English major Mark Noa Gardner ’16 was one of four finalists for the Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award at the 48th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). His ten-minute play, “Nan,” competed in the national festival after he presented it a regional festival earlier this year.
As a finalist, Gardner saw his short play professionally performed on stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, which hosts the annual event. The KCACTF ran April 12-16, 2016 and also included student awards in acting, directing, and other theater crafts. The KCACTF program involves 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide and a network of more than 600 academic institutions.
Gardner originally wrote “Nan” for English professor Kelly Younger’s “Play Writing Workshop: One-Acts” class, and then decided to enter it into the KCACTF. “I really didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I at least wanted to give it a shot,” Gardner said.
“He has a natural gift for the art and craft of playwriting, but even more, he has a deep insight into and understanding of character,” Younger said.
“Nan” is a dialogue between a grandmother, Nan, and her daughter, Alice. Nan is planning to commit suicide because of her chronic arthritis, and asks Alice for help as she makes final preparations. Alice obediently writes everything down and agrees to help her; the one thing Alice won’t agree to do is tell her daughter.
Gardner was inspired to write this piece after speaking with his “Nan.” “Well, she’s not my grandmother by blood, but she’s like a grandmother figure to me. I asked her how her mother died, and she said she did this,” Gardner said.
“My grandmother is Japanese, so to me it’s a very Japanese story where she was this ‘tiger mom’ and the daughter was just trying to be a good daughter and help her mom out,” Gardner said.
Gardner then adapted the story to reflect his Native Hawaiian culture by placing the story in Hawaii and having the characters speak with Hawaiian phrases and accents.
“It was really cool because I got to write a Hawaiian script,” Gardner said. “It was also cool to take that script and bring it home and see it do so well.”
At the week-long regional competition in Honolulu, Gardner auditioned actors, went through callbacks, was assigned a director and stage manager, and then produced a stage performance of “Nan.” He was then selected as one of the two finalists from that region, and he is now one of the four finalists nationwide to compete in the 10-minute play category at the National Festival.
“I’m excited to bring something Hawaiian to a national stage,” Gardner said. “You never really see things that are authentically Hawaiian and that people understand, but I feel like this is a very universal story that just so happens to be in Hawaii with Hawaiian people.”
“Noa’s artistic voice is unique and exciting, and we are thrilled to see others recognize it on a much larger stage,” Younger said.
“Nan” has also been selected by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s New Play Development Workshop to be presented at the 2016 conference held in Chicago, Illinois in August.
“I’m very happy with the response because obviously there’s a lot to it,” Gardner said. “They’re real people in the script, so I feel like this honors them more than me. This is validation for Hawaiians that our stories matter too.”
In the future, Gardner hopes to go to graduate school to help nurture his passion for playwriting and get his work published and produced. “Big thank you to Professor Kelly Younger,” Gardner said. “He helped me see that I have talent in playwriting, which I wouldn’t have known and would never have tried if I hadn’t taken that class.”