Playwright Will Dubbs ’14 Makes An Off-Broadway Debut

Will Dubbs ’14 arrived at Wesleyan from Manhattan in September as part of the frosh class. Next month he’ll return to New York as an off-Broadway playwright.

Manhattan Repertory Theater has selected Dubbs’ first and only play, “Dead Sharks,” for production as part of its Winterfest 2011 festival of original theatrical works. The first of three scheduled “Dead Sharks” performances at the Rep’s 42nd Street theater is Jan. 29.

Dubbs, who is a minute older than his twin sister, Katie, a student at Princeton, wrote the one-act “Dead Sharks” for an all-freshman playwriting class taught in the fall by Christina Anderson, a visiting instructor in theater. He sent the play to the Manhattan Rep in response to a general call for submissions that was circulated at Wesleyan.

Fortune favored his boldness: just after Thanksgiving, the theater delivered the good news.

“This has been a whirlwind,” he said in early December, a few hours before he and his all-Wesleyan cast and crew would meet for the first rehearsal.

With “Dead Sharks,” Dubbs makes an early entry into Wesleyan’s deepening of theatrical tradition, which includes the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “In The Heights,” initially produced at Wesleyan, and “Lombardi,” about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.

“Lombardi” is now in performances at The Circle in The Square Theater in New York and “In The Heights” is being made into a feature film. Thomas Kail ’99 directed both plays. Lin Manuel Miranda ’02 wrote “In The Heights” and starred in it. (Miranda is also starring in the film version.)

“Dead Sharks” – the name comes from an exchange in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” – takes place in a single evening. The main characters, Ben and Amy, are on a first date. Three other characters represent aspects of Ben’s personality – the true Ben is called “Ben Zero” – and his perceptions of how the date is going.

As it turns out, says Dubbs, “things are going a little bit too okay” to mesh with reality.

Anderson, a MFA student at Yale University School of Drama who taught Dubbs’ freshman playwriting class, said he “has an exceptional ear for language and humor.”

During the semester she challenged him to move beyond pure comedy to give his work more depth, she said, noting that he rose to the occasion. “Dead Sharks” is the evidence.

“He totally did that,” Anderson said. “Will is a very good example of what can happen when you give a student access and resources to do art.”

Dubbs, an enthusiastic fan of Woody Allen’s plays as well as his films, said his own interest in theater began in high school as a means to an end – getting to know a girl. By the time he got to Wesleyan he’d performed in several productions. Often he found he wanted to act more than one part – many more.

“I was in ‘Twelve Angry Men’ and wanted to be them all,” he said.

Dubbs’ mother, Elizabeth, sparked his interest in playwriting by observing that “the playwright is the only one who gets to be all the characters.”

With an off-Broadway production to prepare, the coming weeks are going to be busy for Dubbs and his all-Wesleyan cast and crew, which began rehearsals in early December. For logistical reasons, most of the rehearsing will take place in Middletown. Senior theater major Dakota Gardner ‘11 will direct the production.  

 The cast includes Jakob Schaeffer, a graduate student in astronomy, as Ben, and Sabina Friedman-Seitz ’11 as Amy. Richie Starzec ’14, Julian Silver ’12, and Justin Wayne ’12 will play the other Bens.

Mindful of his own inexperience, Dubbs said he’s grateful for Gardner’s collaboration.

“I have to respect the fact that I don’t know everything about the theater,” he said.

For all his seemingly bright prospects as a playwright, Dubbs says he’s inclined to major in government. A seasoned intern for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in both her New York and Washington offices, he has often imagined himself as a political speechwriter.

All the same, Dubbs plans to take advanced playwriting next semester.

Perhaps that course will yield a play for a full Broadway production.

“I’m within striking distance,” he joked.

“Dead Sharks” is scheduled to debut Jan. 29 at Manhattan Repertory Theater on 42nd Street near 8th Avenue. Performances are also scheduled for Jan. 30 and Feb. 3. See the theater’s web site for ticket information.