Seniors Fulfill a Shared Artistic Vision by Adapting and Codirecting “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for the Stage

In the summer of 2021, theatre major Mattie Tindall ’23 and Hannah Chaikin ’23, who is double majoring in film and French, got together for brunch in Washington, D.C.’s  Adams Morgan neighborhood. Close friends and artistic collaborators since their first year at Hollins, Tindall was excited to share with Chaikin her enthusiasm for a book she had just finished reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s classic 19th century novel about a man who sells his soul for eternal youth.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that was my favorite book in high school,’” Chaikin recalled. “We had a great conversation about everything from our favorite part to who we would cast in a film version.”

Suddenly, they both had inspiration for their senior thesis, on which work needed to commence soon. “We decided to put our passion for this novel into that project,” Chaikin said.

“We were sold on it,” Tindall added. “We were like, ‘This is happening, we’re doing this in some way, shape, or form.’”

A creative process was underway that ultimately resulted in Tindall and Chaikin adapting Dorian Gray for the stage and codirecting a full production of their play on Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage this March.

“At first, we weren’t planning on anything more than a reading with our friends,” the pair stated in their Directors’ Note for the Dorian Gray playbill. “Then, as the script developed, we got excited about the possibility of a staged version.”

That script went through several different phases. “The first draft we wrote was super literal,” Tindall explained. “We took chunks from the book and those were the lines that our characters said. But as we went through rewrites and different drafts, we got more comfortable with our voices as playwrights. Once we learned how to write as a team, we became more confident, and the script transformed. It was important to us to make the language a little bit easier to understand.”

“It was difficult for me to let go of that Oscar Wilde language that was so rich and why I loved the novel so much,” Chaikin noted. “But as it became more ‘our’ project, we had to make it ‘our’ voice. In our version, the characters are not necessarily making the same decisions that they made in the book. They’re put into different circumstances based on our own writing, which is really cool. That was something fascinating I found out about the adapting process: we’re taking the source material and creating new life for its characters.”

Tindall and Chaikin finished their first draft in November 2021. “We got a huge group together in the Hollins Theatre Green Room, read it through, got feedback, and then left it alone for a while,” Tindall said. “We didn’t know what was going to become of it, but then Wendy-Marie [Martin, assistant professor of theatre and chair of the theatre department] mentioned that the season selection committee was going to meet to determine the 2022-23 schedule. Hannah and I were both like, ‘What the heck, let’s submit this script we are proud of.’”

“We were very excited about the opportunity to have faculty and peers on the committee read it next to a bunch of other preexisting plays,” Chaikin added. “We thought their assessment would be helpful. But we were actually selected, and it was just wonderful.”

The writing of what ultimately wound up on stage largely took place during the summer of 2022. The two made remarkable progress despite the fact that Tindall spent those months serving as a counselor at a sleepaway camp while Chaikin worked on campus at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum.

“We were FaceTiming every day, which was challenging,” Tindall said. “I had to search for good wi-fi and find at least an hour where I didn’t have any other responsibilities. We had to do a lot of revisions in which we were cutting characters and adding scenes. It was a beast, but it was something we were incredibly passionate about and didn’t want to give up on. It gave us the motivation to push to the end.”

One of the exercises that Tindall and Chaikin employed to make their time apart constructive was to write the same scene separately, compare each version, and determine a combination of the two with which they were both satisfied. The pair also found that their unique writing styles complemented one another. “Mattie’s writing constantly,” Chaikin said. “But I’m someone who is nothing or everything. There are times I’d go to Mattie and say, ‘I don’t have anything,’ but then suddenly I’d have a lot of ideas. It was helpful to have a partner because I wouldn’t be able to do this without working with another person.”

Another obstacle that Tindall and Chaikin successfully overcame was the changes in cast and crew that occurred over the course of the roughly year and a half it took to bring their Dorian Gray adaptation to fruition. As Chaikin stated, “At Hollins Theatre, you’re cast in a show, it goes up in a month in a half, and then then you’re done. We didn’t have that. We originally started rehearsals in March 2022 and some people were just not able to stay on this project for a long period of time. But everyone was so integral to the shaping of the show, and it wouldn’t have been the same project if those people hadn’t been there. So, the challenge was, how do we bring someone new on board to replace a person who was so important to the process? Even though the team was constantly in flux, we were able to maintain a sense of stability over a long period of time, and the journey through all those ins and outs – I don’t even call them ups and downs – was gratifying. The end part was amazing, but to me the most rewarding part was getting to that point.”

Tindall agreed that “we had an incredibly rich rehearsal process, as long as it was. As codirectors, Hannah and I tried to cultivate a supportive and caring community. We aimed to make sure every member of our team – the actors, the crew, the techs, the designers – was approached with love and kindness. We had lots of laughter and dancing and being silly and making big, bold, goofy choices. There was so much joy filling every rehearsal space at any given point.”

Witnessing their Dorian Gray adaptation come to life before a live audience in March of this year was surreal for Tindall and Chaikin in the best possible way.

“There is nothing like seeing a play that you wrote being performed before other people, and I know this is something I need to do for the rest of my life,” Tindall said.

“It was so wild,” Chaikin stated. “It felt like a different play we were seeing. It had nothing to do with us anymore. Our actors and crew were doing amazing things. It was kind of terrifying – a Hollins audience is unique. It’s lovely because it’s so authentic. I liked being able to do it at Hollins because there were people in the audience I respected and who I wanted to make laugh. There’s nothing I’ve ever felt that is like that.”

Tindall and Chaikin are delighted with what they have accomplished, but to them, their Dorian Gray adaptation is still very much a work in progress with further edits planned to solidify the script. They admit they have to decide whether they want to send the play off into the world for others to produce and perform, or if it’s something that will always be changing and thus will necessitate their direct and ongoing input.

Right now, the two are busy making plans for life after graduation from Hollins this spring. Tindall has a summer job lined up but is anticipating moving to New York City this fall. “I don’t know what I’ll do there yet. I like to write, whether that’s plays or anything else. I like to tell stories and I just want to see what that holds for me.”

Chaikin is working this summer with Roanoke’s Grandin Theatre but is hoping to join Tindall and another friend in New York. Graduate school is also possibly on the horizon. “I love academia and I would love to continue studying in the next few years.”

According to Tindall, one thing that is certain is that she and Chaikin will continue to partner on creative projects. She fondly remembers their fateful meeting in French class during the first semester of their first year. Chaikin, who learned that Tindall had done theatre in high school, asked her to act in a short video she was producing for a film class.

“It was the start of something wonderful and who knows where life will take us next,” Tindall said.





Hollins Playwrights to Attend Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive

Sean McCord, who is pursuing his M.F.A. in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, and Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond, who completed her graduate degree in playwriting at Hollins this year, have been honored with invitations this summer to the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive.

Presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), the program welcomes university students, faculty, and emerging professionals from across the country. They engage in rigorous writing workshops and discussions of the art, craft, and business of playwriting led by Gary Garrison, an award-winning playwright, author, and educator who has served as executive director of creative affairs for the Dramatist Guild of America. A wide range of distinguished artists augment the program.

In addition, participants will be able to attend breakout sessions that address specific opportunities and challenges for affinity and identity groups, and playwrights of color, each led by a distinguished mentor.

Sean McCord
Sean McCord

McCord was drawn to playwriting after getting involved with local theatre in Charlottesville. “I discovered a writing group there, the LiveArts Playwrights Lab,” he recalled in a 2019 interview with WVTF Public Radio. “And, every summer they would put on a show of shorts that they had written. So, I went to that show and oh, wow, you mean you can just like write a play and get together with friends and they will put it on? So, I joined and started writing short plays and after that I was kind of hooked.”

McCord went on to enroll in the graduate program in playwriting at Hollins and has had plays produced in Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, California, South Carolina, and Stuttgart, Germany. His first full-length play, Moving, won the 2019 Kennedy Center National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award.

Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond
Sarah Cosgrove-Gaumond

Cosgrove-Gaumond completed her M.F.A. this year and is enjoying her second invitation to the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive; she attended the program in 2018. Her plays Unspoken and North Wind were selected for the Hollins Playwrights’ Festival of New Works in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Another play, I Lived to Tell, was one of three Hollins student-written plays invited to the KCACTF regional festival last year and was nominated for the organization’s national festival. It will be produced as part of the Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works this January.

Other career highlights include writing and performing It Would Have to be a Girl at the Future is Female Festival at Chicago Dramatists, and You’d be So Much Prettier If You as part of the Women’s Performance Workshop at the Strand Theater in Baltimore.

“My goal is to create a theatrical experience that raises questions, challenges the status quo, and amplifies the voices of the underserved,” she notes on her website.

The Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive takes place virtually July 14-17 and 21-24.

Hollins Playwrights Dominate Selections for KCACTF Region IV Festival

Works by three student playwrights from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University have been chosen for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Region IV Festival, which will be held online February 1 – 6.

Mothers and Terrorists by David Beach, which received the 2021 KCACTF Region IV John L. Cauble One-Act Play honor, will be staged this year with a full virtual production on Thursday, February 3, from 7 – 9 p.m. EST. Sarah Cosgrove’s I Lived to Tell, a Cauble recipient for 2022, will be performed on Friday, February 4, from 6 – 7 p.m. EST. Cherished by Rachel Graf Evans, winner of the KCACTF Region IV’s 2022 David Shelton Award (the region’s highest award for full-length, student-written plays) will be presented on Saturday, February 5, from 7 – 10 p.m. EST.

Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau said the selection of the three plays for this year’s festival “continues Hollins’ unbroken string of successes with KCACTF Region IV. Over the years, our student playwrights have garnered awards in nearly every category of playwriting at KCACTF, up to and including the National Student Playwriting Award and the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion. Last year, all three regional John L. Cauble One-Act Plays were by Hollins playwrights, and though they normally only nominate two of those three to Nationals, they took the unprecedented step of nominating all three.”

In addition to a reading with a professional response session for the playwright at the regional festival, Ristau added that the Shelton Award comes with the expectation of a full production of the winning play the following year. “These plays are also automatically nominated to Nationals in the full-length play category. Hollins has had numerous Shelton-winning plays over the years, with most of them featured in our Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works. These plays frequently receive higher national awards for both the text as well as the production value in design, directing, and performance.”

KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students annually from colleges and universities across the country. Since its inception, KCACTF has given more than 400,000 college theater students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills, and receive national recognition for excellence. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended approximately 10,000 festival productions nationwide. KCACTF Region IV represents colleges and universities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Virginia.

M.F.A. Playwright’s Victorian Romance Has UK Premiere

A drama written by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University student is getting its United Kingdom debut at an independent arts, community, and cultural festival.

A filmed performance of Kristin Lundberg’s Muse is featured as part of the 2021 Ludlow Fringe Festival and will be streamed from June 24 through July 18.

Based on a true story, Muse opens with a destitute Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a painter of sensuality (famed for founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which revolutionized fine art) remembering Elizabeth Siddal, his model, his muse, and his greatest passion. What follows is a kaleidoscope of memories, both passionate and painful, between lovers, and eventually artistic competitors.

Muse premiered as a reading in 2012 in New York City with the Woolf Series, went into production in 2014 in Theatre for the New City’s Dream-Up Festival, and enjoyed a live theatre run at Theatre for the New City in 2016. In 2019, Muse was performed during the Hollins University Summer New Play Festival at Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre. “Muse is everything you could hope for in a gothic Victorian romance play,” noted Stage Buddy in its review, while Outerstage said, “The question is, ‘Can true love conquer all?’ The answer is Muse.”

Lundberg is a playwright, director, theatre teacher, and actress who is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in playwriting at Hollins with a concentration in new play directing. She is a member of the New Play Exchange, the Southeastern Theatre Conference (which named her the William E. Wilson Scholar for 2020-21), The Dramatists’ Guild, and League of Professional Theatre Women.

Visit the festival website for ticket information.






“Decision Height” Revival Celebrates Ten Years of the Award-Winning Drama

“Oh my God, what am I going to write?”

This was the question nagging then-junior Meredith Dayna Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 while she was studying abroad in London during the spring of 2011. For her senior honors thesis, the theatre major knew she wanted to write a play, one with an all-female cast that would allow her “to practically use the actors I knew on campus and also speak to my experience as a college student.” What she didn’t know was, what exactly was the play going to be about?

“I was beating myself up about it,” Levy recalls.

All that changed when Levy learned that in 2009, President Barack Obama had signed into law a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the group known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the first women ever to fly American military aircraft. Created in World War II to fly noncombat military missions in the United States so that male pilots could take on combat missions in Europe and Asia, the WASP program logged more than 60 million miles and flew virtually every kind of aircraft operated by the Army Air Force.

Levy was astounded. She had never heard of the WASP program and was determined to learn more. She found a newspaper article about one of the pilots after she had flown her first solo flight. “All of her friends had dumped her into this wishing well per tradition. I thought, ‘This is something Hollins students are going to understand. We’re all about wacky traditions.’” But on a more profound level, Levy’s initial research told her that “even though I knew nothing at all about planes, the military, or physics, I decided this was an environment and a community that I could understand, and more importantly, my audience of students could understand.”Decision Height Flyer

Thus began Levy’s work on what would become the play Decision Height. The drama would have its Hollins Theatre Main Stage premiere in the fall of 2012, subsequently capture honors from the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and go on to be produced at high schools, colleges, and community theatres around the country. Hollins Theatre is now giving Decision Height its first revival in a virtual staging April 1-3 at 7:30 p.m.; April 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.; and April 11 at 2 p.m. (Admission is free and open to the public, but tickets are required; visit Brown Paper Tickets to request the Zoom link.)

Decision Height follows six women upon their arrival at a base in Sweetwater, Texas, for nine months of training before moving on to active duty. “We witness how their relationships develop and the ways in which they learn new things about themselves and each other, what motivates them and what gives them purpose and strength,” Levy explains. “By the end of the play, every character is sort of on a different path, but we know they’re united forever in friendship.”

Artistic Director and Chair of the Hollins Theatre Department Ernie Zulia, who was Levy’s advisor when she was an undergraduate, remembers when she first approached him prior to the 2011-12 academic year about writing a play as her honors thesis. “An honors thesis is a yearlong process, and I figured, ‘Terrific, that’s enough to occupy any new playwright for a year.’ But then she added, ‘I would like to design, produce, and direct the play.’ And I thought, ‘Sure, if anyone can take on that kind of effort, Meredith can.’ Not only was it sitting down and creating characters and dialogue, it also required intense research in order to do it authentically.”

WASPs Awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Deanie Parrish accepts the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her fellow WASPs at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Levy devoured every piece of background information she could find. A crucial discovery was an online collection of primary research materials compiled by Nancy Parrish, whose mother, Odean “Deanie” Bishop Parrish, was part of the WASP program. “Nancy has made it her life’s mission to document WASP, and I spent the entirety of the summer after I came back from London just eating this stuff up. I even got to talk to Nancy and Deanie. So many of the events in the play came out of that research and brought those stories to life. It can be intimidating when you’re faced with so many real people. How do you fictionalize it? You want to get every detail right and memorialize it perfectly.”

So, Levy devoted the fall of 2011 to “doing draft after draft after draft.” Friends took part in readings of the play “just trying to get the words out so that I could hear the play and determine what was missing or confusing. With each draft I was able to take a further step away from the history and lean more on my own lived experience, my friendships, and putting my own emotional truth into the play and amongst all the historical framework.”

Levy eventually invited Zulia and Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins, to attend those readings and offer feedback. “It needed more work, but it was a beautiful script,” Zulia says. “When you get a play to that point, it’s important to get it up on its feet so the playwright can see the play they’ve written.”

In February 2012, Decision Height went into rehearsals for its production that spring in the Upstairs Studio Theatre at Hollins, a venue designed for trying out new works. The staging “was received with such enthusiasm,” Zulia says. “People were in tears and talking about what an impact this play had on them. I’d seen plays through many incarnations and I knew some of the problems she’d need to fix as she continued to work on it, but I heard it loud and clear from the audience that something in this play was profoundly moving.”

After graduating in the spring of 2012, Levy moved into Hollins’ M.F.A. in Playwriting program. Zulia offered her a deal: If she spent that summer working on rewrites, he would put Decision Height on Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage. She continued adding new elements to the play with support from Zulia, Ristau, and Bob Moss, a member of the Playwright’s Lab faculty who has been called a “living legend of Off-Off Broadway.”

For Decision Height’s Main Stage production that October, Zulia invited representatives from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region IV, a program dedicated to improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. “The feedback we got was phenomenal,” Zulia notes, and in January 2013, KCACTF’s Region IV awarded its top playwriting honor to Levy.

A year later, Hollins and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre hosted the 2014 Region IV KCATCF and featured Decision Height as the opening event. “There were spontaneous standing ovations, people were so impressed by the work Meredith and the whole company had created,” Zulia says. “It definitely told us something good was happening. At this festival, national representatives from across the country for the Kennedy Center were in attendance. They selected Decision Height as the top new play of the year, and the top production of a play that season.”

Subsequently published by Samuel French, one of the world’s leading publishers and licensors of plays and musicals, Decision Height over the past seven years has reached broader audiences regionally and nationally. Levy got special satisfaction from seeing it staged at colleges and universities. “I’m always amazed when I go to a school and see students do the show. If it’s a single-sex environment, the actors are so excited – ‘This play feels like our school. This is me and my friends, this is our community.’ I expected that, but I’m also so delighted when I go to big state schools and the women say, ‘There are so few parts for us in so many of the main stage productions. I’ve never viewed any of my peers as friends when we’re competing for the same five parts. To do an all-female production, I feel like I’ve built a new family.’ Hearing these students talk about how they had discovered this whole new way of being in community with women, that it didn’t have to be adversarial or competitive, was huge. I didn’t set out to write a play that would do that, but it was gratifying to know the play was having such an impact.”

Decision Height Stage Scene
A scene from the original production of “Decision Height” on Hollins Theatre’s Main Stage in October 2012.

Zulia sees the Decision Height revival as a logical continuation of Hollins Theatre’s Legacy Series, which began a decade ago as a way to bring literary pieces by Hollins writers to the stage. Beginning with the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown ‘32, the Legacy Series has included A Woman of Independent Means (Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey ’60), Belloq’s Ophelia (Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard ’67, M.A. ’68), and Good Ol’ Girls (Lee Smith ’67 and Jill McCorkle M.A. ’81).

“Along comes Decision Height, and we thought, ‘Our playwriting program is a big part of our legacy along with our creative writing program,’” Zulia explains. “Some students came to me last year and asked, ‘When do we get to perform Decision Height?’, and it seemed like a good idea – let’s bring this play back and give our current students the opportunity to be a part of it. Its historical setting and themes are timeless.”

Levy believes Decision Height is the perfect title for the play and underscores why it continues to resonate with audiences of all ages, particularly the college demographic. “‘Decision Height’ is the flight term that was used for the critical moment where you have to decide if you’re going to land the plane or keep going. I thought that was such a great metaphor for what it feels like to graduate college and be at this point where you have to decide, what path you’re going to take with your life.

“Looking back after ten years, there’s no decision that you can’t change. But as a senior, I thought whatever I do next is going to define my life. It felt so huge, and this metaphor was really helpful to me to put my hands around that feeling and fear.”



International Film Festival Bestows Honors on Hollins Playwright’s Work

A feature film written by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University alumna has captured multiple awards at the Queen Palm International Film Festival in Palm Springs, California.

Samantha Macher M.F.A. ’12 won the Gold Award for Best Writer for To the New Girl, based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name that she wrote in 2010.

The film, which was made by an all-woman cast and creative team, also won a Gold Award for Best Feature – First Time Filmmaker for directors Aurora J. Culver, Ambika Leigh, and Adriana Gonzalez-Vega, a Silver Award for Best Actress (Skyler Vallo), and an Honorable Mention for Best Editing (Hillary Wills).

“It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Queen Palm Film Festival,” Macher told Digital Journal. “We’re so appreciative that they recognized so many creative and technical elements of the project and are looking forward to celebrating (virtually) with our cast and crew.”

An anthology film released by New Girl Pictures and available through Amazon Prime Video, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the 80-minute movie taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.

“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” producer Laura Hunter Drago said last summer. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”

Macher’s play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty and charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times).

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.

2021 Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works Goes Virtual

The Hollins-Mill Mountain Winter Festival of New Works, which each January showcases compelling new plays by students from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, is headed online for 2021.

“Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we will be producing and performing the entire Winter Festival of New Works through the magic of Zoom,” said Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins theatre department. Along with Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau, he co-leads the Hollins Theatre Institute, which produces the Winter Festival annually in partnership with Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre.

Taking place January 21 – 31, this year’s event is featuring two fully produced plays and two thesis play readings by Hollins playwrights. Each Zoom livestream is free and open to the public, but advanced reservations are encouraged as audience capacity is limited.

The 2021 schedule includes:Missing Red Girls

Missing Red Girls, written and directed by Max Bidasha

January 21-23, 7:30 p.m.
January 24, 2 p.m.

Based on true stories about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and inspired by activist, storyteller, and mother Jennifer James, the play follows two families on their journeys to find their loved ones who were stolen from them. The families endure racism, many obstacles, and very few resources. Reserve tickets at


Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Care Taker, written by Stephanie Goldman and directed by Michelle LoRicco

January 23, 2 p.m.

The complicated relationship of a mother and daughter gets even more complicated in this twisted love story when what is hidden in the closet is forced to come out. A wound that is hidden can never be healed. Reserve tickets at


The Shadow of the SonShadow of the Son, written by Kate Leslie and directed by Lauren Brooke Ellis

January 28-30, 7:30 p.m.
January 31, 2 p.m.

Artemis is the goddess of the moon, and her brother, Apollo, is the god of the sun. Expected to live up to the ideals of the immortals, Artemis longs for freedom and the opportunity to chart her own path. But when she builds her own world away from that of her father, has she simply traded one set of impossible expectations for another? Reserve tickets at


Saturday Fringe Spotlight: The Magic Stick, written by Erica Zephir and directed by Breana Venable

January 30, 2 p.m.

In this memory play, narrator Mary tells the story about returning home to her mother to escape spousal abuse. As she searches for happiness and fulfillment, she encounters many adversaries, and the aura of her husband haunts her. Reserve tickets at







Hollins Playwright’s Work Makes the Leap from Stage to Screen

A critically acclaimed play by a Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University alumna has been made into an independent film and released on Video On Demand.

To the New Girl, written in 2010 by Samantha Macher M.F.A.’12, is available now though Amazon Prime Video Direct and Vimeo on Demand. The play was first produced at SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles and at Studio Roanoke with the Playwright’s Lab, and went on to earn enthusiastic reviews, including “A bracing blitz of pure estrogen” (Los Angeles Times), “Smart and sophisticated, witty, charming” (NoHo Arts District), and “A provocative study of the deep pain of ‘cheating’ by your ‘one and only'” (Tolucan Times). The Roanoke Times noted, “If your thing is honest stories well told, New Girl is the play to see,” while LA Weekly simply remarked, “GO!”

“Live theatre is so important,” said Macher, who has had more than 40 productions of her written work staged around the world. “At its best, you’re in the moment with these characters. Though we can’t exactly replace the experience of being with our audience in person, the film is true to the medium. It’s intimate, simple, and heartfelt. We hope that those watching at home get a similar feeling as those who saw it on stage through the years.”

An anthology feature film released by New Girl Pictures and featuring an all-female creative team and cast, To the New Girl follows ten women scorned as they directly address their exes’ new wives and lovers at an open mic night in Los Angeles. Created by a group of emerging filmmakers at a time when audiences are demanding films made both by and for women, the project taps into a social and political climate that’s left women poised to take back their voices and be heard.

“What I love about the project is that Samantha’s writing really connects with audiences on a universal level and our actresses bring the words to life with these phenomenal performances,” said producer Laura Hunter Drago. “I’m so excited that we’re able to share that with audiences and spark some interesting conversations about how we all process heartbreak and relationships.”

To the New Girl‘s ensemble cast includes Charlotte Evelyn Williams (NCIS, Preacher, Baskets), Lavetta Cannon (Into the Dark, American Heiress), Mara Klein (Casual, Change of Heart), Kelly L. Goodman (Married with Children), Samantha Carro (The Guest House), Leslie Simms (Jane the Virgin), Skyler Vallo (True Blood, How I Met Your Mother, The A List), Alexandra Boylan (Bellflower, Catching Faith), Dawn Noel (NCIS, Glee, Undercover), and in her feature film debut, Lauren Emily Castle.

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by supporters of women in entertainment, To the New Girl was filmed in just three days on location in Los Angeles with a budget under $20,000.





Hollins Enjoys Double Presence at Women’s Theatre Festival

The works of two Hollins playwrights were recently showcased at an event that champions gender parity, diversity, and inclusion in the American theatre.

She Made Space, written and performed by Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18, and And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky by Rachel Nelson ’07 were featured at the 2019 Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), held July 12 – 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The WTF stages productions and readings that are written and directed by women and feature casts and crews that are at least 50 percent women.

She Made Space is an honest and touching story spotlighting a twenty-something intellectual American lesbian tourist who arrives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. “The play traces the steps she has taken to get there in consideration of the occupation of space – both inside, and outside, of herself,” Cope-Levy explains.

“There was something incredibly gratifying about performing She Made Space, a show that celebrates queer communities and identity, in a queer-centric space,” she says. “The intimacy of it allowed the audience to interact with me in a way that has never really happened before. This is the first time I think this show has ever seen a predominantly female and queer audience. Having not performed the show myself since we workshopped it in 2016, it was also meaningful for me personally to put this character back on and share my words in such a physically personal way.”

And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky
Actors perform “And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky” at the Women’s Theatre Festival.

A powerfully poignant play, And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky explores moving through grief, together and alone. “On the eve of a total eclipse of the sun, three women throughout history each contemplate the things and people they have lost,” Nelson says. “As the light begins to fade, their stories become deeply intertwined in unexpected ways.”

She adds that crucial work was done with the production last winter in order to prepare it for venues such as the WTF. “This show was in residence at Hollins in January of this year, and that residency gave us incredible clarity about rewrites, which really paid off in this production. It also generated support with the students – after having seen it through multiple drafts, they really care about this show and have a vested interest in where it goes next.”

The staging of each play was made possible by all-Hollins casts and crews. She Made Space was directed by Lauren B. Ellis M.F.A. ’20 and stage managed by Shelby Love M.F.A. ’20. “Lauren has done such a brilliant job directing this production and this show is a true labor of love for us both,” Cope-Levy says. “We are hoping to take it back on the road to other fringe festivals.”

And because of the efforts of Susie Young ’10, Natalie Pendergast ’17, Kendall Comolli ’20, and Megan Gilbert ‘20, the production of And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky persevered despite a significant setback.

“I had to evacuate my home in New Orleans due to Hurricane Barry the day before the festival, so I could only contribute long distance,” Nelson says, “and the team really had to rally at the last second. Susie stepped up as a director and performer, and her genius and fortitude really made this happen. She and I have been working on this play for three years now, and even though I wrote it, it’s based on a lot of conversations and explorations that we did together into grief. In so many ways she’s the heart of this project.

“I also want to thank Natalie for her performance; Kendall (the show’s original stage manager), who filled in as an actor; and Megan, who took over as stage manager. I am incredibly proud of all of them.”

“Of course we were bummed to not have Rachel with us,” Cope-Levy adds, “but her team demonstrated how important it is for theatre artists to be interdisciplinary – and how well Hollins prepares us for that.”

The Artistic Home, an entity designed by Nelson and Hollins Theatre Chair Ernie Zulia, is a major force behind the success of the two plays. “It supports recent Hollins grads through their first years in the professional theatre community by offering them connections with more established alumnae and current students. At the same time, they make exciting new theatre,” Nelson explains. “The WTF is a perfect example of the kind of work The Artistic Home does. There were several generations of Hollins family in collaboration – current Hollins students worked alongside Hollins professors and alumnae of the theatre program. This kind of cross-generation pollinating creates a team that mutually supports the growth of our young professional alumnae and enriches the education and professional experience of current Hollins students.”

“I physically felt my heart burst in witnessing The Artistic Home’s manifestation in these two back-to-back productions,” Cope-Levy says. “I also want to acknowledge the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins for its ardent support of She Made Space from our early workshops all the way through to this fringe festival tour.”

Nelson notes that “writing a play is often an isolating experience,” but her ties to Hollins ensure she doesn’t feel alone during the process. “I know I have the support of a community, and that I’m not writing into a vacuum. Events like this festival always remind me that the Hollins community is so much bigger than just the campus. It really does stretch around the world.”


Top Photo: Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 performs She Made Space, which she wrote. 

Hollins Playwright Wins National Kennedy Center Award

Sean Michael McCord, a student in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, has received the Kennedy Center’s National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting (NPATP) Award for his full-length play, Moving.

The NPATP Award comes with a cash prize; membership in the Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis; an invitation to attend the National Festival at the Kennedy Center, April 16 – 19; and a professional development summer residency. McCord’s play was nominated from among eight Kennedy Center college regions for the national award.

Moving tells the story of several couples over 30 years as they move in and out of a single apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The story was inspired by some of McCord’s own adventures as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter after graduating from the UCLA Film School. The play was first developed as a staged reading for the Playwright’s Lab, where McCord is pursuing his Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree.

“We’re very proud of the recognition this play is receiving, and how that success reflects on the graduate playwriting program at Hollins,” notes Playwright’s Lab Program Director Todd Ristau, who will be directing a full production of Moving as part of the Hollins – Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works in January 2020. “You learn the most about a play when you are in production and I’m really looking forward to helping Sean continue to develop the piece in rehearsal.”

McCord, a resident of Charlottesville, plans to start his M.F.A. thesis play at Hollins this summer. “It’s been an amazing journey,” he says. “Moving was the first full-length play I wrote after my initial year at Hollins, utilizing all the tools I was given in my early classes, and it has continued to follow me in my development as a playwright.”

Moving premiered in Charlottesville in 2017 as the inaugural production of the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective, a theatre company started by McCord and other local playwrights dedicated to the production of new works by area writers. In addition to the NPATP Award, Moving has won the Southeastern Theatre Conference 2018 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and the 2019 David L. Shelton Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region IV.