Bringing Words to the Stage
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By Steve Penhollow
The Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, in its eighth year, happens all day Saturday, March 18, at the Civic Theatre.
The festival was established to encourage playwrights with Hoosier ties and to celebrate their efforts.
Here are profiles of this year’s first- and second-place winners:
One Foot in the Gravy.
It would be correct to describe Kingkade as a screenwriter, playwright and sometime actor.
It would be also correct to say that this University of South Carolina professor of English and theater suffers no angst over perusing these disciplines as avocations rather than vocations.
Asked if he’d ever consider writing full-time, he responded, “I don’t know if I would or not.
“It would depend on how much it paid, ” Kingkade said. “It’s hard to find a job writing for a living. I don’t think I could come up with that many ideas.”
One of his ideas, One Foot in the Gravy, won first place at the 8th Annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival.
One Foot in the Gravy is a comic take on that perennial plot involving a greedy wife, a rich and ailing husband and a dim boyfriend.
The play has been given a staged reading before, but never a full production, he said.
“It went through a number of rewrites,” he said. “There’s some stuff in this Civic Theatre script – there’s a whole new third act to it, basically. It’s kind of exciting.”
Kingkade’s Indiana connection is that he grew up in Hammond and attended I.U. Bloomington.
He found out about the contest in drive-by fashion – he was passing through Fort Wayne and saw a sign for the festival.
Kingkade said he is an old hat at the contest game. He has accumulated a couple of flashy acting credits (the major Hollywood production, Mr. Destiny, for example) and he had one of his scripts, Hole in the Paper Sky, turned into a short film starring Jessica Biel and Garry Marshall.
Hole in the Paper Sky won the Best Screenplay award at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Kingkade has been polishing and clarifying aspects of the One Foot in the Gravy script with Civic Theatre Executive Director Phillip Colglazier over the phone and he said he has enjoyed that process.
But when he comes to Fort Wayne to take in the full production, he will be seeing it for the first time along with everyone else.
Kingkade, who cites restoration comedy as one of his major inspirations, said he wrote One Foot in the Gravy with the intention that it be a crowd-pleasing, summer-stock-style show.
“Just something everyone would like and find funny,” he said.
Kingkade has written about a dozen plays and screenplays and he said it is especially hard to sell the latter to anyone with the wherewithal to steer it to the cineplex.
“It is very hard to sell a screenplay on spec,” he said. “Directors usually know what they want. It’s very hard to sell a screenplay that has already been written.”
As for writing for television, Kingkade said a professor at I.U. tried to steer him away from that.
“They go through a lot of writers,” he said. “They have armies of writers. I took a playwriting course at I.U. years ago, and I remember my writing teacher telling me that TV just eats your ideas. It takes all of your great ideas and just eats them up.”
My Dead Clown
David Rousculp is a funeral home director who writes screenplays in an apartment above a funeral home in Columbia City, and that is a story in itself.
But the story we’re concerned with at the moment is called My Dead Clown.
It won second place at the Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, but it started out as a story for the screen.
Rousculp wrote it while he was working as a funeral home director in Cleveland.
It won second place in a screenplay competition and earned the admiration of comic actor Tim Conway.
“He called me and said that he had read it,” Rouscoup said. “He said he liked it. He said it was very dark. He said to me, ‘Do you know George Clooney?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Neither do I, so I don’t know who to tell you to help get this thing produced.'”
After Rousculp moved to Indiana, he learned about the Civic Theatre competition and decided to refashion My Dead Clown for the stage.
The play concerns a funeral home director who is letting grief over his wife’s death affect his job performance. His boss gives him one last chance, and shortly thereafter the dead clown of the title (who is awaiting, in his inanimate way, the customary end-of-life rituals) decides to come back to life.
Later, the Grim Reaper arrives, behaving more like comedian Steven Wright than the super-villain Sauron. The Reaper is surprisingly easily to scare off, which leads to instant regret, as the funeral home director is now stuck with the clown.
There is a method to all this madness, of course: The clown has returned for a reason.
It is never surprising to learn that a funeral home director has a dark sense of humor. It might be surprising to learn that he writes scripts and plays.
But Rousculp said there really isn’t that much distance between his day job and his avocation.
Rousculp lost a good friend to a car accident in high school, and he came to understand how adept a funeral home staff can be at shepherding mourners through such shattering experiences.
“After I went through the funeral process, I was amazed at how much better I felt,” he said. “And I thought, ‘This is a really neat thing.’ So I pursued it and got a job at a funeral home at the age of 16.”
Being a funeral home director isn’t all that different from being a stage director, Rousculp said.
“I put on a show,” he said. “I do makeup. I’ve got lighting. I have performers like the minister. I do a show and I do it within three days.”
Being a funeral home director eases the discomfort of being a frustrated actor, he said.
A funeral home director has to work the crowd in a way and work each “crowd” in a different way.
Everyone processes the death of a loved one differently. Some mourners crave a little levity and some want none.
“You have to feel out each family,” Rousculp said. “You have [to determine] what balance between comedy and professionalism you have to strike. You have to feel them out and decide what you need to do for them.”
The festival will feature a fully staged production of One Foot in the Gravy and stage readings of My Dead Clown and third-place winner The Unpredictability of Fire by Rebecca Cameron. There will also be a discussion with Janet Allen, executive artistic director of Indiana Repertory Theatre, followed by a reception for playwrights and attendees.