Creative writer lives her own happy ending through playwriting success

Kerri Quinn

Kerri QuinnA challenge to write a 10-minute play as part of a one-day playwriting festival in New York last year has brought an extended version of Kerri Quinn’s play into production in a Manhattan theater.

As a creative writing lecturer for the NAU Honors Program, Quinn couldn’t have written a happier ending herself.

Her short play, which she titled The Yellow People, won the Emerging Voices Play-In-A-Day Festival in April. The gathering challenged playwrights, directors and actors to write, rehearse and perform 10- to 15-minute plays within a one-day time span.

It’s an experiment Quinn has successfully tackled before. Two of her prior 10-minute plays, Toast and Hotline, were selected for the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company Pandora Festival at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Several of her other works also have earned acclaim, including her two short plays Home and Grapes, the latter of which was nominated for the 2011 Heideman Award as part of the National 10-Minute Play Contest by the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Yellow People art
‘The Yellow People’ art, designed by David McKee

So when Quinn got to work on the Emerging Voices playwriting challenge, she overcame her self-proclaimed procrastination and turned to her trusted writing prompts.

“There is no such thing as writer’s block,” she said. “Sometimes you have to write 35 pages before you find what you’ve been looking for.”

It’s the same advice she gives her NAU students, who she encourages to journal extensively.

“I tell them to write, don’t censor. Just write every thought that comes into your head. There is a story in there. It just may not be until the last paragraph that you find it.”

In addition to obsessively putting words on paper, Quinn also seeks inspiration though people-watching, which is what sparked her plotline for The Yellow People.

Her play tells the story of Patrick and Elizabeth, a couple in crisis who are forced to come to terms with their devastated marriage only to discover they truly need each other.

“I needed an idea for the Emerging Voices Festival,” Quinn said, explaining a conversation she overheard between two men who were talking about the NFL draft. “One said ‘Football players need long arms,’ and I wrote that down on a napkin. All of a sudden, the characters for my play emerged,” she said, and the phrase became a line Patrick delivers as he contemplates some of the qualities he’d like in his unborn son.

Despite taking the Play-In-A-Day Festival’s top honor, Quinn said she knew it wasn’t quite complete as she watched it being performed at the event. “Afterward, I went home and wrote 30 more pages,” she said.

She submitted the now 40-minute one-act play to the off-Broadway Manhattan Repertory Theatre, where it was selected for three performances in March as part of its 2014 WinterFest.

“Handing my work over to other people, trusting the actors and director, it becomes more than I ever imagined.”