Florida State playwright wins ‘National Ten-Minute Play Contest’

Dan Dietz

For “Lobster Boy,” his haunting 10-minute play about a little boy who literally feels no pain and the brother who seeks to cure him, Assistant Professor of Playwrighting Dan Dietz of The Florida State University has won the 2010 Heideman Award.

The prestigious prize goes to the winner of the annual “National Ten-Minute Play Contest,” which is sponsored by the distinguished Actors Theatre of Louisville and draws thousands of entries — all 10 pages and 10 minutes long, or less — from across the United States. Each year, Actors Theatre serves as host for the Humana Festival of New American Plays, the nation’s premiere showcase of new work.

At the upcoming Humana Festival, “Lobster Boy” by Dietz is among four new short plays that will debut at Actors Theatre of Louisville on March 27 and 28. Festival audiences typically include theatergoers from around the world.

The 2010 Heideman Award is a remarkable encore performance by Dietz, who directs the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, “Writing for the Stage and Screen,” that is offered jointly by the School of Theatre, his faculty home, and The Film School at Florida State. A four-time finalist, Dietz earned his first Heideman in 2003 for the 10-minute play “Trash Anthem.” With this year’s win, he is one of just two playwrights nationwide to have claimed the prize more than once.

“I feel both honored and lucky to be the Heideman winner for a second time, since Actors Theatre has so rarely bestowed it twice on the same playwright,” Dietz said.

He calls “Lobster Boy” a “kind of unusual theatrical experience.”

“It’s a story told by a man in his 30s about two young brothers, the younger of whom was born without the ability to feel pain. The older brother hatches a plan to help his sibling learn how to experience pain — with tragic and ironic consequences. The story is assisted by a series of slides that describe elements of the story being told, so the experience feels like part suspenseful story, part lecture. And, then the question arises, is the older man who is telling the story really the older brother within the story? It all makes for an experience that I hope will be creepy, poignant and, at times, even funny.”

After earning an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas-Austin in 1999 and teaching nearby at Southwestern University, Dietz joined the School of Theatre faculty at Florida State in 2007.

“I think my favorite thing about Florida State University and its School of Theatre is the energy, enthusiasm and dedication of the students,” he said. “Nowhere have I seen a more motivated group of kids. They are absolutely determined to make theatre, even if it means doing everything themselves, from finding a theatre space to acquiring props and costumes to writing the script to getting people in the seats. It is no wonder FSU students are so successful after leaving the university. This scrappy, do-or-die attitude is what it takes to make it in the theatre, and they’ve got it in spades.”

In addition to his Heideman Award-winning 10-minute works, plays penned by Dietz include “Dirigible,” “Blind Horses,” “Tilt Angel,” “Americamisfit,” “The Sandreckoner,” and “tempOdyssey,” which was performed on stages from New York City to Los Angeles and named a finalist for the 2007 PEN USA Literary Award in Drama.

Dietz has been honored with a James A. Michener Fellowship, a Josephine Bay Paul Fellowship, and the Austin Critics Table Award for Best New Play. His work has been presented at the Kennedy Center, the Public Theater, CenterStage, the Playwrights’ Center, and the Summer Play Festival, among other venues. He has twice been named a finalist for the Princess Grace Award, and was a nominee for the Oppenheimer/Newsday Award.

Starting in 2011, the National Ten-Minute Play Contest and its Heideman Award will be jointly sponsored by City Theatre of Miami, Fla., and Actors Theatre of Louisville.

To learn more about the 2010 Humana Festival of New American Plays, slated for Feb. 21-March 28, visit the Actors Theatre Web site. For additional information on the School of Theatre, part of the College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance at The Florida State University, go to theatre.fsu.edu.