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Robert O’Brien honored by Kennedy Center

Robert O’Brien honored by Kennedy Center

Mesa Community College student Robert O’Brien has been honored by the 2021 Kennedy Center American Region 8 College Theatre Festival for his scene,“The Regular Thursday Night D&D Game.”

But, he’s not bragging. If anything, O’Brien is humble, maybe even stunned at the honor.

“[KCATF] picked one scene from CORONALOGS and it happened to be mine,” O’Brien said. “Maybe [I’m] extrapolating a bit but, for a good production, they don’t want to take the whole show. They’ll pick one scene to be presented.”

O’Brien’s scene was the only scene selected by KCTAF, and it’s not his first writing recognition either. He won the 2018-2019 Maricopa Community Colleges Creative Writing Competition One-Act Play/ Script submission with a piece titled “King Lear II.”

An aspiring dramaturge and playwright, O’Brien started his query into playwriting by starting with acting at MCC.

“I played in orchestra in high school,” he said. “I missed that aspect of performance, and then I got rolled into all the different aspects of productions.”

When the coronavirus caused MCC’s campus to close in 2020, MCC worked with the Arizona Theatre Company to create the CORONALOGS. MCC theater students were tasked with creating pieces that centered around a society living in a pandemic, even using Zoom as the stage. 

“It’s a comedy,” said O’Brien, “I wrote it specifically because a lot of the CORONALOGS were very dramatic, but I wanted to offset that a little.”

In “The Regular Thursday Night D&D Game,” five characters, or classmates, play a group of friends that converge weekly to play Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game, only to make major adjustments during the pandemic.

“I wanted to capture how weird it is to play a social game over Zoom,” said O’Brien. “It’s really them getting started before they play, like meeting with your friends and trying to pretend you’re not doing it on a computer.”

Ruth Sager, the production manager for MCC’s Theatre Film and Arts Program, said that O’Brien wrote, directed and performed in the scene. 

“This is our first time competing for playwriting,” said Sager. “We hold firm in the Kennedy Center Space. We’ve taken students to Nationals in the past.”

According to Sager, previous students have scored apprenticeships, scholarships and paid tuition all because of their experience with KCTAF. This is a fantastic feat for a competition that looks at all colleges within the Region 8 section. And this region reaches far, from Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii all the way to Guam.

How it worked for O’Brien was that the Kennedy Center had sent judicators to evaluate MCC’s CORONALOGS scenes.

“So we had the entire work evaluated and Rober’s work stood out,” Sager said. “We will see what happens with Nationals.”

For sure, Sager said that she believes O’Brien has a glowing future. 

“He’s been amazing,” said Sager. “Robert was one of the few playwrights who had worked in our rapid response theater festival. If there’s anything this department hopes, it’s that he’ll continue to write.”

O’Brien confirmed he plans to continue drama after MCC. He currently writes plays at home, during remote learning, but finds it a challenge with his Xbox in the corner of the room. 

The virtual KCTAF event honoring Region 8 selections lasted from Feb. 10-13. 

“I completely forgot that KCTAF was that week and I’d scheduled something,” O’Brien said when asked how it was. “It’s so weird to do that over Zoom.”

By Allison Cripe. Originally published in The Mesa Legend.