and she worked with Playwright-in-Residence Carter W. Lewis briefly before the end of the semester to help her “kick off some rewrites over the summer.”
When she returned at the end of the August, the two collaborated closely, refining the play up until its staged reading by WU student actors in October. Wegryzn called her work with Lewis “great,” and said that his expertise helped her hone her play and evaluate her ideas more fully. “It set me on a different course,” she said of her collaboration with the playwright. “He helped me think through the play and understand it better.”
While working with her last fall, Lewis suggested that Wegrzyn apply to the highly competitive WordBRIDGE workshop program, offering his own strong recommendation if she decided to submit her play. With Lewis’s nomination, she sent her play in late September and was notified in early November of her acceptance into what Lewis called “the premiere new play development festival in this country for college students.”
“It was incredible,” Wegyzyn said of her experience at WordBRIDGE. The program, which is hosted by Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, borrows heavily from the format of the famous Playwrights Laboratory at the Sundance Film Festival (the founder and several members of WordBRIDGE are former Sundance instructors).
Each day for a little over two weeks, Marisa and the other students were allotted three hours of “rehearsal” time with their own crew, including a director, actors and a dramaturg (someone who helps edit and adapt plays), and were free to decide what to do with the time.
This format provides the young participants with a free and experimental environment in which they can experience playwriting from initial idea to production instantly. “Sometimes I had the actors up doing improvs with various scenarios, and got some great ideas for rewrites,” said Wegrzyn. “Other times, I would just want to hear new rewrites, and discuss them at table work.”
Wegryzn said she also drew a great deal on the other students in the program. “They all had a genuine passion for writing and giving,” she remembered. “We formed a tight support network-as exciting as the playwriting process is, it can also get downright frustrating and there are times you wonder why you do it to yourself. That’s when it helps to talk with the other playwrights, trade frustrations and triumphs, and now that you’re in good company with new friends. Everyone there is part of the process.”
In addition to being selected as a participant in the program, Wegrzyn was also honored by having her play chosen by WordBRIDGE to be performed this April by the Eckerd Theatre Department. “It is an amazing accomplishment to be accepted into the festival” said Carter Lewis “and an even more amazing feat to have the decide to fully produce Marisa’s play at the host college.”
Wegrzyn will fly down a few days before the production opens on April 11 to observe the crew putting on the finishing touches and to attend the performances that will continue until April 15th .
The play that started it all, Polar Bears on U.S. 41 has an interesting genesis of its own. It was originally inspired by a short story Wegrzyn wrote in high school and she says it “evolved out of that and changed.” In her own words, the play is about “a young woman who’s trying to make meaningful connections in her world-and whofinds more comfort in talking to her alphabet soup than she does in the real world.”
While only a sophomore, all of her recent success has Wegrzyn considering the possibility of a career in playwriting. Still, she says, “It’s very difficult to make any sort of living doing playwriting.” Judging by the record of WordsBRIDGE alums, though, Wegrzyn’s prospects are good; many of them have already had their plays performed all over the country. And judging by the reception of her first foray into playwriting, Wegrzyn can expect a bright future in theatre.

Print This Post Print This Post

No Comments Yet

You can be the first to comment!

Student Life is the independent student newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis. Keep in touch with Washington University by subscribing to an RSS feed of our stories or an RSS feed of our comments. Privacy Policy | Comments Policy | Web Policy