Inaugural playwright champion wins 2016 contest

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Judging by the constant laughter emanating from the building that night, the people in attendance at the performance Monday at Beckwith Theatre must have felt like their sides had left orbit during the show.

Students with Southwestern Michigan College’s theater program performed a stage reading that night of the winning script of the community theater’s and Dogwood Fine Arts Festival’s 2016 Emerging Playwright Awards, Graham Techler’s “The Kid Cult Cosmology T.J. Started at School.” The event was held in conjunction with the 25th annual fine arts festival, which began May 5 and runs through May 15.

Techler, a theater student at the University of Michigan, was one of the three finalists from the school in this year’s Playwright Awards, a competition open to young playwrights living in Michigan or northern Indiana.

Taking second-place this year was “Warsong,” written by Gregory Strasser, while third-place went to “I Killed the Cow,” written by Larissa Marten.

Techler’s script, which he describes as a “bizarre coming of age story,” tells the story of a trio of middle school students — T.J., Robby and Aaron — who believe they witnessed a UFO in the sky one night after school, and about the various hijinks they get into afterwards.

This is the second time in three years that Techler took home first-place from the awards, with his script “Nantucket Sleighride” winning the first competition in 2014, and his second submission, “Moxie,” ending up in the final three last year.

“Sleighride,” which also won the Hopwood Drama Prize in 2014, was produced as a full-fledged play last year by the Dowagiac community theater.

According to Rich Frantz, an organizer and judge with the Emerging Playwright Awards, the voting between Techler’s and Strasser’s scripts was very close, with the audience’s feedback from the initial stage readings hosted at the theater last month ultimately swaying the decision in the former’s favor, he said.

“I really like Graham and his writing,” Frantz said. “The amazing thing is that each of his three submissions have been very different from one another. He is someone you will be hearing about down the road.”

For his winning submission, Techler won the Don and Dorothy Frantz Memorial Award, worth $1,500. For second-place, Strasser won the Karen Pugh Memorial Award, worth $500; for third, Marten won the Warren and Lillian Walshleger Memorial Award, worth $250.

Although he was unable to attend Monday’s reading, Techler praised the cast’s performance of his material at the first reading of his script last month.

“They’ve really nailed the play in my mind, and they’ll do amazing tonight,” he said, in an email to Frantz prior to Monday’s reading.

Performing in Monday’s reading were:

• Max Cherioli

• Matthew Haas

• Jenn Schaus

• Janis Young

• Chason Dixon-McKenzie

• Dan Maxon

• Paul Mow