Sam Kalista ’17 wants to hear you laugh – especially if you’re in the audience when his 10-minute play, Kenwood, is performed at the 2017 Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

Sam Kalista ’17 is the winner of the 2017 Todd McNerney Student Playwriting Award. (Photo by Reese Moore)

As the winner of the Todd McNerney Student Playwriting Award, Kalista will be one of 10 student writers to have a 10-minute play performed by College of Charleston students in Under the Lights at 8 p.m. May 26, May 29-31, June 1 and June 3 at the Chapel Theatre. It is part of the Stelle di Domani series, featuring students, alumni and faculty from the College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre and Dance.

“I am excited to see how my vision is interpreted on stage – and to know how the audience reacts,” says Kalista, a recent graduate of the College of Charleston’s four-year REACH Program for students with mild intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. “It will be good for me as writer to get that feedback. I would like to hear a good laugh from the audience.”

Although Kalista first became interested in theater as a high school student in Radnor, Pennsylvania, Kenwood is his first attempt at writing a play.

“I took a writing course my junior year, and I learned how to arrange the words to tell a story,” he says. “But I took playwriting last semester because it involves more dialogue, and I thought if I could make the dialogue flow and then add in the action, it would be a good way to tell a story.”

It certainly seemed to work.

“This year there were slightly fewer than a dozen plays submitted for the Todd McNerney Award,” says CofC theatre professor Todd McNerney, explaining that the award was established in 2007 by an anonymous donor to recognize the talent of student playwrights. “Sam’s play was selected the winner because it is terrific, well constructed and very funny. It is a broad comedy similar to Monty Python or to Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder.”

And that’s exactly what Kalista was after.

<em>(Photo by Reese Moore)</em>

(Photo by Reese Moore)

“When I started writing, I looked at my peers and what they were writing, and there was a lot of drama, a lot of suspense and mystery – very serious subjects. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to be that serious. Why not do a comedy?” he says. “It’s good to have a little escape. Everybody needs that every now and then. So I wanted to lighten the mood a little. I wanted to crack a good joke and get a good chuckle.”

For Kalista, the audience’s reaction is almost as important as the actors’ performance of his work.

“I think theater is a form of expression – not just of the writer or the director or the performers, but of the audience, too,” he says. “I also want to know what people think because this is a starting point for me.”

This summer, Kalista is moving to Atlanta to pursue his interests in writing and in acting.

“I want to gain experience and expand my writing style and myself as an artist,” he says, noting that he is hoping to apply the skills he’s learned at the College to film and television. “I also believe that being in that atmosphere will give me an opportunity to network with all kinds of different people – not just in the theater industry, but other areas that I don’t even know about yet, but that I might want to explore in the future.”

And, while Kalista is excited about the future and what it might bring, for now he’s just looking forward to watching his play performed on stage – and, of course, to hearing you laugh.