UM Junior’s Work Wins Playwriting Contest, Then Hits the Small Stage at The Ring

When aspiring playwright William Hector sat down last spring to pen his latest work, he already knew how he wanted it to end, making his task one of reaching that predetermined conclusion.

From left, dramaturge Brian Valencia, playwright William Hector, rehearsal assistant Mayanna Berrin, and director Jaime Castañeda during a recent rehearsal reading of Hector’s play, “Sheol.”

Hector must have done something right, because Sheol—which focuses on a young couple, conversion to Judaism, the afterlife, and overbearing in-laws—won the second annual University of Miami Friends of Theatre Playwriting Contest, besting ten other submissions in a competition aimed at identifying and boosting rising young talent at UM.

Sheol survived the cut and came out on top after an intense three rounds of judging, the first two conducted by a panel of UM faculty members and the last by a group of theatre arts professionals from around the country. Over Thinking, written by UM student Tim Bell, came in second.

A junior in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, Hector not only received a $2,000 cash prize and saw his award-winning work performed on stage April 21 at the Ring Theatre, but got the chance to hone his playwriting skills in a developmental workshop with professional guest artist Jaime Castañeda, artistic associate at New York’s Atlantic Theater Company.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Hector, the son of School of Architecture Acting Dean Denis Hector, says about winning the contest. “I’m interested in many other kinds of writing, but I’m particularly passionate about playwriting.”

He started working on Sheol as a sophomore enrolled in playwright Edith Freni’s Playwriting II class. “The idea was born out of a longtime interest in Jewish mysticism and specifically conceptions of the afterlife,” he explains. “I choose Sheol as the title fairly early on. I liked that it was succinct and mysterious, and I hoped it would draw the audience into the question of what it means—a mystery that the play, hopefully, elucidates.”

Friends of Theatre, a volunteer organization that supports the Department of Theatre Arts through scholarships, fundraisers, and other endeavors, sponsors the contest, which is open to any UM student.

“It’s really about identification and encouragement, not about picking a play for production,” says Freni, a theatre arts lecturer and Emory University Playwriting Fellow, who coordinates the contest. “While the prize is awarded based on the play submitted, we are really interested in indentifying a new, unique theatrical voice and giving that writer a boost both financially and developmentally so that they are inspired to continue developing their craft.”

The contest is crucial for new playwrights, marking the first time many of them send their works out into the “world.”

“In this case, it’s a very small, safe world as opposed to the great, big scary world they’ll have to deal with if they decide to pursue playwriting as a career,” says Freni. “If they get into the habit of submitting now, it’ll be less daunting when they’re out in the industry dealing with the judgment that is inherent in this business.”

April 28, 2014