Australian playwright wins Town Hall Theater prize

MIDDLEBURY — Katie Pollock is the winner of Town Hall Theater’s “Ingenious Grant for Playwriting” competition, but you’ll forgive her if she’s unable to physically attend the upcoming staged reading of her winning entry, simply titled “Normal,” in Middlebury on Oct. 14.
Pollock lives almost halfway around the world, in Sydney, Australia.
But there’s a good chance she’ll “visit” the THT via Skype when a host of young women act out the lines from “Normal,” which borrows from a true story involving a mysterious illness that swept through a group of teenage girls in upstate New York in 2012.
“I was thrilled to hear I’d won the Ingenious Grant — completely surprised, but really thrilled,” Pollack said through an email exchange with the Independent. “It’s such an amazing and beautiful thing to know your work has touched somebody half a world away and really encourages my belief in the power of theater to bring people together in this crazy troubled world.”
THT officials launched the Ingenious Grant for Playwriting competition earlier this year as an international appeal for play scripts that have, at their center, a young female lead supported by other young women in meaningful roles. There’s a paucity of such scripts in the theater world, and Haley Rice, THT’s operations and marketing director, saw the competition as a way of bringing more gender balance to the stage.
The competition drew an impressive 230 submissions, 150 of which advanced to a THT committee review. Pollock’s play took top honors. But there are really no losers, as the theater world is now richer by more than 150 scripts that could someday provide substantial acting roles for women throughout the world.
Rice provided the following description for “Normal”:
“A party is on, and high school student Abigail must have a new outfit like everyone else in this affluent suburb. When her single mum refuses to buy her a dress, Abigail steals one. But then something happens to her body. She is gripped by tics, her body haunted by a pulsating current that pushes out of her in violent vocal and physical spasms that she is unable to explain or stop. Another girl presents with similar symptoms, then another, until the community begins to fracture along lines that turn into deep fissures. Who or what is to blame? And should the girls be treated for physical or psychological symptoms?
“Inspired by a true story, the play explores the phenomenon of mass hysteria among young women, and the ripple effect it might have on a close-knit community. In the entitled pockets of a sparkling city, what does it take for a teenage girl to fit in? What does it cost to be normal?”
Pollock offered her thoughts on the subject matter.
“It fascinated me how the situation really divided the town, and the power the illness gave the girls, even as they may themselves have felt like victims,” the playwright said. “Of course I’ve taken it away from the real facts of those events, but I hope it still rings true for the audience.”
The Oct. 14 staged reading of “Normal” will begin at 4 p.m. at THT. Rice is working with director Rebecca Strum and in talks with several young actresses to play the roles.
Pollock and “Normal” are no strangers to success.
Pollock studied theater at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and at Middlesex University in London. “Normal” won the Inscription/Edward Albee Playwriting Scholarship in 2014, the Australian Writers’ Guild’s “What Happens Next” competition in 2015 and was a finalist for the Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Woodward/Newman Award in 2016. Her monologue “Contact” won HotHouse Theatre’s 2014 Solo competition and was nominated for an AWGIE award from the Australian Writers’ Guild in 2014.
Pollack said she’ll apply the $1,000 Ingenious Grant to toward publishing the “Normal” script, “in hopes more people will get to connect with the play — wherever they are.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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