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Theatre student helping in the effort to keep UGA’s drama scene alive and well

Jason Hawkins

With Wyn Alyse Thomas as artistic director, the Thalian Blackfriars staged its first production in three years. The second-oldest student theatre company in the country, the Thalian Blackfriars had been on hiatus due to COVID-19, which stretched through a concerning number of semesters threatening the health of live theatre at the University of Georgia. 

“It was about to maybe die out,” Thomas said. “And I had been really wanting to have a place where we could put student work on.” 

Thomas is a second-year theatre major from Buffalo Grove, Illinois intending to double major in nonprofit management. Resolved to keep the spirit of theatre present at UGA, she and the Thalian Blackfriars organized the New Works Festival, which opened the weekend of October 20, 2023. The New Works Festival was a show featuring short plays written, directed, designed, and acted by students. Thomas’s goal, beyond giving students interested in drama an opportunity to come together, was also to encourage more students in the department of theatre and film studies to try their hand at writing. 

“We have all these people that have these raw ideas but don't have a place to channel them,” Thomas said. “I wanted to make something here to encourage UGA students to write.” 

As a published playwright herself, Thomas knows the importance of having events and an environment that encourages students to explore their creativity. Thomas has always enjoyed writing, but she first got into theatre in seventh grade, when she listened to the soundtrack of the musical Hamilton for the first time. 

“I loved storytelling and music,” she said. “It was the first time I realized you could put the two things together. My first instinct was to dive headfirst into writing a full-length musical, but I decided to focus on a ten-minute play to get my feet wet.”

The first play Thomas published is called Write Their Wrongs, and she wrote it for the ENOUGH! Plays to End Gun Violence play competition her senior year. The short play is a conversation between four school shooting survivors who are trying to find a way to capture their experience in writing. The play came about when Thomas and her friends saw a musical that dealt with school gun violence and found themselves dissatisfied with its depiction and commentary on the topic. 

“We didn't like how it talked about school shootings,” she said. “I wrote down a lot of what we were saying, and that conversation inspired the play.”

Since she began playwriting through school festivals, Thomas is happy to bring the same opportunity to UGA through the Thalian Blackfriars. Through the New Works Festival, many students who thought of themselves mainly as actors have begun to branch out. 

“We have first-time writers and first-time directors, which is really exciting,” Thomas said. “We also have non-theatre majors getting involved. That's what I wanted. I wanted to make a launchpad for people who are thinking about getting more seriously involved in theatre or in different aspects of theatre to be able to try it out.”

On top of supporting creativity in theatre through her efforts with the Thalian Blackfriars, Thomas also has two upcoming plays. Waiting for Donny, an absurdist political satire, will be featured in the New Works Festival.

Thomas also wrote a full-length musical titled First Semester, set to open in March of 2024. The musical, which is a co-production with the Thalian Blackfriars and the UGA theatre department, tells the story of Alicia, a college freshman trying to maintain the stability she had as an overachiever in high school. However, anxiety, romance, and the complications of rooming with her high school best friend are thwarting her efforts, and she ends up doing things she’d never imagined she would: falling in love and failing a class for the first time.

Image: Wyn Thomas (Chamberlain Smith/ UGA)

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