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Karly Thomas: SMTD Playwriting Major

This week, Her Campus had the pleasure of sitting down with senior SMTD playwriting major Karly Thomas, whose original plays have already been performed at both the University of Michigan and other impressive locations, like New York City. Karly will be graduating shortly and aspires to pursue theatre and playwriting for the rest of her life.

Her Campus: Tell us a little bit about your theatre experience. Why do you want to be a playwright, and when did you realize this?

Karly Thomas: I performed quite a bit in high school; I also thoroughly enjoyed my English classes. I did not have the insight to realize how these interests could be reconciled until I was sixteen. My high school hosts a 24-hour theatre festival every year (similar to ours) which I had performed in during freshman year. Sophomore year I signed up as a performer again but Mr. Wheeler, my theatre teacher, mentor—and now, my friend—informed  me that I was to be one of the playwrights for this festival. I can remember spending the next three hours of that masochistically going through middle school Facebook pictures and complaining to my mom how unfair this supposedly fun assignment was. But then, once I finally sat down and typed the play’s first line, everything came together—as wretchedly cliché as that is.

My mind became completely clear as I explored all the varying clever, honest, and heartbreaking ways the characters I invented could speak on their own behalf. Simply put, nothing in my life had felt as right as being in front of my computer writing that play. And although the script I wrote was terrible (it was about an 11th grade vampire desperate for popularity, I think?), that same straightforward, “everything makes sense” feeling set in again when I gave my work to actors, designers, and a director for them to bring to life. While in high school, I had three of my one acts performed and a reading of my first full length script. Since coming to Michigan I’ve been lucky enough to see my work developed through avenues such as Basement Arts, Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival, and more.

HC: You write many original plays, including one that was performed in New York last semester. Tell us a little bit about this opportunity and the process! How did it feel to see an original of yours performed live in New York?

KT: So I sent my one-act, Women of Williams County, for consideration in the Midtown International Fall Theatre Festival and I was lucky enough to have it chosen! But what I failed to notice in the application process was I was supposed to have a full cast, production team, costumes, and props ready to go by our tech rehearsal. I had none of these things. After a panicked phone call to my mom I then reached out to the several Michigan alum friends of mine who live in New York with the basic message being “HELLLLPPPPPPPP”. One of my good friends, Danielle Cohn, is a member of a cool theatre company called Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre whose whole mission is to celebrate the classics through a feminist lens. Therefore, my play, which is about the women of Tennessee Williams’s three most famous works lamenting about 20th century sexism, felt like a perfect fit. And it was: I was immediately blessed with a highly gifted cast, brilliant creative team, and stellar producer. To see this group of artists have stimulating directorial, acting, and design ideas come from something I wrote is still one of the coolest feelings I have had in my career thus far. And, it didn’t hurt to have my very first professional review written about me either.    

HC: Tell us a little about a favorite piece of yours.

KF: It’s changing all the time! I think right now my favorite piece of my work is a play I wrote my sophomore year here at the University of Michigan, called Fair. Fair follows Emma from ages 15 to 20 as she attempts to find the right mask–quite literally. In a world where everyone earns masks for different acts of “correct” femininity and masculinity, she confronts issues of friendship, family, career, and romance, all with the help of three supernatural entities known as the Beauties. I really had a lot of fun with combining classical theatrical traditions such as mask and chorus work with contemporary dialogue and themes.    

HC: What is the best advice you have received from a mentor thus far in your career?

KT: I have received little nuggets of wisdom here and there from several professors in the department, which is such a testament to our incredible faculty. But, the best advice I’ve gotten to date is from classmates actually, friends of mine who founded the Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival. They were all upperclassmen when I was a sophomore, and they taught me the value of establishing and maintaining connections with your creative peers now. Let me tell you from experience, the doors that have been opened for me thus far have not been opened by luck or hard work alone. They have all been opened by actors who I work well with, or directors whose aesthetic is similar to mine, or producers who find my work compelling. It’s hard to climb up the ladder in the theatre industry—and it’s your friends who will help you climb it.


HC: Why theatre? What about it engages your mind as a writer?

KT: I guess I have a small reason and a big reason that are most easy to articulate. The small reason is I love, love writing dialogue, so much more so than scenic description or stream of consciousness. Theatre is the most exciting and most inviting medium to focus on writing dialogue. But the big reason, and the main reason, is theatre is a social art form. It is absolutely invigorating to provide a jumping off point for other people’s creativity. There exists no other form of writing where what you write serves as the blueprint for collaboration. Watching my fellow artists light up with inspiration based on my script is a uniquely rewarding that feeling, and that feeling is why I love writing for theatre.  


Photos courtesy of Karly Thomas.