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Artist and Dog-wrangler Wins UCSD Playwriting Competition

Ioana Patringenaru | April 2, 2007

Kato McNickle
Kato McNickle

Kato McNickle, a playwright, artist and dog-wrangler, is the winner of the 2007 Baldwin New Play Festival Playwriting Competition. Her play “In Search of a Better Life With Elvis,” follows the journey of an African-American girl who needs to understand and forgive her father, an Elvis impersonator. In the play, the girl, Jezzy, hears a voice saying “Memphis” so she heads off to Memphis, Tenn. But the voice meant Memphis, Egypt. Off-track from the get-go, she is on a mission to make peace with her father, who seemingly lost his own identity — even if it means stealing her mother’s car and trading it for a guitar.

For McNickle, this play is about America’s connection with the past. Americans are detached from the larger past, from ancient myth, from our ancestors,”she said. “We fill this void with pop icons, superstars and fast food. What if our ancestors are watching? What would their words be? Would we listen? Would we even understand the language?”

McNickle lives in Connecticut. In 2005, she was one of seven associate artists selected to be part of a three-week playwrights' boot-camp with Paula Vogel at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. That experience led to her discovery of the Return to Undergraduate Education Program at Brown University. She now is a full-time student in the program, set to graduate in 2010. She plans to create her own concentration that merges playwriting with cognitive science. She is also a member of the Dramatist Guild and the Star Wars Fan Club.

In July, her play “Minotaurs, Toreros” was presented by The Planning Stage in New London, Conn. as a workshop production. Another play, “Swimming in the Ocean,” was at The Looking Glass Theatre in New York City and again in the fall at Brown University.

Kato McNickle

UCSD Theatre and Dance Department announced The Baldwin New Play Festival Playwriting Competition nationwide in fall 2006. Undergraduate students across the country submitted their previously non-produced, unpublished scripts. The plays needed to provide a point of view highlighting the African-American experience in contemporary or historical terms. For this first year of the competition, a team of jurors evaluated the scripts, including UCSD Playwriting Professor and Thurgood Marshall Provost Allan Havis, UCSD Theatre and Dance Department Professor Nadine George-Graves and La Jolla Playhouse Associate Producer Shirley Fishman. This year, Isaac Holter of DePaul University received an honorable mention for his play “Red Line Down.”

The nationwide competition open to enrolled undergraduate students is a complement to the annual UCSD MFA playwriting event, the Baldwin New Play Festival, according to Department Chair Charlie Oates. The two-week presentation of new plays by MFA students in playwriting has steadily gained national recognition over the past decade and is attended each year by 12 national theatre professionals who fly in for the final week of the festival. This year’s fully-staged, full-length plays include: “Red State, Blue Grass,” by Josh Tobiessen, “Wildflower” by Lila Rose Kaplan and “The Near East” by Alex Lewin.

Tickets will be available at the UCSD Theatre/La Jolla Playhouse Box Office or by calling (858) 534-4574 in early April. The one-act play “Freedom. NY” by Jennifer Barclay is being staged as a free festival event. A staged reading of McNickle’s “In Search of a Better Life With Elvis” is also a free festival event. Current performance schedules can be found at http://theatre.ucsd.edu/onstage/#bnpf

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