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Serious award in comedy

matt fotis

Matt Fotis, a doctoral student in Mizzou’s Department of Theatre won the 2010-11 Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwriting for his recent work. Photo by Shane Epping

Matthew Fotis got hooked on theater his freshman year at Monmouth (Ill.) College after a friend asked him to be in a play. A year later he took a directing class and couldn’t find a play he liked, so he wrote his own. 

Fotis is still writing plays as a doctoral student in Mizzou’s Department of Theatre, but now it’s serious business. His recent work, The Book of Adam, earned Fotis the 2010-11 Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwriting.

The Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival announced in late March that judges had selected The Book of Adam as the best student-written, full-length comic script of the national program.  

As if the Twain Prize weren’t stunning enough, Fotis also received nods from the KCACTF short-play program when he took honors in two other categories: 10-minute plays and one-act plays.  

None of the accomplishments was an easy feat. His 58 & 59 script competed against more than 960 submissions in 10-minute plays to become one of five finalists. Against a similar number of entries, Nights on the Couch was named one of four finalists in one-act plays. 

As a Twain Prize winner, Fotis takes on the role of satirist and fearless observer of society. Judges of the competition assume winners will follow the Twain tradition of outraging some people while delighting many. 

Amen on that with The Book of Adam, a commentary on evolution, Creationism and marriage, which Fotis wrote for a graduate playwriting course. He drew the subject material from everyday life and his work experience with a public relations firm in Chicago.  

“I’m a better writer at 31 than at 21 because of life experiences, writing experiences and bad plays I’ve written before. Sometimes you have to write a bad play to write a good play,” he says.  

Like Twain, Fotis creates memorable characters. His play follows Adam, a public relations executive in Chicago, whose firm tries to rehab the image of an anti-evolution company, The Seventh Day Society.    

For the comic-writing win, Fotis pockets a $2,500 cash award and receives an expenses-paid professional development fellowship of his choice, probably through a conference for new-play development.