As most students struggle to compose their first essays of the semester, junior Gage Tarlton is putting the finishing touches on the scripts for several of his own full-length plays.
Tarlton already has two of his projects in the works on campus this semester. One of his plays, which currently has the working title “We Were Kids,” is part of a play development series for LAB! Theatre. His other work, “Just Like Now,” is being produced by the Kenan Theatre Company.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Tarlton said of his ongoing projects. “It’s scary but exciting.”
LAB! Theatre’s play development series entails monthly table reads, which will culminate in a staged reading in April. Sophomore Olivia Herrera serves as financial chair for the board of the theater company and was present at the first table read on Monday.
“It went really well,” Herrera said. “We had a diverse cast of people reading it, which is how he wrote it to be.”
“We Were Kids” tells the story of high school students two years in the future and shows how desensitized they have become to school shootings. Tarlton said it was important to him that his protagonists were young.
“I knew I wanted to write about people our age,” he said. “I’m interested in how we talk and our mannerisms.”
However, the concept of the play did not come to Tarlton easily, and he went through a process to complete the script.
“I wrote ten pages and then realized what the story actually was,” Tarlton said. “It went through different variations. It’s the fourth or fifth draft that I stuck with.”
Tarlton’s work paid off when he secured the series with LAB! Theatre. As a member of the board, Herrera was part of the decision to select Tarlton’s script.
“We were really impressed with his sample and concept,” Herrera said. “His writing is like poetry almost. It’s fluid, and nothing is said without purpose.”
Both Tarlton and Herrera said other students should attend the table reads throughout the school year.
“I want the people reading to really inform the characters,” Tarlton said. “The table reads are open to the public. Everyone should feel free to come listen and give feedback.”
Herrera said she looks forward to witnessing the future of Tarlton's script.
“I like how the project is continuing over the course of the year,” Herrera said. “We’re only on draft one, and I’m so excited to see where it’s going to go.”
In addition to his monthly table reads with LAB!, Tarlton received a provost’s grant to produce his play “Just Like Now” with the Kenan Theatre Company.
Similar to his other play, “Just Like Now” centers around young protagonists, specifically four queer college students who are trying to navigate relationships on campus.
“It’s really fun,” senior Ruthie Allen, the director of the play, said of Tarlton’s writing. “It’s not every day that you find a piece that is so authentic to us as queer college students. It’s written by a 19-year-old and you can tell, which is what I like about it.”
Tarlton was involved with the casting process for the show and has incorporated cast feedback into the script.
“It’s been a very collaborative environment,” Allen said. “He’s someone to bounce ideas off of.”
Allen has known Tarlton since his first year at UNC and has seen him grow in the dramatic arts community.
“I’m really proud of him,” Allen said. “He’s just very special. He’s a great writer.”
As Tarlton juggles both projects this semester, he said he cannot deny that he has found his creative home in playwriting.
“Anytime that I have free time I get out my laptop and start putting words on the page,” Tarlton said. “If you’re passionate about something, you make the time to do it.”
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