(May 29, 2014)

Centenary alumnus produces Off Broadway play

SHREVEPORT, LA — Alumnus and playwright Erik Champney '11 recently had his play, The Screens, wrap up Off Broadway in New York City as part of a limited engagement series by T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre.

Erik Champney
Erik Champney '11. Photo by Steven Miramontz

"I have had some very good fortune with this play, especially since it has fallen into the hands of incredibly gifted artists," said Champney. "Even without large billboards, each performance was sold out."

Shortly after its run in New York, a new production of The Screens opened in Columbus, Ohio for a three-week run at MadLab Theatre's Roulette Festival. A subsequent production will be mounted in July by The Driftwood Players near Seattle, Washington.

Champney's success is the culmination of years of dedicated work tracing back to age 15 when he was commissioned to write a full-length play for Peter Pan Players, a local children's theatre based in Shreveport. He later enrolled at Centenary and continued to grow as a writer.

"During my time at (Centenary), Robert Buseick, then Chair of Theatre, Speech and Dance, strongly encouraged me to pursue the playwriting competitions held by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF)," said Champney. "With his guidance, I submitted a play called Dead Brains. It ended up winning the National AIDS Fund/CFDA-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting. From there, Dead Brains would be presented at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in San Francisco, eventually receiving its World Premiere Production at the Seattle Fringe Festival."

Several Centenary alumni were involved in the Seattle Fringe Festival production, including Megan Carter '98 as director, Emily Vise McBride '98 in a lead role, Katherine Coffman '01 on lights, LeVette Fuller '00 with sound design, Luke Edmonson '97 as production photographer, and Thomas Welch '00 and Sarah Perkins '05 who handled scene and costume designs.

The Screens
The Screens, MadLab Theatre. Chad Hewitt (Left) and Andy Woodmansee. Photo by Andy Batt

"In some form, all of the people I met at Centenary were teachers," said Champney. "Sometimes I learned what to do, and sometimes I learned what not to do. It was all valuable and, in uncountable ways, made me who I am today. We all keep getting better at what we do."

Champney also attributes much of his success to the leadership and devotion of faculty such as Buseick and Professor Don Hooper, Professor of Theatre and Dance, who consistently pushed and nurtured him as an artist.

While a student at Centenary, Champney received the opportunity from Hooper to reconstruct the script of the first draft of a full-length play, Pangaea. Champney formed a semester-long workshop with classmates to collaboratively dissect and rework the script. Alumnus Ryan Williams '99 was asked to direct the play, a decision applauded by Champney.

"I'm a pretty honest person, and that show was stunning to look at," said Champney. "Front and center was a cast including Rachel Havird '11, Andrew Wood '13, Chelsea David '12, and Barry James Acosta '13, all held together firmly by Ryan's meticulous direction. He knew more about that play than I did by opening night, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

The production premiered at Marjorie Lyons Playhouse in 2010 and later received the Commendation of Excellence from The Kennedy Center. Williams was honored by Alpha Psi Omega as Best Director for the 2010-2011 Marjorie Lyons Playhouse theatre season. This entire experience was particularly meaningful for Champney.

Pangaea, Centenary College. (Clockwise from left) Chelsea David, Erik Champney, Rachel Havird, Barry James Acosta, Andrew Wood. Photo by Kelly Phelan-Powell

"Fully mounted productions of student-written plays generally never happen," said Champney. "It's just not done. I got my M.F.A. at Tisch School of the Arts and loved every grueling minute of it. But nothing this grand happened to me there. Not even close. Don decided to take a risk on me. In turn, I hope I honored that by giving him a good script."

Recently, another Champney play, Omen Road to Starrville, was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's 2014 National Playwrights Conference and placed in the top ten of Wagner College's esteemed Stanley Drama Award competition. Years after his time at Centenary and in the midst of much accomplishment, Champney still insists, "Centenary will always be fundamental to my writing. Always."

Champney is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and was formerly a member of Young Playwrights, Inc. He received a B.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in English from Centenary, followed by an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from New York University Tisch School of the Arts.