Center Stage: 1st student-written play produced by UA theaterBy Margaret Wilbourne and Reed OMara | 02/02/2015 12:57am
Laura Coby has been writing poetry since she was in elementary school. CW | Layton Dudley
“I wrote my first poem in fifth grade, and it was about a tater tot,” she said. “Everything since then has been fantastic.”
Jokes aside, Coby, a junior majoring in English and theatre, is the first undergraduate ever to have their one-act play performed by the University of Alabama theatre and dance program.
Steve Burch, associate professor of theatre history and playwriting, took notice of Coby’s work while she was enrolled in his playwriting course. Her play, “Meet the Bradleys,” was chosen after a production had to be dropped from the original 2014-2015 season lineup.
“The department was suddenly placed in the position of having to select another [play] for our season,” Burch said. “I had taught playwriting the last semester, and Laura and a handful of others did particularly well. For the first time since I’ve been teaching, I thought some of the plays were good enough to [use].”
Burch said the “stars aligned for the department,” which would go on to choose Coby’s work out of four finalists.
Coby first found out her play was in this pool of finalists last summer.
“I was both terrified and humbled, which was the same sentiment I experienced when it was actually chosen,” Coby said. “I really admired my classmates’ works, so I was very humbled and excited when mine happened to even be put alongside them.”
The Guntersville, Alabama, native grew up watching musicals with her grandmother, but it wasn’t until Coby was a senior in high school that she began to think seriously about theater.
“I’ve always been loud and animated, and I had fallen in love with a rival high school’s theatre program after they did ‘Pippa,’ which is one of my favorite plays,” Coby said. “I was just baffled and [remember] thinking, ‘Wow, people my age can do something that well – I’d like to try to do that.’”
Alaina Boukedes, a junior majoring in journalism and theatre, became friends with Coby when the two pledged Alpha Psi Omega, the theatre honor society, during their freshman year. The two also lived together for their sophomore years. Since meeting, Boukedes said she’s seen the passion Coby has for writing grow and separate her from her peers.
“Laura has always been a very eccentric and eclectic person, and I think she’s really come into that, and that’s come with a lot more intellectual ideas and thoughts,” Boukedes said. “She’s really taken that exciting energy she came into college with and really put it towards her writing.”
After graduating high school, Coby enrolled at The University of Alabama with an interest in both theatre and playwriting. She enrolled in a playwriting class, which is where “Meet the Bradleys” found its start.
“I knew nothing about playwriting, but I just fell in love with it,” Coby said. “It’s just so cool getting to see how I put together my own ideas.”
Coby said being an actor herself helped with the process.
“I mean, Shakespeare was an actor turned playwright, and he was the best,” she said. “I take other classes too, but having that acting background, I know an actor can act this [out], so I don’t have to write it [for them to say].”
Boukedes said the “actability” of Coby’s work comes from her studies as an actress, but also from Coby’s extensive reading and ingrained passion for her creative work.
“I think she’s always had a knack for literature and the arts,” Boukedes said. “She took [Burch’s] play writing class as a sophomore, and I think that really helped as well because most people who take that course are almost out of college. To have that course at a very young time in her career and to have that to jump off for writing a play is very helpful.”
“Meet the Bradleys” is a work of fiction inspired by a conversation Coby had with her brother on a family trip. With four characters, the play mimics Coby’s own family, exploring human interaction.
“There’s only two characters [out of the four] that are biologically related,” Coby said. “There’s a point in the play where it’s like an opportunity for four people to sit at a table together and not quite be a family but that have [that] sort of dynamic. I can’t say if that happens or doesn’t.”
Coby, who is working on the play while juggling a full load of classes, said she has found the new dynamic of her schedule to be about balance. While she said it can be difficult, her enthusiasm for theatre is always her biggest motivator.
“The play was easier when I had a class to go along with it,” Coby said. “Sometimes something has to get pushed to the back burner because I’m spread so thin, but it’s still an exciting and gratifying time. I love putting the time into it, and I love pouring myself into it.”
Helping to keep Coby on track while she navigates the unfamiliar roads of having an original work performed is Burch, who she said serves as a mentor. While she first met Burch in his playwriting class, she has continued to seek his advice and guidance.
“Steve’s the reason I’m able to be able to be here and thriving,” Coby said. “He has guided me through creative blocks and the professional logistics of writing [as well as giving] moral support.”
Burch agreed he plays several role as a mentor to Coby. He also said such professor-student interactions are important for young writers.
“She doesn’t limit her discussions to class – we’ll talk one-on-one about things she’s been reading, and the play,” Burch said. “Laura is full of ideas. She has the best kind of intellect for a student to have, which is an inquiring one. That [interaction] is important, because it’s hard to advise them if we don’t know about that person and the areas they’re interested in.”
While Coby said she is interested in pursuing a career in publishing post-graduation, she said she’s excited to explore the field of producing the play she has written.
“It’s an experience I never expected to have, and it’s so incredible,” she said. “I’m so floored and so grateful, because I know how many other hard working people there are in the creative field of writing.”
As for other students who hope to achieve something like Coby, she said her advice hinges on two simple elements – patience and determination.
“I would say to never stop creating. You’re going to do some wretched work, and that’s okay,” Coby said. “You can’t expect to write Othello on your first draft. There’s got to be some trial and error on your part.”