Mikala Hansen ’07 has had a busy year. Having just earned her M.F.A. in playwriting from Western Michigan University in May, she also has won the National Association of Partners of American Theatre (NAPAT) Annual Playwriting Excellence Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The prestigious playwriting honor was awarded for her full-length work, “Viking-American.”
The award’s benefits have included weeklong workshops at the Kennedy Center in Washington and at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, as well as a reading in Chicago at the Association for Theater in Higher Education’s national conference.
Hansen traveled to the Kennedy Center this past spring. “As a playwright, I got to speak with playwrights Laura Eason about adapting works to the stage and Marsha Norman about copyright laws,” Hansen says. “I also spoke individually with a professional dramaturge about one of my more recent scripts, with artistic directors and agents from around the country, and saw over a dozen plays.”
Hansen then traveled to Las Vegas in June for a workshop focused on writing for television and film. Though she has largely written for the stage, she learned about pitching stories to TV and movie producers.
“Believe me, pitching the story is almost as hard as writing it,” she says. “We also talked about ‘actor-bait’ – what kinds of characters actors want in your scripts – and we spent some time workshopping new scripts, as well as my own.”
Hansen’s play, “Viking-American,” is a story that blends Danish myth with the lives of an Ohio family. Though it is not autobiographical, Hansen says attending Denison influenced the setting. “The main character goes to school at a small college, which is only referenced in the play and never named, but in my head it was always Denison,” she says. “I actually grew up in Ohio, and the play is very much about that.”
Hansen says that though she’s always been interested in theater, there weren’t many opportunities for involvement while she was growing up. “There wasn’t enough interest or investment from my community, so I just never treated it like an option,” she says. “Whereas writing—that was easy enough to pursue and I didn’t really need a community to do it. So I went to Denison under the impression that I would just write fiction.”
Hansen says that she was exposed to playwriting at Denison through a Shakespeare class, followed by a May Term Travel Seminar to study Shakespeare in England. “I remember this one show we saw – Tristan and Yseut at Kneehigh Theatre Company – and it just sealed the deal,” she says. “I walked away starving to create something like that.” That fall, Hansen signed up for a playwriting class at Denison and, as she says, the rest is history.
The collaborative nature of playwriting fuels her art, Hansen says. Though she admits the writing process can still be lonely for playwrights, the payoff of collaboration is worth the effort. “Most of the time, we write alone, we take notes quietly in the corner and bite our nails during rehearsals, we rewrite, we have private conversations with the director far from the impressionable ears of the actors, but yes, the difference for our genre is that we get to see our story manifest,” she says. “We get to watch other people invest in it, own the characters, create a living playground.”
Hansen recently completed the final portion of the Kennedy Center award with a reading in Chicago, and she just moved there. “I am checking out the scene, trying to feel out which theaters might be interested in producing a fledgling playwright’s work,” she says. “I have friends who are starting up new companies around the area, and I’ve been talking with an artistic director about possibility developing a new piece of work together.”
Aside from continuing her work and adjusting to a new city, Hansen says her plans are fairly routine. “Figure out how to get downtown in less than an hour,” she says. “And continue missing Denison like crazy.”
NAPAT is an organization of individuals and institutions dedicated to supporting of the next generation of theatre artists, and each year, through the mechanism of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, the association funds a variety of scholarship awards.