Embracing the LimelightGAMBIER, Ohio (November 25, 2003) Mary Tuomanen, Class of 2003, was looking forward to Alaska in June, with its twenty-one hours of daylight. But while in the Land of the Midnight Sun, Tuomanen spent much of her time sequestered in a darkened theater amid a select group of promising playwrights who saw their work performed at the eleventh annual Edward Albee Last Frontier Theater Conference.
Based in Valdez, Alaska, the festival features almost non-stop writing and acting workshops, as well as readings and performances by theater companies from across the United States. Tuomanen's play, a one-act entitled Kelly Um, was performed before an enthusiastic audience that included theater luminaries Edward Albee, Romulus Linney, Paula Vogel, and Emily Mann.
"After the play, they called me up on stage and I had Albee on one side of me and Linney on the other telling me they really liked my play," Tuomanen said. "How great is that?"
Written during a semester of her junior year spent off-campus at the Eugene O'Neill National Theater Institute in New London, Connecticut, Kelly Um's cast included Kenyon students Tom Coiner, Class of 2004 and Andrew Vaught , Class of 2005, as well as recent graduate Catherine Ward. Ward and Tuomanen shared the College's 2003 Joanne Woodward Prize awarded to the drama department's most outstanding student. Kelly Um had its premiere in Kenyon's new black-box theater last fall.
Tuomanen and her Kenyon cast attended the festival thanks to a generous gift from Paul Newman, Class of 1949, through his company, Newman's Own, and chair of the Kenyon Board of Trustees David Horvitz, Class of 1974.
Kelly Um not only boasts a Kenyon playwright and original cast, but its story was inspired by Tuomanen's friend and classmate Dean Simakis, for whom the play's main character is named. Simakis, who had a short piece of his own dramatic writing accepted in the "ten-minute scene" category, went to the Albee Conference as well.
Kenyon's James Michael Playwright-in-Residence Wendy MacLeod, author of the cult- movie favorite The House of Yes, urged Tuomanen and Simakis to send out their writing and gave them the Dramatists Sourcebook, a directory of opportunities for playwrights, in which they discovered the listing for the Albee Conference. "Wendy MacLeod is a great encourager of all young playwrights and a ruthless editor," says Tuomanen of her professor. "It was her instruction that allowed us to become playwrights."
At the Alaskan conference, Tuomanen got the chance to talk shop with one of her heroes, Romulus Linney, after she sat in on a reading of a play he's completing. "He asked me what I thought of the play, and I was able to sit down and actually tell him what I thought in an intelligent manner," she said. "That's all from my training at Kenyon. I have no doubt whatsoever that Kenyon offers the best undergraduate program for anyone interested in being a playwright."
Tuomanen is a talented actor as well as a writer. This year she holds a competitive internship to act at the prestigious Actors Theater of Louisville, working in the Humana Festival.
One of the nation's leading liberal arts and sciences colleges and home to the Kenyon Review, Kenyon College offers 1,594 students a challenging educational experience enriched by a culture of friendship. Graduates of the College have included actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and Pulitzer-prize winning author E. L. Doctorow.