Lancaster playwright featured in upcoming York College festival

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Theatre major senior Theo Muhammed, front, and junior Melina Eller, pose for a photo illustration promoting the inaugural JL Smith New Play Festival at Waldner Performing Arts Center at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The event will be held online via Zoom May 6-7. There were 115 submissions from around the world, with six 10-minute plays and one full-length play selected. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As a child, David Nice was heavily involved in his community theater and the performing arts. As an adult, however, the Lancaster County resident traded the spotlight for sitting in the audience.

It wasn't until his 51-year-old brother, Jim, died from leukemia that a switch flipped on in his head — he would become a playwright.

"You don't really know how much time you have to do the things you want to do," Nice said. "One of the positive things that came out of my brother's death for me was concentrating on the things important to me."

Since his brother's death 17 years ago, Nice has devoted his free time toward writing plays. Now, Nice's play "Recounting" will be featured in a staged reading as part of a two-day festival at York College.

The first annual JL Smith New Play Festival is part of a five-year capital campaign program.

JL Smith, the husband of York College President Pamela Gunter-Smith, agreed to provide funding over a five-year period to support the new festival, said Suzanne Delle, an assistant professor of theater at York College.

Theatre majors, from left, junior Melina Eller, and seniors Theo Muhammed and Emily Overmeyer pose for a photo illustration promoting the inaugural JL Smith New Play Festival at Waldner Performing Arts Center at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The event will be held online via Zoom May 6-7. There were 115 submissions from around the world, with six 10-minute plays and one full-length play selected. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The two-day festival will be presented via Zoom. Tickets are free. 

At 7 p.m. Thursday, May 6, six 10-minute plays by writers across the world, including England, Australia and New York, will be performed. Los Angeles-based playwright Charly Simpson will present a keynote speech.

At 7 p.m. Friday, May 7, Nice's play will be presented. Cal Weary, the CEO of Weary Arts Group, is directing the stage reading.

Tickets are not required to watch the performances. A Zoom link to access both nights will be available later at the York College Theater Program's website, www.ycp.edu/academics/school-of-the-arts-communication-and-global-studies/programs/theatre-ba/.

"I'm so excited to see what the directors are going to do with the scripts," Delle said. "As a theater educator, I'm not usually that hands-off. It's fun for me to let the professionals do what they do, and I get to see the end results and be surprised with everybody else."

In total, 115 plays were submitted for consideration across two categories, 10-minute plays and full-length plays.

A panel of three judges selected plays based on themes and modern relevance, producibility and how likely they would be to go see the play, Delle said.

"The topical nature of this play attracted them," Delle said of Nice's play, "Recounting."

David Nice, of Lancaster County, will have his play "Recounting" performed in a stage reading during the inaugural JL Smith New Play Festival at York College. Submitted by Mary Dolheimer.

Nice's play, which has been in the works since 2016, follows the stories of two central Pennsylvania couples in the midst of the 2000 election who hold differing political beliefs.

"It's a play about what those divisions politically look like, what does it look like when it's between friends," Nice said. "That still seems very relevant to today."

Nice is no stranger to the professional theater world. His play "We Make Things," a collection of short workplace stories, was produced by Creative Works of Lancaster and ran for two weekends in 2017.

"It's an unusual art form," Nice said of playwriting. "You really can't do anything by yourself. You can write it, but at some point you need a director, actors, a theater and an audience."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

Theatre majors, from left, junior Melina Eller, and seniors Theo Muhammed, Kyle Rossi and Emily Overmeyer pose for a photo illustration promoting the inaugural JL Smith New Play Festival at Waldner Performing Arts Center at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. The event will be held online via Zoom May 6-7. Rossi is a student intern for the festival. There were 115 submissions from around the world, with six 10-minute plays and one full-length play selected. Dawn J. Sagert photo