Newman senior earns national award for playwriting

Mar 19, 2015

‘I started hyper-ventilating and I ran straight to Mark Mannette’s office. He wasn’t there so I fell on the floor… and everyone was worried about me. But, it was good news! So yeah, I freaked out a little.’

Newman senior C.L. Smet describing her reaction to learning she had won a Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival national award for playwriting.

A student in the Theatre Department is bringing national attention to Newman University. Senior C.L. Smet will receive the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Undergraduate Playwriting second place award for her play “Fair Departure.”

Smet submitted her work to the competition in November 2014. Early this year, it was selected as a top student-written play at one of the organization’s regional conferences in Minneapolis. Two plays from each of the eight regions then advanced for further judging. Smet found out about being selected for the national award via email March 6.

“I freaked out a little, a lot,” Smet said, “I felt like I can get into grad school now!”

“I’m extremely proud of her. She has worked really hard on this,” said Director of Theatre Mark Mannette.

Mannette noted that Smet had been honored regionally last year but the national award this time is very impressive and well-deserved.

“I don’t have exact numbers but there were probably 60-100 plays submitted to each region,” Mannette explained, “Her play ‘Every Tuesday’ went to the nationals last year, so already last year we were excited about that. But this year her play ‘Fair Departure’ is clearly second in the nation. Tuffs University number one. Newman University number two!”

The accomplishment is noteworthy for Newman’s theatre program, which Mannette helped resurrect less than five years ago.

“I’d like to think that Newman’s theatre program is helping to make a difference,” Mannette said. “Part of what I do is I like to challenge students and I also like to give them a degree of freedom to explore on their own. She deserves the credit for this because she’s really gone above and beyond outside of her academics to really hone her craft.”

Before ever taking a playwriting course, Smet spent her spare time writing plays for fun and to share with friends. She believes stories depicting good and evil, where good wins out and they “kiss at the end,” have their place, but Smet admits she is more attracted to multifaceted storylines and unique characters that she finds intriguing to play.

“When I write plays I try to make sure that every role is worth playing. I try to make sure that any actor that reads it would say each of these characters has a really interesting arc,” Smet said.

“Fair Departure” is about a college student who commits suicide. The play focuses on relationships and interactions between his surviving sister and roommates.

“It’s based on a quote from the ‘Merchant of Venice’ where Portia says she prays that God grants her suitors a fair departure,” Smet explains. “And, it’s inspired by this amazing conversation I had my sophomore year with one of my friends where he told me to always remember the good things, too. I wanted to combine those and write a play where the idea of a fair departure and the idea of good things were the primary elements.”

Mannette believe his star student is very in tune with today’s contemporary theatre. “There’s a style of play that plays well now, dealing with relationships and other kinds of things that are the current trends in theater nationally. She reads a lot of contemporary plays and she knows what people are interested in, in what’s successful. She manages to capture in the vein of that and I think that’s one of the things she has a gift for,” Mannette said.

It’s a gift that Smet hopes leads her to graduate school and eventually a career in playwriting and possibly teaching theatre. Her role models are Mannette and Deanne Zogleman, director of the Newman Music Department, because they teach but still have the opportunity to be involved in theatre.

Her immediate future includes an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to receive her honor during the organization’s national gathering April 14-18. The week-long theater festival features workshops with Broadway actors, playwriters and directors. The event also includes performances of regional award-winning college plays, a national acting competition and award ceremonies.

The Kennedy Center American College Theater sponsors the fine arts festival and the competition as part of its national program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities throughout the country. The organization hopes to serve as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States.

When Smet returns to Wichita one of the first things she will do is attend a debut performance of “Fair Departure” in the Newman Jarbara Theatre directed by student Rusty Carbaugh, a good friend of Smet. The play runs April 16-19 and is Carbaugh’s senior capstone theatre project.

Smet, a self-proclaimed control freak, is excited to be a relative outsider on the production.

“She’s (Carbaugh) amazing. I trust her with it, so I get to watch. I get to come back from nationals on the 18th and watch the performance on the 19th, so it’ll be really cool,” Smet said.

Judges from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre regional festivals are scheduled to come see it performed so it may be another opportunity for Newman Theatre to garner more recognition.

“My goal in life is to make Mark Mannette proud of me. So, I hope I did.”