by Andrew Justvig, dramaturg
Microburst Theatre Festival highlights many playwriting students at Brigham Young University. This year, Microburst is featuring two plays from Brittni Henretty. Henretty is a graduate of the BFA acting program at BYU and is a regional winner at KTACTF for her 10-minute play Game Four. She was so kind to be interviewed on her journey as a playwright.
What’s your first experience with playwriting? What drew you to it?
I’ve always enjoyed reading, writing and coming up with stories in my head, but my first serious experience with playwriting was taking the beginning playwriting class from Professor George Nelson at BYU. I needed some elective credits in order to complete graduation requirements for the acting BFA, and since I’ve always had a love for stories I thought playwriting would be a fun, new challenge. I wrote Game Four and A Night In for that class. They’re the first real plays I’ve ever written. That class has given me the tools and the desire to want to write more!
What is your process when you come up with a new idea for a story?
I feel like my writing is best when it’s inspired by events, concepts, beliefs, and people that deeply affect me personally. Having that kind of a connection to a story allows me the best opportunity to speak my personal truth in an honest, authentic way. Deciding what to write about is difficult for me at first. I do a lot of brainstorming before I even start putting ideas on paper. The inspiration for a story comes to me from many different sources. For example, I initially got the idea for Game Four after watching a couple different videos on Facebook of a policeman from America and an older gentleman from Asia talking with people who were sitting on the ledges of tall bridges, contemplating suicide. The image of a person reaching out to a random stranger with love really moved me. However, with A Night In, it was simply around Halloween that I started looking for ideas for a new play, and the thought to try writing a ghost story came to mind. As a premise for a play becomes more concrete in my head, I start with ideas for bits of dialogue, and I begin writing down my ideas. My first couple drafts are usually pretty disorganized, which is why it’s important to have others read it and offer constructive criticism. I learned quickly that a play can change dramatically from the first draft to the final draft, but it’s always for the better.
What’s the hardest part about playwriting? What is most rewarding?
Letting other people read my drafts and listening to their feedback has always been the hardest thing for me. In my playwriting class at BYU, we’d workshop our drafts by having the class read each play out loud, one by one, and then give observations as to what they noticed, what they liked and what questions they had. It’s an incredibly nerve-wracking process because it feels like you’re putting your heart and soul out there for your peers to poke and prod. You feel completely vulnerable. What’s nice though is that everyone in that class was very kind and respectful of one another, so the workshop process always ended up being a positive experience.
The most rewarding part about playwriting is seeing your audience engage and connect with your story. Whether it’s having an audience member tell you how much they related to your play, or just watching people laugh at a line you actually intended to be funny, I absolutely love it. My favorite part of acting and playwriting is theatre’s ability to create empathy between many different people with many diverse backgrounds and experiences. So if what I write has the ability to do that, then that to me that’s very rewarding.
Tell about your experience with KCACTF.
Being able to take Game Four to the KCACTF in Mesa earlier this year was a dream come true. I was probably the greenest of all the playwrights at the festival, having never written a real 10-minute play before in my life. Though insanely nervous, I decided to go into the experience with the intent to learn as much as I could from it and just try to enjoy the ride. Each playwright was assigned a director, a student shadow director, and stage manager to help cast the plays and prepare them for a staged reading on the last day of the festival. I was blessed with a very perceptive director who understood the vision I had for my play very clearly and knew how to bring that vision out in the actors we cast. The actors themselves were just brilliant in their roles; I have to admit I cried during our first rehearsal after they first read through the script. They just got it. I didn’t think seeing my characters come to life for the first time would be such an emotional experience, but it was. When it came time for the final performance I was still nervous, but I knew they’d do an amazing job, and they did. Afterwards, the adjudicators gave me some great feedback, which for the most part was overwhelmingly positive. My heart was so full by the end of the festival. I was completely overcome when, during the awards ceremony, Game Four was announced as a national semifinalist in the 10-minute play category, an honor shared by only fifteen other plays across the country. Not only that, but my director and one other was awarded best director and my two actors shared the award for best actor out of all of the actors and directors participating in the staged readings. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I left Mesa having gained so much valuable information about the playwriting process. Even had I not won, I would still consider my experience with KCACTF a success.
What advice do you have for those wanting to write?
To those who want to write, I say go for it. You never know where it might take you. Practice makes perfect, so keep at it! And be willing to receive help and feedback from teachers, professors, and peers you can trust – those that have your best interests at heart. When I was in high school, I tried writing a short scene for a district drama competition. I’ll be honest: It wasn’t very good. (And that’s totally okay because I was totally new to it!) I only showed it to one of my friends and my drama teacher, who both simply expressed a dislike for my work. I tried to shrug it off, but looking back now I realize just how deeply hurt I was by their negative reactions. I believe ALL writers go through experiences like these, even seasoned writers. Please don’t let them discourage you to the point of giving up. Every voice is unique and the world needs what your voice has to offer.