On the end of the world and relationships ...

June 23, 2005

First-place playwright Thomas Pierce of Seattle wrote "Genesis."

Thomas Pierce's plays have been in festivals and contests across the country, but winning the New Voice Play Festival came as a surprise, says the Seattle-based amateur playwright.

"I thought this play was so weird that no one was interested in it," he says.

The judges for New Voice disagreed. "We just thought that the play had some interesting depth," says Steven Brewer, manager and artistic director for the Old Opera House Theater Co. "It approached a problem from a rather unique twist and viewpoint. Thomas' writing is pretty accessible. The characters are pretty realistic and easy to identify with."

"Genesis" shows how two characters - a divorced husband and wife - react to the news that an asteroid is poised to strike the planet in six months.


"It's not really about asteroids," Pierce says. "It's about what makes your life meaningful. My main point is that a lot of successful people are not giving much thought to that. They don't ask, 'Is this really what I would do with my time if I only had a short bit left?' We all live as if our lives will go on forever."

Within one act, the play explores the range of emotions possible when confronted with the news that all life is about to be destroyed.

"It's very different from your own individual death," Pierce explains. "If everybody goes, then what? These two (characters) don't know, but they do think about it."

Pierce is a philosophy teacher at South Seattle Community College in Seattle. He's been writing plays for about six years after dabbling with other writing forms, including mystery novels and children's books.

Although "Genesis" grapples with philosophical questions, Pierce says he generally tries to keep his teaching out of his fiction.

"I try to write plays that are first and foremost about characters - the people and personalities that interest me," he says.

Second-place playwright Scott McMorrow of Inverness, Calif., wrote "Turtle Shopping."

Scott McMorrow's play "Turtle Shopping" draws its inspiration and material from family stories that make up both his own heritage and his wife's.

While taking a writing class, McMorrow was asked to interview people from an ethnic group different from his own. He chose to talk with members of his wife's family who are of Russian descent.

The result is a one-act play that explores three generations of Russian-American women, who are connected by the soup they make in their own, respective kitchens.

In the play, the audience is introduced to Sarah, a Russian immigrant who speaks broken English with a heavy Russian accent. The audience also meets Sarah's daughter, who is much more a New Yorker than she is Russian and they meet the second-generation granddaughter - based on McMorrow's wife, Annalisa - who is fully integrated into American society.

Playwriting based on personal interviews was a new experiment for McMorrow, and the subject of "Turtle Shopping" is lighter than many of his other plays.

"'Turtle Shopping' was a little bit of a departure for me. I tend to write comedy or dark comedy over drama," he says.

Third-place playwright Linda Thomas of Middletown, R.I., penned "The Will."

In "The Will," Linda Thomas explores relationships between elderly people - subjects often left out of the arts and of creative spaces, she says.

Inspired by her mother's experience at an assisted living facility, Thomas has authored a series of one-act plays under the name "Life at Willow Manor."

"I wrote these plays to honor that life stage," she says. Through her mother, she "became aware of the romances that take place (at an assisted living home) and the conflict between parent and child in making the decision to go into assisted living. I really wanted to honor the older person in this series of plays."

As a third-place winner, "The Will" earned a dramatic reading during the play festival. Actors will read from Thomas' script, but will not stage the production.

"I really love readings because very often the first time everyone sits around and reads, some of the very best acting happens right at the start. I think the readers get an intuitive feel of the characters immediately," Thomas says.

"The Will" is a comedy about a man and woman nearing their 50th anniversary. One night the wife gets an idea to review their will based on advice from a magazine. The article suggests "how to write a new will" based on romance and sex, Thomas explains.

Thomas has been writing plays for about five years. As a marriage and family therapist, she says she uses playwriting to explore some of the topics that come up in her work. She's written plays about eating disorders and antidepressant medications.

But regardless of the central theme, Thomas likes her work "to tell a story and touch the heart and entertain."

"I think a lot of our material comes from life experiences," she says. "Life is funnier than anything you can make up."

Third-place playwright Aoise Stratford of Ithaca, N.Y., wrote "Skulls."

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