An Award-Winner at The Voice

Getchell chair Darren Michael with award-winner Ben Gierhart. Photo courtesy of Rachel Blake

Getchell chair Darren Michael with award-winner Ben Gierhart. Photo courtesy of Rachel Blake

Ben Gierhart is a staff writer here at The Voice-Tribune –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 “Another Man’s Treasure.” Since Ben is The Voice-Tribune’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. It’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 year’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 – followed by professional critique – 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, it’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 wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started going to 10-minute play festivals around town, that I thought, “Hey, I can do this.” 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 didn’t. My whole playwriting career – I guess I can call it that now – has almost not happened at a few different points. I almost didn’t submit my first 10-minute play to my first festival out of self-consciousness; I almost didn’t join Derby City Playwrights – the writing group that I presented the work that became my award-winning play to month after month – for the same reason, and I almost didn’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. They’re the ones who told me about the contest. I’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 – how does it feel to receive a national honor for writing?
It’s really exciting! It’s a validation to be sure, but it’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 don’t want to stop acting either. I don’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.

What’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. I’m actually glad I didn’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. I’ll also be writing a new play for Pandora that will be part of a new series they’re offering. Details soon! It’s an exciting time, and I have a lot of ideas. I want to keep the ball rolling. VT