A Playwright’s Path to Success

August 31, 2021

If you asked 10 playwrights to describe the path to success, you are likely to get 10 different but equally eloquent responses. Playwright, associate professor and one of this year’s Phillips’ Mill Emerging Playwright Competition jurors Wilbert Turner, PhD, tells aspiring writers to get as much of their work in front of as many people as they can. He describes winning his first national competition, the Dubuque Fine Arts Players’ One-Act Playwriting Competition, as a turning point in his own career. 

Wilbert Turner, PhD

“The Iowa competition is the oldest in the nation. My play, ’Shackles 'N' Milk,’ won first place in 2014, and I was able to fly out to Iowa for its premier production. It was a great experience to meet colleagues and see my work performed, and especially fun to see how people responded to it,” says Dr. Turner.  

As a juror for the 2021 EPC, Dr. Turner is thrilled to be able to give other writers the same opportunity, though not on a national stage but at our beloved Phillips’ Mill. He and two other award-winning writers, Judy Hallberg and Kimberly Kalaja, will select up to six short plays to be performed in November 2021. 

“I advise emerging writers to enter as many one-act plays as they can to get their name out there. Once you do that, it gets easier to say, ‘I have a full-length play I would like you to read,’” he explains. He continues that process himself with Off-Broadway or even Broadway as his end goal.

“I found this (playwriting) late in life,” he says. After years of teaching both college and high school literature, and using his talents as an educator to inspire others, it was his students at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, N.Y., who urged him to start writing original material. 

“The students in my AP Lit class would complain about the plays that were done for their drama productions. They couldn’t identify with the characters because they were written for a different, older age group,” he recalls. “One day two students came by my office and asked, ‘Why don’t you write something for us?’ and so I did, writing maybe five pages at a time. I came back with the completed piece after the holiday break. They loved it.”

They clearly weren’t the only ones. The play was produced as a senior project, to a delighted audience. “Theater is community, an opportunity to bring people in. It’s one reason I love plays. You bring everything into one space.”

About Wilbert Turner, PhD

Wilbert (“Wil”) Turner, PhD, has written numerous one-act plays, many of which have won awards. In addition to earning first place in the prestigious Dubuque Fine Arts Players’ One-Act Playwriting Contest, Turner’s works have placed as top three finalists in competitions in Ohio, Virginia and Colorado. 

A resident of Perkasie, Pa., Dr. Turner is an associate professor at Delaware Valley College and the publication advisor of the school’s literary publication. He specializes in African American Literature, Adaptation Studies, Film Studies and Narrative Theory, and is an award-winning playwright.

Dr. Turner earned his PhD in English at the State University of New York at Albany and his Bachelor of Arts in English and Textual Studies at Syracuse University.

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Illustration of the Phillips' Mill -Artist: Kathie Jankauskus