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Chemistry professor enjoys writing, directing plays

Michigan native Daniell Mattern, 67, is a chemistry professor turned playwright.

“I had an interest in theater for decades,” he said Sunday inside the Powerhouse Community Center in Oxford. “When they started the Ten Minute Play Competition several years ago, I started submitting some plays, and I had a few plays produced. I just enjoy putting together these short plays.”

Mattern was one of five playwrights who watched their work brought to life Sunday during Theatre Oxford’s Ten Minute Play Competition. Unlike other participants, he also directed his play.

Mattern said the advantage of writing a short play is that you don’t have to keep the production moving for very long.

“The challenge is you have conflict, have resolve, know your characters and what they’re doing, and wrap it all up in 10 minutes. I like my plays to have several things going on at once.”

Mattern’s play is called “Soccer Lessons.”

“It takes place on the sidelines of a girls’ soccer game,” he said. “And so we first see two coaches who are coaching the players. The players are in the audience, so they are talking directly to the audience.

“One of them really wants to win the game, and the other is more philosophical and wants the kids to learn life lessons, which become the soccer lessons.”

Mattern said one of the players wants to avoid the ball.

“The saying that keeps going through the play,” Mattern said, “is ‘Don’t run away from the ball, embrace the ball.’”

Meaghin Burke, director of Theatre Oxford’s Ten Minute Play Festival, said this is the 16th year for the event.

“This is an exciting year, because we have a wide variety,” she said. “We have some deeply heartfelt dramas, some slapstick comedy, and even a little romantic fantasy.”

Burke said there are many ways to become involved.

“You can submit a play in our contest that feeds into the festival,” she said. “You can send a play directly to me and ask to be workshopped as a local playwright.

“You can come out to auditions, which we do every year at the same time. You can volunteer to be crew. You can even volunteer to direct. If you want to be a part of this, we will find a way to get you involved with this.”

Burke said the contest winners are: Walter Thinnes, who wrote “Take Wing,” is the LW Thomas Grand Prize winner, and Cary Pepper wrote “Gram Scams,” the Audience Award winner. Kat Thomas directed “Take Wing” for the festival, and Melanie Addington directed “Gram Scams.”

For more information about upcoming Theatre Oxford events, visit theatreoxford.com.

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

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