Patrick Link, a 2007 UNC graduate, was recently commissioned by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City to write a play about the effects of post-concussion syndrome on players in the NFL.
The play, “Headstrong,” opens Monday.
An avid football fan, Link is a member of the theater’s prestigious Youngblood Playwrights Group, where “Headstrong” was developed.
Staff writer Kendra Benner spoke with Link about the script, football and his life as a playwright.
DAILY TAR HEEL: How did you feel when you found out Ensemble Studio Theatre accepted your commission?
PATRICK LINK: It was cool to tell people I had a commission — someone actually wanted me to write something. But I didn’t know how to go about writing it. I didn’t have a specific story in mind. My proposal was just telling people how conflicted I felt about the topic.
DTH: This proposal was the basis for your play, “Headstrong.” What is the script of the play about?
PL: It’s about a fictional running back who dies under mysterious circumstances. The play is centered on his widow and father-in-law and their reaction to his death and some of the choices they have to make.
DTH: What inspired you to write the play?
PL: I really like football, and I knew about what concussions were doing to players’ brains. I thought it was a perfect example of science in our culture — what do we do when we don’t like what science is telling us? Do we challenge it or do we ignore it?
DTH: Is this commission coming at a good time in your playwriting career?
PL: In a way it feels early and in another way it feels like a long time. It’s been five years into my career. It’s encouraging, but it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening too quickly.
DTH: Tell me about your experience in the Youngblood playwriting program.
PL: Youngblood is a special collective within the company for writers under 30. There’s 15 of us in the group. (The program) provides you with actors, supplies and everything you need until you go out into the real world.
I didn’t totally know what it was really like to be a playwright when I graduated. To be able to see people who have been at it a while, how they balance a job and being a writer, that peer relationship is similar to undergrad in how you learn from each other. It’s given me an artistic home since I’ve been in New York.
DTH: How did your time at UNC influence your love for playwriting?
PL: I started at UNC as a dramatic art major. I was just doing acting most of the time, but I realized what I liked most about acting was just imagining the world of the play. Actually having to get onstage and perform became less interesting to me.
The dramatic art department had a class called the playwriting studio. I wrote one play from my sophomore to senior year and that play won the Sam Selden Award my senior year. It got into the New York Fringe Festival a month after I graduated.
DTH: Janie Bullard, a 2007 UNC alumna, is the sound designer for the production. What does it mean to you that another UNC graduate is a part of this project?
PL: It shows progress for both of us. We were both LAB! Theatre producers our senior year, but we basically lost touch completely until a few months ago. I had no idea they had asked her to do the show until she wrote on my Facebook wall. It didn’t even occur to me that a connection like that could happen.
I wasn’t directly working with her on any of this, but when you’re cut from the same cloth there’s a level of comfort there. Tar Heels have got to stick together.
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