Biological sciences senior Gaven Bell has made theatre a part of her university experience since her first semester at NC State. This week, she becomes the first student to have her second play produced through University Theatre’s Wright Way program.
Committed to developing the next generation of NC State playwrights, the Wright Way incorporates workshops, readings and master classes focused on supporting winners of the Creative Artist Award in theatre. With guidance from the professional staff of University Theatre (along with other local theatre artists), students can develop their written work from early drafts to fully staged productions.
Bell’s first award-winning play, A Case of Salt, received the 2021 Creative Artist Award in theatre, and was developed and produced by University Theatre in spring 2022. She submitted another play, Muse, for the 2022 Creative Artist Award competition, and was again selected the winner. Plays submitted for the Creative Artist Award competition are given to the judges anonymously.
Muse opens on Thursday, March 30, 2023, running for four performances through Sunday, April 2. The play is being staged in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre inside NC State’s Thompson Hall and directed by Mia Self. The showtime is 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available online.
The one-act play is a contemporary rendition of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth exploring the relationship between art and science as Finn, a microbiologist, grieves the loss of Eurydice, the artist no longer by his side.
Gaven Bell is a student in biological sciences with a concentration in integrative physiology and neurobiology and minors in science communication and theatre. She is a Goodnight Scholar, a University Scholar, and a College of Sciences Ambassador. As the first two-time winner of the Creative Artist Award in theatre, we asked her to compare what it’s been like to go through the play development process twice and share how she accomplished that during a particularly busy year of her college experience.
Since you were the winner of the Creative Artist Award in theatre two years in a row, how do you compare going through the play development process two times?
Well, the first time around I was new to everything. I had received some feedback on plays that I had written before, but nothing to the scale of the workshop readings and discussions we have through the Wright Way. While developing A Case of Salt, I was very focused on the audience’s experience and didn’t always know how to work through problems in the script. This past process was easier because I knew what to expect and I felt like I was better able to determine which feedback to incorporate into future drafts. I also had the incredible opportunity to work with Tamara Kissane, the 2020 Piedmont Laureate. Working with Tamara was amazing because as a playwright she was able to ask me questions that helped me think about scenes differently and troubleshoot areas that were falling short with the audience. Through our discussions and her thoughtful feedback, I grew significantly as a playwright which I feel is evident in Muse.
Tell us about going through the Wright Way process last fall while studying abroad. Where were you and when? What was that experience like? Were you getting on Zoom calls at some really strange hours?
Yes! Last semester I was studying at the University of Wollongong in Australia (it’s about an hour south of Sydney). I was there from early July to the end of November, so all of last semester’s readings and meetings with Tamara happened while I was abroad. It was an interesting experience having the majority of the workshop process be virtual since there is something special about seeing a play in person. That’s the magic of live theatre! I had a 14-16 hour time difference with North Carolina while I was in Australia (yay daylight savings going in opposite directions!) which felt large at first, but we were actually able to navigate it pretty easily. The readings were on Friday evenings here, which was Saturday morning for me. I’d sleep in a little and then hop onto the Zoom call. The meetings with Tamara were slightly more challenging to schedule, but it worked out pretty well because she is an early bird, and I am a night owl. Overall, my experience in Australia was absolutely incredible and I look forward to going back!
As a student in the sciences who has been very involved in theatre, what would you like to share with new students about how they approach their university experience?
I would tell them to try to avoid putting themselves into a box or feeling like their path through college is set from the beginning. Your time at NC State should be a time of growth, academically and personally, and it’s hard to do that if you aren’t being true to yourself and giving yourself opportunities to try new things and explore your interests. I’d recommend finding a creative outlet or fun hobby that is not at all related to your classes that you can do to give yourself a break. For me, that was theatre, but, for you, that could be something entirely different like painting or ultimate frisbee. This outlet might just be something fun to support your mental health, but it might also lead you to future career paths as you combine your creative and academic interests.
How did you get the idea for Muse?
Muse began as a 10-minute play that I wrote for the 24-hour play festival at the Southeastern Theatre Conference last year. The playwrights were given the prompt “how do you find what is lost” and seven hours to write a 10-minute play. I worked on the script from midnight to around 5 a.m. before passing it off to my friend (and recent NC State grad) Jay Lineberry who directed the performance. After the performance that evening and hearing my friends talk about the piece, I knew that I wanted to expand it into a full play. That 10-minute play, Entropy, was the foundation for the final scene of Muse that I built the rest of the play around.
The prompt made me think instantly of Orpheus and Eurydice, but in thinking about that story and how I could make it my own I found myself thinking a lot about the Greek Muses. We often think of the Muses in relation to the arts, but there were also Muses for history and science. As a scientist, I was interested in leaning into that science element, as well as exploring the relationship between science, nature and the arts. That led to Orpheus being a postdoc in microbiology and his research being on ways to restore the Earth’s natural beauty for his wife to enjoy. And from there… Muse!
In this March 2022 Goodnight Scholars post, Gaven Bell reflected on her extensive involvement with University Theatre, having mentors and role models in the STEM field who are women, and her experiences within the Goodnight Scholars Program.
In this November 2021 DASA News post, Gaven Bell discusses her first Creative Artist Award-winning play, A Case of Salt.