Ogden playwright commemorating breakout show with new performance
OGDEN — “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a playwright in our midst.”
Those were the words spoken by Mahonri Stewart’s theater professor at Utah Valley University after reading the 10-minute play he was assigned.
“He took me aside after class and asked if the scene was from a larger work. I informed him that it was, but it wasn’t anywhere close to finished yet,” Stewart said. “He then said that if I did finish it, the theater department would produce it. I was stunned.”
So, for nearly two years, he wrote and rewrote the script and when it was complete, his professor, James Arrington, followed through on his word and “Farewell to Eden” premiered at the university in 2003.
“The production was one of the highlights of my life as I bonded with director, cast and crew through the rehearsal process and then into our sold-out run,” Stewart said.
The show was then picked up by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for the regional competition in California, followed by an invitation to receive awards at the national festival in Washington, D.C., according to Stewart. “It was all very heady and exciting, but it also seemed a little surreal and more than I ever knew to ask for at the time,” he said.
His screenplay, “Wrightsborough,” just advanced in another contest, this time as a top 10 finalist in the Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest. The contest had over 6,000 applicants.
It also impacted his Coverfly ranking that scores registered screenplays based on how well they do in these sorts of contests, putting his screenplay in the top 1% of his preferred genre, historical and historical feature categories, as well as on the organizatin’s Red List in the same categories — not just for the month, but for the year, Stewart said.
“Coverfly also put me on as one of the top 100 scripts overall on the service out of all 121,700 projects, because of how ‘Wrightsborough’ is performing,” he said.
That’s three major finalist placements this year for Stewart.
Born and raised in Provo, Stewart lived in Australia, California and Arizona (where he went to graduate school) before moving to Ogden, where he taught English, playwriting, screenwriting, mythology and theater at Venture High School.
“I had a series of particularly influential English teachers who really encouraged my writing and reading habits, especially Mrs. Louis Durham. That is one thing I really believe in, the power of encouragement,” Stewart said. “I ended up taking Mrs. Durham’s classes every year in high school, including three years of journalism and AP English. She was the main reason I eventually became an English teacher, I think.”
Stewart said he believes he was put on this earth to be a storyteller. Since he was a child, he’s been making up stores, characters and worlds. He said he wants to continue pursuing a career in screenwriting.
“I’ve realized that it was film and television that first enchanted me as I sat in front of my TV as a kid with a bowl of cereal, watching Saturday morning cartoons, or ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Indiana Jones,’ Disney movies or ‘Back to the Future’ on VHS,” he said. “I have realized the enchantment that all gave me, and it was classes like Philip Taylor’s in grad school that made me want to spread that magic to audiences, too, to that little kid in front of his television, or to an adult who is seeking more meaning in her life. I want to do that for others like it was done for me.”
“Farewell to Eden” will be performed at 7 p.m. this Saturday at DaVinci Academy, 2033 Grant Ave, in Ogden. For tickets, go to farewelltoeden.com.