Student playwrights take center stage at Hotchner festival

Four aspiring playwrights will present staged readings of their works Sept. 25 and 26 as part of the 2009 A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival, sponsored by the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences.

Named in honor of alumnus A.E. Hotchner (AB and JD ’40), the festival consists of an intensive two-week workshop culminating in the staged readings. This year’s workshop is led by Liz Engelman, a former president and current board chair of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA).

The readings begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, with a pair of one-act plays. Razor Love, by sophomore Max Rissman, follows Perry, a young man juggling musical aspirations, a new infatuation and responsibilities to his failing mother. Steps, by YEAR Margaret Stamell, centers on Aubrey, who sets out — with wit and very rickety morals — to solve the problem of an abusive stepfather.

The festival will continue at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, with YEAR Jonathan Baude’s Match or Kasparov Never Played Black. This short work focuses on Garrett and Tanya, a pair of smart, funny chess players whose strategies collide when it comes to personal matters.

Next up will be the festival’s final work, What Will You Tell Your Children?, a full length play by junior Jessica Atkin, which tells the story of a writer who survived the anti-Semitism in her own youth, only to relive it — along with a ghost from the past — through her son’s experiences at school.

All readings are free and open to the public and take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

For more information, call (314) 935-5858 or visit

Hotchner, an acclaimed novelist, playwright and biographer, is perhaps best known for his memoirs Papa Hemingway (1966), about his close friendship with Ernest Hemingway; and King of the Hill (1973), about growing up in Depression-era St. Louis. (The latter was adapted to film by Steven Soderbergh in 1993.) As a student Hotchner participated in a similar playwriting competition led by then-professor William Carson, famously placing ahead of classmate Tennessee Williams.

Engelman, a freelance dramaturg living in Minneapolis, currently serves as chair of the LMDA board and as a member of the advisory Board of the National New Play Network. She previously served as the literary director of the McCarter Theatre; director of new play development at ACT Theatre in Seattle; literary manager/dramaturg at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre; and as assistant literary manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She also has worked on the development of new plays at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, ASK Theatre Projects, New York Theatre Workshop, the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Denver Center, Florida Stage and South Coast Rep. She is the co-editor, with Michael Bigelow Dixon, of several collections of plays, and of two volumes of monologues with Tori Haring-Smith.