About her play, American Soldier, Erin Gallagher ’13 quipped: “I started out writing it for an English seminar in playwriting last year and have since returned to it. I think it might be my elaborate excuse to write erotic fiction. Or, you know, a heartfelt attempt at investigating the nuances of family relations.”
In fact, Gallagher’s attempt was a successful one; she is the 2013 recipient of the annual Swartz Seven Playwriting Award at Vassar. Planet of Ashes and Snow by Tatiana Collet-Apraxine ‘13 received an honorable mention.
After Marilyn Swartz Seven ’69 died of leukemia in 1997 at the age of 50, her classmates, with the help of Professor Emeritus of Drama James Steerman, honored her memory by establishing a fund to support this yearly award.
The award is open to any Vassar junior or senior who submits a play of high dramatic quality to a committee of members of the Drama and English departments. Entry forms and play submissions are accepted late fall and the winner is announced in early spring each academic year. The winning playwright receives a $1,000 award, and the Drama department hosts a staged reading of the play.
Although Seven was a psychology major at Vassar, she was immersed in theater. During her college years, Seven spent her summers performing in stock productions and touring as a dancer with Ann Corio’s This Was Burlesque. After graduating, she continued to dance and act, and also began to embrace her true creative lifelong passion: writing plays.
The staged reading of Gallagher’s work, along with a small reception, will be on Sunday, April 21, in the Streep Studio, Room 110 in the Volgelstein Center for Drama and Film. At the reception, Collet-Apraxine’s play will be acknowledged. This is the first year that the competition has had a runner-up.
Collet-Apraxine describes her play as follows: “A Planet of Ashes and snow is the story of a woman’s journey after she has died. It is an attempt at reconciling poetry, death, loss, memory and music.
The heroin Anna has been waiting on a small planet for a long time until a strange man who speaks in charades takes her on a bus to several planets, each enclosing different places that are dear to her; including her house – located on the moon- where she meets her daughter and husband as she remembers them before she died.”
She emphasized that she had numerous inspirations for her work. “The play is inspired by personal memories, poems by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Surrealism, astrology and by the music of Philip Glass,” she said. She stressed that she wants to continue to tweak it, “I hope to keep working on it in the future, and make it into a full length play,” she noted.
Afterwards will be the staged reading of American Soldier. The play is an intimate portrayal of a family; it has a small, four-person cast who also operates as the chorus.
Gallagher said, “It is a quirky comedy where sex is not only a selling point, but also a form of sad and subtle salvation. It follows the story of Marian Hayden, a recent college graduate, whose parents do not understand how their quick-witted daughter could find herself writing porn. As they gather together for a feigned reading of her script, Marian is forced to face the realities of her twin brother fighting overseas in the Iraq War.”
The play was Gallagher’s first attempt at writing a full-length production. Following in Seven’s footsteps, she is not a Drama major. Her chosen disciplines are Art History and English.
Gallagher said of her theater experience: “I have only taken Introduction to Theater-Making in the Drama department here at Vassar, but I have been a part of Idlewild, an all-female, non-hierarchical, collaborative theater ensemble, for four years, participating in various roles from performing and writing to set and prop design.”
Through Idlewild she played a role in the creation of numerous productions. Idlewild performs one show each semester; a collaboratively written piece in the fall and a traditional play in the spring. Gallagher has been involved with the following: Craves Like Woah, Fucking A, No Photography Please, Late: A Cowboy Song, Strangerdom, The Secretaries, and Made-In Waiting.
Idlewild’s next show – The Dastadly Ficus – is premiering in the Shiva on March 28th. It is by an unpublished female playwright, Emily Schwartz, currently working in Chicago.
Although after graduation, Gallagher will be joining the Teaching Corps Program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to gain experience in Museum Education, she noted that she aspires to still leave a foot in the world of drama.
“I hope to continue writing in some capacity and remain involved with friends who are pursuing a career in theater,” she said.
And when asked about how she will spend the money rewarded to her, she said pragmatically: “I plan on using my winnings toward living expenses in New York City.”