Image: Leo Hyink, the first-place winner of the 2023 Play Right Prize.

Stories on love, loneliness and autonomy comprise the premises of three compelling scripts from ULethbridge students.

Leo Hyink, Jess Syratt and Achilles Friesen are the first, second and third place winners respectively of the annual Play Right Prize playwriting competition.

The Play Right Prize aims to encourage excellence and supports professional development in student playwriting. The Prize is generously supported by newly-announced chancellor and alumnus Terry Whitehead (BA ’94). Since 2008, he has been inspiring future playwrights with the Prize, awarding $2,500 annually to student playwrights and highlighting the winning entries at a public play reading.

“Terry Whitehead has just been announced as our 15th chancellor in recognition of his deep commitment to the University, and one of his many contributions to student success has been the creation and support of the Play Right Prize and the Spirit Prize,” says Shelley Scott (BA ’86), interim dean, Faculty of Fine Arts. “The Faculty of Fine Arts has benefited for many years from his generosity and support for our students.”

First-Place: North Star, Adrianne

Leo is a third-year student studying dramatic arts, with a specialization in performance. His play is titled North Star, Adrianne and features a story about Stella and Adrianne, roommates who become lovers in a chronicle of a new relationship.

Adrianne holds back, afraid of her complicated past and pattern of leaving, while Stella challenges her to let herself be loved. Leo says the play can be boiled down to the idea of finding where you belong in the world and how you fit in with others around you.

“It’s about letting yourself find happiness where you are. The titular character Adrianne runs away from everything in her life until something, or rather, someone shows her it’s okay to stay in one place,” he says.

“I got the idea one night after contemplating the concept of picking up everything and just moving to a new city and starting over, not for myself, just in general. Wondering what kind of person would do that and why, and characters just kind of sprouted from that.”

Jurors of the award noted that the metaphor of stargazing was nicely integrated with the story and that Leo achieved a satisfying story arc within a condensed time frame, adding that the emotional stakes of his script felt authentic. Leo adds that this piece started out as a poem, which is still featured in the final script, with the rest of the story blossoming from it.

As the winner, Leo receives $1,500 and dramaturgical support.

Second-Place: Enter One

The second prize winner is Jess Syratt, taking home $750 for her script, Enter One. This is the second time Jess has won the Prize, previously earning the top spot in 2021 for her script, The Evening Comes.

Jess Syratt.

Two strangers, a six-pack of beer, and the end of the world. Enter One explores lives unlived and dreams unrealized, weaving through apocalyptic settings.

Inspired by recurring dreams of the end of the world, the script came together in pieces over time. Jess says writing the play helped her process those dreams and assign voices to the unanswerable questions and fears they evoked in her.

“The whole process was a lot of stepping away, and returning to it when I felt I had something else to add to the conversation the piece became,” she says.

“For the first draft, I didn’t really go in with a plan aside from the surface idea of two strangers, sitting on a rooftop, watching the world end. I spent a lot of time just trying to think about that dynamic—imagining spending the end of all things with someone you don't know. How desperate, painful, lonely, and human it could feel. “

The final product, Jess adds, is about what really matters in the end when the comfortable and the mundane are gone—kindness.

Prize jurors noted the rich and sparse dialogue in the play, praising how the imaginatively crafted script captured the desire for human contact when the world around us is out of control.

Third-Place: Pregnant Man

The third-place winner is dramatic arts student Achilles Friesen. This is Achilles’s second time winning the prize, as they won third-place last year for their script, So Long.

Achilles Friesen.

This year, Achilles wrote Pregnant Man, a story about two of the last people on earth, Man and Woman, tasked with repopulating. The twist is that Woman declines, as they are a transgender male and does not want to carry children. This causes both to consider their role in the future of humanity.

Achilles says they wrote the script during a time in their life when they felt guilt for coming out as genderqueer. One of the messages they hope to share with the play is that while everyone has an idea on what they would do to ‘fix’ the world, not many have an idea on how to find their own life’s purpose.

“I often struggled with the idea of purpose, and coming out as transmasculine made me feel immense guilt for rejecting my body and its functions. I felt that I had some weird obligation to keep my body untouched, no matter how much dysphoria I experienced, because if my body can’t be useful, I have no reason to be here,” Achilles says.

“I quickly realized that my purpose is my own happiness, and I do not owe anyone any of my body, period. This is a similar struggle that Woman faces. They juggle the moral duty of continuing an entire race, while still suffering from being a victim of it.”

Jurors noted that Pregnant Man is an interesting take on Noah’s Ark from a subterranean level, adding that the script is compelling and explores the obligations we have, or don’t, to save the human race.

Achilles receives $250 for their submission and dramaturgical support.