The sort of mentoring relationships that have helped students thrive in the screenwriting program abound in other divisions of the Department of Theatre and Media Arts. Such was the case for LeeAnne Hill Adams.
BYU doesn’t have a playwriting graduate program, but Adams was used to that. The University of Utah, where she completed her undergraduate degree, didn’t have a playwriting program either so Adams worked with a professor to build her own bachelor’s degree. When Adams was ready to begin her graduate work, she was drawn to BYU by its facilities, faculty, and programs.
“BYU has something very unique called the Writers’, Directors’, and Actors’ Workshop,” Adams said. “That was a big draw.”
Every semester, four or five plays written by BYU students, faculty, or community members are selected and matched to student performers and a faculty director. For the next few months, each play undergoes an intense process in preparation for a staged reading at the end of the semester.
Two of Adams’ plays underwent this process. Professor Megan Sanborn Jones directed the first one, Yellow China Bell. Adams said that Jones helped define her as a person, a writer, and an artist.
“She’s a beautifully thoughtful director,” Adams said. “She really challenged and pushed me. She didn’t let me take a backseat.”
At one point during the semester, Jones approached her during rehearsal and mentioned that the scene she was working on was missing something. She explained where she wanted the scene to go and asked Adams to write some lines to fix it. Adams walked out into the hall, sat down, penned some lines and returned to the rehearsal. Jones was surprised how fast the graduate student was able to turn around and give her what she needed so fast.
“At that point, I was so immersed in the play that it wasn’t difficult for me to take a quiet moment and hear what the characters would say,” Adams recalled.
After the staged readings at the end of each semester, the department picks one of the plays to produce. Both of Adams’ plays were selected.
“The fact that a university would do a fully-mounted production of a student play is really rare,” Adams said. “That sets the BYU program apart.”
BYU’s production of Adams’ work helped her gain exposure on a much larger stage. Archipelago, the second of her theatrical works, went on to win the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award in 2003, which is one of the most prestigious honors granted to playwrights.
Adams now works as a screenwriter whose talent has attracted the attention of Disney, Amazon, Vanguard Animation, and Dreamworks. Adams credits much of her success to her education and mentors.
“I felt an immediate friendship and mentorship from the people at BYU,” Adams said.