“I want people who see this play to leave remembering that regret lasts longer than embarrassment, and considering (as both our lead characters do) exactly who it is they want to be,” said playwright Kat Stephenson, whose play “All’s Whale That Ends Whale” debuted last weekend as part of the Greensboro Fringe Festival. Stephenson graduated from UNCG in December with her bachelor’s in English.
Raised in Raleigh, Stephenson believes her love for writing is innate, claiming to constantly read and emanate the authors and poets she fell in love with as a child. “A love for words runs in the family,” said Stephenson. Her mother studied journalism at Columbia University and her father is a producer who frequently writes scripts for the videos he produces. As a child, Stephenson was cast in a few small roles in her father’s company’s videos and became hooked. “From there, I got into acting for the stage and started working with a local agent, Terri Dollar, who runs Kids Unlimited Talent.”
During her junior year of high school, she moved away from acting and took interest in lighting design, working at Aycock Auditorium throughout college.
“Discovering playwriting was sort of an accident,” said Stephenson, who had an idea for a Regina Spektor musical and decided to write it during her freshmen year in college. “After many coffee fueled afternoons at Tate Street [Coffee House], I completed ‘Respekt,’ which was workshopped at UNCG as part of a friend’s Directing Practicum.” Stephenson loved the process so much that she decided to write more plays and hasn’t stopped since. Furthermore, she compliments her background in theatre (being a director, actor and working in technical theatre) as beneficial to determining what makes good theatre.
Stephenson’s “Respekt” musical was the first time she witnessed her work performed. In 2011, the play was showcased by the UNCG Theatre Department during Workshop (performances put on every Monday at 4 p.m. by the department in various locations around campus). Stephenson described the performance as “very scary,” claiming that the entire feeling of the piece could change based on audience reactions.
“Watching your words come to life is pretty exhilarating, although it’s also very challenging to work with a director – and actors – all of whom have an idea about what the piece is going to look like,” said Stephenson. “Almost always, though, it comes together to create something beautiful.”
Since this production, Stephenson has had a few other plays showcased during Workshop, but one of her proudest accomplishments was the production of “True Fifths,” an opera she wrote with local composer and longtime friend Nate Goldsmith as a part of his senior recital.
Stephenson wrote “All’s What That Ends Whale” after going through a phase of writer’s block. The production is actually a combination of three different plays that she was able to meld together. The production opens with “Ten,” a 10-minute play Stephenson composed for her final in a playwriting course. The middle segment of the production is a poem called “I Wanted to Meet You Yesterday” that she wrote in long-hand, while the finale is a bunch of whale facts, in context. Stephenson describes “All’s Whale That Ends Whale” as a love story, a dark comedy, a coming-of-age tale and a breakup song delivered in the time that it takes for your pizza to arrive. The story follows the protagonist, Jane, through the many awkward moments she experiences between ages 10 and 29, all without leaving the grocery store.
“All’s Whale That Ends Whale” is under the direction of UNCG junior Ezra Brain, who Stephenson credits for the cast’s wonderful performance. “Ezra is so great to work with and gets so much from the actors; when sitting in on rehearsals, he even asks questions that prompt lots of thought – about my own work,” said Stephenson. “It’s incredibly refreshing.”
“This production is different from a lot of pieces. It switches between first, second and third person and that, in my experience, is pretty unprecedented for stage plays,” said Stephenson.
The protagonist, Jane, is played by Harley Winzenried, and the role of her brother, Bryan, is played by Adam Olson. Their parents are played by Jeremy Appel and Caitlin Mosher.
Jane’s childhood best-friend, Ellen, is played by Emily Radford, and her ex-boyfriend, Ross, is played by Samuel Shaver.