Filmmaking student’s play wins national competition


Easton Thompson

Senior filmmaking student Emily Kirkman speaks with a Sunflower reporter during the rehearsal of her play “Love Me or Leave Me” on Sept. 16 at Welsbacher Theatre. The play will be shown Sept. 18-22 inside the Welsbacher Theatre at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex.

In the 44-year history of the Wichita State National Playwriting Competition, only six WSU students have ever won. Emily Kirkman became the sixth this year when her play, “Love Me or Leave Me,” was selected as the winner. 

“Love Me or Leave Me” debuts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex, Welsbacher Theatre.

As a filmmaking student, Kirkman was required to take Script Writing 1 in Fall 2018. She wrote “Love Me or Leave Me” as her final script for the class. Her professor, Jeannine Russell, encouraged everyone in the class to enter their scripts into the playwriting competition. 

“It just felt like a thing to do since I already had [the script],” Kirkman said. “I don’t think I would have done it if I didn’t take the class.”

The judges of the competition do a blind reading to avoid bias, meaning they do not know the name of the playwright or what university they come from. 

“It was really exciting [to win] because you are your own worst critic,” Kirkman said. “A lot of people don’t recognize [filmmaking] as a legitimate career path, so I feel like I am constantly trying to prove to people that I can do this and it is an actual thing. Since I won, it’s made me feel more confident in the field that I’m in and pushed me to keep going.”

“Love Me or Leave Me” follows a couple as they are signing their divorce papers. Employees from Relationships Incorporated take the couple through their relationship and show them important moments from it. They show them the good and the bad, giving them a new perspective on each other. 

“I had a completely different story in mind that I was going to turn in for my final, but I decided I didn’t like it, so I scrapped it and created ‘Love Me or Leave Me,’” Kirkman said.

She said it was about a two-month writing process before she turned it in for the competition. Then, once her play was selected, she was able to workshop and develop it even more.

“The other day, I happened to read the first draft I submitted to the competition, and I was like, ‘How did this win?’ because I think it is so much better now than when I originally submitted it, and it’s because I’ve had that time to really look at it, have the actors read it out loud, and develop it more,” Kirman said. 

She said she was fortunate that the show was cast in April — giving her five months to workshop her play and make it the best it can be. 

“I think the moment where it really hit me that people were playing characters I wrote was at callbacks,” Kirkman said. “These characters were coming to life in front of my eyes, and I had a really weird moment of, ‘Oh my goodness, this is happening. This is real.’”

The actors will have scripts in hand during the play. This allows for Kirkman to make changes to the text as many times as necessary before delivering the final product to audiences. 

“Seeing the actors and the way they reacted to line changes really influenced the script,” Kirman said. “I mean, I literally made a change yesterday.”

Kirkman said she hopes to take the play further than just WSU.

“I am really excited to see how an audience reacts to this, because that will really influence where it goes in the future,” she said.

Audiences should be ready to get an inside look into these characters’ lives. 

“You might not relate to everything, but I think everyone will find a moment in the play where they go, ‘I understand that,’ or, ‘I get that,’” Kirkman said. “I think a lot of people are going to walk away feeling vulnerable.

“I’m watching it every night in rehearsals, and I am still affected by it.”