A script that worked

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State University student Josh Johnson tends to stay away from writing comedic plays.

But one he submitted last year for an upcoming theater festival got him a spot in the finals.

Johnson’s play, “Man’s Best Friend” is one of six finalists for the 10-minute play category at the Region 5 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, which starts Sunday in Lincoln, Neb. and runs through the week.

The last time SMSU had a finalist in the category was in 2009 with Eric Eichenlaub’s “Momentous.”

Johnson said he was writing a full-length play when “Man’s Best Friend” materialized.

“It started just as a warm-up exercise,” Johnson said about “Man’s Best Friend.” “It really had no intention of being anything. But when I went back and looked, I had a lot of pieces a good play should have.”

The play is about a man and his girlfriend, Johnson said, and they get into a fight. The girlfriend leaves, and the dog decides to give the man advice on their relationship. Johnson said the dog convinces the man to go after his girlfriend.

“It’s predominately a comedy,” Johnson said. Especially with a talking dog, he added.

“Man’s Best Friend” was part of SMSU theater’s annual playwriting festival last spring. Johnson said Haley Jacobsen portrayed the girlfriend, and Tony Falk played the man. Andy Kompelien was the dog, and Jessa Roberts played the cat.

“It was received alright,” he said. It wasn’t the best or the worst, he said, just a nice enjoyable play.

Johnson said he’s tried several times to make it to the finals at KCACTF.

“I’ve submitted for the last three or four years and never really gotten through,” Johnson said.

SMSU theater professor Nadine Schmidt said the plays are chosen from a panel of judges from outside of the school’s region.

“The judges receive ‘blind’ copies with no identifying information anywhere in the script,” Schmidt said. “The student submits a cover sheet separately with all their identifying information on it, and they submit a blind copy of their script.” The cover sheet and the script actually go to two separate email addresses, Schmidt said.

When a play becomes a finalist, a director is chosen from a different school, and a faculty adviser is selected from a different school as well. Johnson said auditions for the 10-minute plays are at the festival, and the cast is pulled from the people who try out. At the end of the week, there is a staged reading of each of the plays.

Johnson said he was surprised that “Man’s Best Friend” was selected, adding that “you’re always the hardest critic of your own stuff.”

“It is still nice to have this (opportunity) come my way,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he mainly writes dramas.

“I tend to write things with fantastical elements,” Johnson said. “I always felt comedy was difficult for me, I tend to avoid it.”

Schmidt said that SMSU hasn’t been able to offer a playwriting class in a while, so it’s great that Johnson was able to pursue his writing on his own and have his script selected for the festival.