Jonathan Bontrager-Waite is a first-year at Goshen College studying theater and writing. Last November, he submitted a short play for a chance at the John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Plays, a national playwriting award given by the the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).The play he submitted is about two high school boys in show choir that take a field trip to an art museum, who eventually get to know each other better through discussions of art.
Bontrager-Waite’s play was one of the two short plays selected as regional finalists out of the 45 that were submitted to KCACTF Region Six. There are eight regions and 16 total regional finalists. The Kennedy Center will eventually select four from the 16 finalists and invite them to the National Festival for a professional reading, and decide who will win the John Cauble Award.
Bontrager-Waite first heard about the award during his freshman orientation. He was also encouraged by Anna Kurtz Kuk, assistant professor of theater at GC, to submit a play.
What’s even more surprising than being a national finalist is that Bontrager-Waite wrote his 20 page play the weekend before the November 1 deadline.
“The reason I wrote it a weekend before the deadline was because I had been struggling a lot,” Bontrager-Waite said. “I originally had picked this other idea, but it wasn’t happening like I wanted it to. Then I realized I had no experience with relationships… so I didn’t feel prepared to write that play yet.”
The writing process for Bontrager-Waite consisted of planning and long nights filled with writing.
“I [first] did some sketching of the plot [on my notebook]… It’s a single scene, so what I did was I charted out the conversation…, then I chart[ed] how the emotion builds to the climax of the play and how it falls off, and [finally] how it ties up into a nice little bow at the end,” he said.
Once he finished, Bontrager-Waite wanted to make sure that everything made sense and flowed nicely, so he shared the play with friends to get some feedback.
“Before I submitted it I did share it with a couple of my friends… and they liked it… so I felt comfortable submitting it,” he said.
Surprisingly, Bontrager-Waite has never taken any classes to help him write plays, but he has read a lot of them.
“If you’re going to write a play, read a lot of plays because you have to know what good plays look like on a page to be able to write that yourself,” he said.
Bontrager-Waite hopes to win the John Cauble Award, but even if he doesn’t his play is still eligible to win other awards.
“Since [my play] is up for national consideration it’s also being considered for a number of other awards… the play deals with a lot of issues about LGBTQ youth and coming out, and it’s eligible for the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award which is all about plays that deal with gender and sexuality issues,” Bontrager-Waite said.
“If I win, there’s a 500 dollar scholarship, and they arrange a professional development opportunity, which would mean I would be working with a professional theater company to do either a stage reading or a full production of this play. I would also get membership in the Dramatists Guild.”
Bontrager-Waite plans on writing more plays and would love to win the award.
“It’s what I want to do with my life,” he said. “It would be an amazing opportunity- especially as a freshman in college- to be able to work with professionals.”
Currently, Bontrager-Waite is very involved at GC.
“I’m in the Editing and Publishing class that’s making Red Cents, the literary journal, which people should submit to. Cough, cough,” he speaks into the microphone of my iPad, “People should submit to Red Cents!”
“I am [also]… codesigning the lights for The Pirates of Penzance,” Bontrager-Waite said. “I am probably going to be involved with the Spring One Acts in some capacity, and over May term I am going to London with the Literature in London class.”
This is possibly Bontrager-Waite’s last year at GC because he wishes to transfer to either New York University or Sarah Lawrence College, but wherever he goes he does have one goal as a future playwright:
“I want to write good plays. I want to make good art.”