Date of Award
Dr. Doug Sonheim
Professor Eric Phillips
Dr. Jay Curlin
I do not know how long I have loved the theatre, but I know that my earliest memory is of a show. When I was two years old, my mom took me to see Wynne High School's 1999 spring musical. It was a production of "'The Sound of Music," and my oldest brother played a Nazi. My recollections are foggy: a snatch of costume illuminated by a spotlight and a moment of awe when the Mother Abbess hit the highest note in "Find Your Dream."
It was probably unwise to bring me to the theatre at such a young age, since toddlers are often prone to outbursts and rambunctiousness. I posed no problem, though: according to my mother, I went still as soon as the lights went down. I stared spellbound at the stage and did not make a sound until intermission. In the following years, I watched the movie adaptation of The Sound of Music so many times that my parents still have it memorized.
My love for the theatre developed from there. Every year, my mom would take me to see Wynne High School's spring musical. When I was in high school, my mom started giving me season passes to the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. This was the birthday and Christmas staple for several years. I worked backstage for school productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, even making a brief foray into acting during my junior year. I played the main antagonist in Wynne's 2014 production of The Slipper and the Rose, and I learned quickly that I hated the spotlight. My love for the theatre was not like that of most "theatre kids." I never wanted to be onstage. I only wanted to help however I could: paint scenery, work backstage, or wear a stage manager's headset. When I graduated from high school, I assumed that would be the end of my theatrical career. I was not skilled enough for backstage work in college or talented enough for onstage appearances. With this understanding, I contented myself as an audience member.
Things changed in my sophomore year of college, when I took an introductory creative writing class with Dr. Curlin. I had dabbled in poetry and prose, but for my last assignment, he asked me to write something less familiar. He called it a "ten-minute play." My first attempt, "Echoes," followed two astronauts on their search for meaning. Their damaged rocket took them on a comedic journey through a vast, unforgiving universe, which ultimately destroyed them. At first I had no clear idea for what I was trying to do, aside from some vague memories about the Ray Bradbury stories I adored in high school, so I typed instinctively until I had ten pages. I ended up playing with comedic timing, twist endings, and monologues, and I threw in just enough philosophy to be pretentious. I found that I enjoyed writing it more than I had enjoyed any sort of writing in a long time. When it was time to workshop the piece in class, the other students loved it. I realized that I suddenly had a new way of interacting with the theatre. Finally, I had something worthwhile to contribute.
I got down to business after that. I wrote more, slowly learning as I wrote.
Ward, Laura Mae, "First Words" (2019). Honors Theses. 733.