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Students to Write 'All My Children' Episode

Undergrads contribute to re-launch of iconic soap opera as a Web series

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Watching soap operas after class is serious research for three Northwestern undergraduates. As winners of this year’s Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award, they’ve been given the chance to write a “webisode” of the famous daytime TV drama “All My Children.”

The iconic soap opera created by Northwestern alumnus and “queen of soaps” Agnes Nixon re-launches April 29 as a weekday Web series on Prospect Park’s The Online Network (TOLN).

“Writing the episode is the chance of a lifetime for an undergraduate,” says playwright and Northwestern theatre lecturer Laura Schellhardt, who co-teaches a class in play development for the Agnes Nixon award winners.

Winners Emily Acker, Hilary Flynn and Benjamin Sullivan-Knoff knew their prize-winning works would get staged readings at the Northwestern’s annual Agnes Nixon Festival in May. The opportunity to work with industry professionals on a TV show that was broadcast for 40 years to fervently loyal fans came as a surprise.

Barbara O’Keefe, dean of the School of Communication, calls it fitting that “Ms. Nixon, a pioneer in serialized television, is helping our 21st century students use the newest channels for presenting their work.”

Schellhardt’s writing students have been getting to know “All My Children” characters, familiarizing themselves with past storylines and studying old scripts to understand the format, structure and way a soap works.

In the next three weeks, they will get an outline from the “All My Children” crew that provides the action of their episode. They’ll have a week between the time they receive the outline and the time they turn in a first draft.

The quick turnaround isn’t likely to intimidate theatre major Acker, who calls writing for  “All My Children” an “unexpected gift.” She was excited to discover the drama is set in a fictional Philadelphia suburb. “I grew up in the suburbs of Philly so I feel like I’ve been watching the show forever,” she says.

Northwestern graduate and Prospect Park founder Jeff Kwatinetz wanted to honor Nixon’s legacy as an entertainment pioneer. “What better way than to give some of Northwestern’s best and brightest students the chance to craft an episode of her beloved soap opera?” he asks.

Agnes Nixon winners have a proven track record of success in theatre, film and TV. “In the past three years alone, Evan Twohy’s play received acclaim at the New York Fringe Festival; Naomi Brodkin’s plays received productions with Buzz 22 in Chicago and in Seattle; and an epic play with music by Aaron Ricciardi was recently produced at Chicago’s Coriolis Theatre,” Schellhardt says.

She should know. Schellhardt began teaching playwriting at Northwestern with School of Communication graduate John Logan before he went on to a blockbuster career in screenwriting (“Any Given Sunday,” “The Aviator,” “Gladiator,” “Skyfall”) and a Tony Award win for “Red” in 2011.

Logan earned the Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award in 1983 for “Never the Sinner,” and has called its staging at the Agnes Nixon Festival a seminal event in his career. Starring in Logan’s play were then Northwestern students Laura Linney and Denis O’Hare.

Looking for an opportunity to see tomorrow’s playwrights and actors today? The 2013 Agnes Nixon Festival takes place May 18 and May 19 in Northwestern’s Mussetter-Struble Theater in the Theatre and Interpretation, 1949 Campus Drive, Evanston. It is free and open to the public.

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