JL Smith New Play Festival Selects Winning Play, Directed by York College Alumnus
Lancaster native Dave Nice’s winning play, “Recounting,” was performed live on Zoom in May and was directed by York College of Pennsylvania graduate Cal Weary ’99.
As Kyle Rossi ’21 watched the curtain go down on his college experience, he beamed with gratitude for the opportunity to bring live performances to life in a year that threatened the art of the theatre.
The York College of Pennsylvania Theatre major helped organize, promote, and gather about 130 submissions for the Inaugural JL Smith New Play Festival. Thanks to a generous donation by JL Smith, spouse of York College’s President Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, York College Theatre students put together a virtual play festival that took place May 6 and 7, 2021.
While it was the first year of the festival, the contributions of Smith will enable the show will go on for five years. It became a capstone project for Rossi, an outgoing senior, who saw the experience as an opportunity to stand out in his field. The winning play, Recounting, was submitted by Lancaster’s Dave Nice, and was performed on Zoom.
Nice's play, which he began writing in 2016, follows the stories of two central Pennsylvania couples in the midst of the 2000 election who hold differing political beliefs.
“Nice’s play won because it fit all the criteria, and our three judges felt it hit the high points on each of our judging categories,” Rossi says. “Other plays weren’t necessarily bad, but we really wanted to highlight a Pennsylvania playwright, and Dave Nice has been a great local contributor to this field.”
A community event
The JL Smith New Play Festival kicked off the evening of May 6, 2021, with the reading of six 10-minute plays, featuring playwrights from Atlanta, New York, Boston, and as far as Exeter, England, and Sydney, Australia.
Recounting, which made its debut the evening of May 7, 2021, was directed by Cal Weary ’99, a Mass Communication graduate who now runs Weary Arts Group in York County.
“I like telling stories and I like being able to help others tell stories,” Weary says. “I think we have an obligation as theatre arts professionals to always be supporting new works of art. I also think that telling the stories of certain areas and the way that we react to the world at large is very important.”
Weary not only believes the arts can be a way of escape, but are often a way of processing the things going on around us. It’s an important responsibility, he says, for an educational facility like York College to be at the forefront of helping to create new art, especially in the year that shut down theatres around the world.
JL Smith has been involved in York College’s Theatre program for several years, even contributing his own talents to perform in some productions. As part of York College’s EVOLVE campaign, Smith’s investment will further enhance the values of a York College education and provide a platform for theatre to thrive for years to come.
For Smith, who has a theatre degree and did some professional acting after college, contributing to the theatre program is a passion project. Since Dr. Gunter-Smith joined York College and her husband was dubbed “first dude,” Smith has volunteered to help with student productions.
It's a gift that for students like Rossi, makes the biggest impact. As a transfer student, Rossi sees the benefits York College brought to his education. He had opportunities to talk to playwrights from around the world, see the work of directors across the country and in his own community. And most importantly, he says, he gained the experience that will take him into what he hopes is a fruitful career in the arts.
“I’m really grateful to JL for doing this for us,” Rossi says. “I know it impacted my life, and it’s going to be here to impact someone else who comes after me.”