WHS student among recognized playwrights

Rising senior Lily Derr wins Theatre Rocks! nationwide competition

Daily Light report
Theatre Rocks! executive director Suzanne Rhoten presents Lily Derr a $100 check as a finalist in the theatre’s national playwriting competition. Derr is pictured with fellow Waxahachie High School playwriting classmates and instructor Ryan Mullican (far right).

When Theatre Rocks! of Ennis hosted a nationwide playwriting competition earlier in the year, scripts poured in from across the country. However, one of the four finalists is a hometown girl. Lily Derr, a rising senior at Waxahachie High School, received a $100 award for her full-length dramedy, “Drain.”

Derr’s play was recognized as one of the top four out of about 115 entries. Her playwriting instructor, Ryan Mullican, was thrilled for her recognition — especially after a letdown last school year.

Each fall, one playwriting student’s script is selected to be produced and directed by Waxahachie High School students. During the 2019-20 school year, Derr’s play “Vincent” was chosen. Her script based on the life of Vincent van Gogh had been cast, then COVID hit and that production was one of the casualties. 

“I hated that she didn’t get to have it produced, and it made me even more excited for her to win this award,” said Mullican.

When Mullican learned of the Theatre Rocks! competition, the timing seemed to work well for his playwriting class. All the students began writing full-length plays in about March, working hard to meet the April 21 submission deadline. This school year was Lily’s second year in Mullican’s playwriting class, and the theater arts teacher said she was busy tweaking it right up until the last minute.

Derr’s award-winning script follows a young psychologist who comes to a small mental hospital and is trying to discover the reason many of the patients resent the hospital staff.

“I really like plays and movies that are set in mental hospitals,” said Derr, who was somewhat inspired by one of her favorite movies, William Peter Blatty’s 1980 film “The Ninth Configuration.” “I like the way the story didn’t villainize the characters.”

Derr will be taking playwriting again next year and hopes for a long-term journey in the theater arts field. She says she likes the idea of directing and screenwriting in the future but is focusing on playwriting for the moment.

Theatre Rocks! produces a wide range of plays, and executive director Suzanne Rhoten and artistic director Bill Rhoten are thankful and proud to be able to sponsor many original works. The 2020-21 season included classic favorites “The Trip to Bountiful” and “The Glass Menagerie,” but the other four plays have all been original scripts — including the winner of the playwriting competition, “Town Car for Sale” by Linda LaRocque, which will be performed June 11 to 27 at Theatre Rocks!

Suzanne Rhoten said the national playwriting competition was so successful that the theatre has planned a second competition for the upcoming 2021-22 season.