Brooklyn's Stephen Brown still remembers the first time he seriously considered being a playwright. Even though he grew up doing community theater in Houston, he wasn’t a budding wordsmith as a kid.
“I was actually a really terrible writer,” Brown admits. “It was probably my worst subject in school for my whole life.”
But his engagement with television production and video shorts in college led him to a playwriting class his junior year, where a simple dialogue-writing exercise proved revelatory.
“I remember when we read it out loud as a class, the reaction to what I had written was unlike any other feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” he recalls. “It was crazy, and I just had to replicate it.”
That feeling is going to be on overdrive when Trustus Theatre premieres Brown’s Montgomery, the winner of the company’s annual Playwright’s Festival. Brown’s humorous buddy caper sees two young teens kidnap a country singer. Hijinks, predictably, ensue.
“Very few theaters have a competition where the reward is a full production. It just doesn't happen,” Brown notes. “And I think that's one of the astounding things about Trustus. Most theaters have an award where they pick one play out of 300 and do a stage reading of it. And don't get me wrong. That's great because, you know, no theater owes anything to just land them writers. But for someone to go beyond that and say, like, you know, ‘Whatever play we pick, we're just going to put the whole thing up.’ It is really amazing.”
For Brown, it’s a particularly sweet moment for Montgomery, a play born out of a prolonged period of writer’s block after his first taste of success.
“I got to such a low moment that I felt like I had no illusions about having a playwriting career anymore, and that it was possible I might never write again,” he confesses. “So I decided to just do something that makes me happy. I wanted to write something that's fun and would never get produced anywhere, that’s kind of just for me.”
Hence an unlikely kidnapping narrative that also features a variety of unexpected production twists that make it more, not less, likely to get produced. Brown also says that the core of the story has less to do with country music and celebrity than you might think.
“Throughout that whole period, my best friend, who's also a playwright, was right by my side encouraging me. That really bolstered my confidence,” he explains. “So when I sat down to write this play, it ended up being so much about friendship and about friends who will do anything together, because that was a thing that was kind of the glue that was holding me together at the time.”
Insofar as he tackles country music celebrity, Brown feels like he’s interrogating a particular kind of localized fame.
“I feel like people in a small town, particularly Southern towns, usually have this fascinating obsession with kind of semi-celebrities,” he offers. “The country singer in the play isn't, like, Garth Brooks. He's someone that's much lesser known, more of a regional circuit kind of guy.”
It’s a good-humored take, though, and Brown is clearly excited to see the resonance the play might have playing to Southern audiences. Above all, though, he’s thankful to Trustus for putting it on at all.
“It's one of the craziest feelings that you can go through,” he marvels. “If you can imagine just sitting alone and thinking of something that you think would be funny to watch on the stage, and then you know, all of a sudden, people are building these sets, people are going to be coming in to hang lights. A whole slew of people are putting everything they have into rehearsing and making sure that these lines of dialogue that you privately thought were funny to yourself. And then people are going to show up in a room and we're all going to watch this thing that you thought of.
“It's totally absurd. It always astounds me that theater is a real thing.”
Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
When: Aug. 23-31
More: 803-254-9732, trustus.org