North Central News

Gelaine Vestal ’21 earns national playwriting award

Lauren Ford

Jul 30, 2021

Gelaine Vestal ’21 won the 2021 Judith Barlow prize for their original one-act play, “The Shop.” The award is sponsored by History Matters, a national coalition of theater professionals that promotes the study and production of women playwrights and their plays.

When Vestal first learned about the Barlow prize as a first-year student, they didn’t feel prepared to enter the competition, but by junior year their mindset had changed dramatically. “I knew I had to take my shot,” they recalled. Vestal credits their faculty for much of this transformation and for their development as a writer. “My writing has grown tremendously during my time at North Central. We have some wonderful English professors who push us to do our best while also being our true creative selves. North Central can be a really great place for writers if they are truly passionate.”

Inspired by Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal,” studied in a North Central literature course, Vestal penned “The Shop” during summer 2020. “Since we were all in quarantine, I had a lot of time to make it the best it could be,” they said.

Throughout the fall and winter, Vestal revised the play and completed the application with the help of Laura Lodewyck, assistant professor of theatre. In March Vestal learned they had won first prize, along with its $2,500 award. “It was such a great feeling to be recognized and praised for something I am so passionate about. It really reinforced what I believed about myself: that I was meant to be a writer.”

Vestal began writing fiction as a child and continued as a North Central student; their short story “The Same” was published in North Central student publication 30 North. Vestal branched into theater after arriving at the College, and their original two-act play “What Happened Here” was produced by the theatre department in March. Themes surrounding LGBTQIA+ representation are common in their work.

“I believe that writing, especially playwriting, can be a tool for creating positive representation and acceptance of the queer community--this is what’s at the heart of my writing. Both ‘The Shop’ and ‘What Happened Here’ are heavy with these themes, and my hope is that I can make a difference in the world for my community through writing.”

Vestal plans to begin working toward an MFA in playwriting in fall 2021. In the meantime, they’re working remotely as an editor and brand ambassador for Minerva Rising Press, a publishing company focused on women writers. Vestal is also tutoring children at the community center in their hometown of Monmouth, Ill. “Although I do not know exactly where the future will take me,” they said, “I plan to always keep writing as part of my life.”