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Playwright Scores With 'Digital' Romeo and Juliet

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June 10, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- In a modern re-imagining of the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the star-crossed lovers in the 10-minute play RMEO + JULEZ face challenges the Bard never could have imagined.

Ringing cell phones, urgent text messages and a flurry of e-mails punctuate the play about relationships in the age of technology. The 10-minute work has earned Northwestern University senior Michael Salomon $7,500 in cash, the experience of seeing his play produced by a professional New York theatre company and -- best of all, he says -- a one-year “mentorship” with the renowned Manhattan Theatre Club.

Like Salomon, Northwestern senior Kelby Anne Siddons was a finalist in the 10-minute student playwriting competition held by Dentyne and the Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC). Siddons, Salomon and two other student finalists last month were flown to and housed in New York to see their work professionally produced and performed by the theatre company. In 40 years, MTC has premiered works by Athol Fugard, A.R. Gurney, Jr., Terrence McNally, Alan Ayckbourn, Brian Friel and David Auburn.

Until Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Auburn (“Proof”) and two other notable playwrights singled out Salomon’s RMEO + JULEZ as the first place entry, graduating theatre major Salomon wasn’t sure where he would be headed after Northwestern’s commencement ceremony.

Today he’s planning to work with members of the Manhattan Theatre Club, the prestigious drama group known not only for the new plays it stages but also for the talented playwrights it has nourished. Salomon expects to develop an array of writing projects he began at Northwestern and hopes the experience will open doors to the world of New York theatre.

“Northwestern was a great choice for me,” says Salomon, who took classes in acting before making playwriting his primary focus. In addition to a degree in theatre from the School of Communication, he’ll receive a certificate from the Center for Writing for the Media, whose faculty he credits with what he calls “the most essential aspects” of his education.

“As a writer, the program has shaped my desired career path,” Salomon says. “It’s afforded me incredible instruction with professional writers and teachers, and the chance to work with a core group of passionate writers who read and critique one another’s work and strengthen each other’s writing.“

That’s music to the ears of screenwriters Dave Tolchinsky and Bill Bleich, who head up the Creative Writing for the Media and the MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage programs. As well as fostering the interaction between students that Salomon describes, the programs provide students with intense personalized attention from faculty with extensive film and theatre writing experience.

The results are impressive. Earlier this year, for example, when the Chicago Dramatists sponsored a 10-minute play festival, Salomon and four other Northwestern undergraduates -- Kyle Warren, Ann Beth Bondor-Stone, Rebecca Loeser and Micah Gardner -- were selected for staged readings.

Current students and recent MFA graduates have won abundant writing and directing honors, including a 2008 George Foster Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence, a sale to MTV networks and a National Board of Review student grant.

But back to romance in the age of technology and Salomon’s award-winning adaptation of what is arguably literature’s most famous love scene. Did his digital Romeo successfully woo the plugged-in Juliet? Well, says the playwright, the scene didn’t end in a kiss, but Romeo did manage to get Juliet’s cell phone number.

For further information about the MFA Writing for the Screen and Stage and the Creative Writing for the Media programs, visit www.write.northwestern.edu and www.communication.northwestern.edu/programs/certificate_creative_writing_media/ respectively.