Ben Gierhart is a staff writer here at The Voice-Tribune â€“I work with him every day and regularly read all of his stories for Blue Equity Publishing. But Ben is also a playwright, and an award-winning one at that. Indeed, he recently won the 2016 Southeastern Theatre Conference Charles M. Getchell New Play Award for his work â€œAnother Manâ€™s Treasure.â€ Since Ben is The Voice-Tribuneâ€™s Arts & Entertainment writer, I thought it fitting to turn the column around this week and ask him a few questions about his own work.
Tell me about the award that you won.
I won the 2016 SETC Charles M. Getchell New Play Award. Itâ€™s given annually by the Southeastern Theatre Conference for new full-length plays, so anyone who lives in the SETC region can submit. I was told that there were around 200 submissions; around 85 were accepted, and five were finalists. As this yearâ€™s winner, I was given an all-expense-paid trip to the conference (in Greensboro, North Carolina this year), where I attended a staged reading of my play â€“ followed by professional critique â€“ and an awards banquet, where I received my award and $1,000 prize. My play will also be published in Southern Theatre Magazine.
Have you always had a passion or at least interest in playwriting?
You know, itâ€™s funny. Writing was my first passion. My dad had a typewriter when I was growing up, and I used to beg to type stories on it. I even used to sneak around and use it when he was asleep. I never wrote plays though. Around third or fourth grade, the drama bug bit me, and I became obsessed with acting. I forgot about writing for a long time. It was always something I enjoyed, but it wasnâ€™t until a few years ago, when I started going to 10-minute play festivals around town, that I thought, â€œHey, I can do this.â€ I merged my two passions, and it sort of took off from there.
How did you know this script was potentially an award-winning script?
Ha. I didnâ€™t. My whole playwriting career â€“ I guess I can call it that now â€“ has almost not happened at a few different points. I almost didnâ€™t submit my first 10-minute play to my first festival out of self-consciousness; I almost didnâ€™t join Derby City Playwrights â€“ the writing group that I presented the work that became my award-winning play to month after month â€“ for the same reason, and I almost didnâ€™t submit that play to the Getchell contest because I found out about it the day before the deadline. Many of the past winners have or are candidates for graduate degrees in playwriting, which I am not. I submitted it to submit it. I had no expectations at all. Local playwrights Brian Walker, David Clark and Nancy Gall Clayton are big fans and super-supportive of my work. Time after time, they have helped me work through my anxiety and challenged me to improve. Theyâ€™re the ones who told me about the contest. Iâ€™m very thankful for their support and criticism, and I never would have taken this chance without the opportunities they have given me.
I know you have more of an acting background â€“ how does it feel to receive a national honor for writing?
Itâ€™s really exciting! Itâ€™s a validation to be sure, but itâ€™s also a call to write more and work harder. Being at the conference was exhilarating because I got to meet professionals and academics who were at all sorts of different places in their careers, and they were legitimately excited about my work. I want to accept the challenge and write the plays that I want to see or perform in. I donâ€™t want to stop acting either. I donâ€™t want to say that I have the same ability at all, because the comparison seems ridiculous to me at this point, but I really see myself as a sort of Sam Shepard, someone who is known for captivating performances on stage as well as a creator of those opportunities for others.
Whatâ€™s the next step with this script and your playwriting career in general?
I received so many positive comments at the conference and the staged reading I had in town. Craig Pospisil, the playwright who gave me my critique, had a lot of good things to say as well, but he also had some really useful criticism. Iâ€™m actually glad I didnâ€™t look him up before my critique because his Wikipedia page is intimidating. Things can always be better, so I definitely want to rework or add some things to my play. After that, I already have an arrangement with Acting Against Cancer to produce the play as a special event in spring 2017 with Michael Drury from Pandora Productions directing. Iâ€™ll also be writing a new play for Pandora that will be part of a new series theyâ€™re offering. Details soon! Itâ€™s an exciting time, and I have a lot of ideas. I want to keep the ball rolling. VT