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The making of ‘Shelter’

Writer Joshua Mikel describes origins of LHU?play

November 13, 2011
By DAVID WHITMAN - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Lock Haven University has kicked off its fall season with "Shelter," an exciting new play from up-and-coming playwright Joshua Mikel.

"Shelter" will be performed in the Sloan Auditorium.

The play has remaining performances at 2 p.m. today and at 7:30 p.m Friday through Saturday.

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The story revolves around three siblings trapped in their parent's bomb shelter - post-apocalypse - and according to its author is "maybe a bit more cheery than that might lead you to believe."

The inspiration for writing "Shelter" came from a couple of different sources, one of them was a book that Mikel read last year.

"I recently read Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel, 'The Road,' and was really inspired by it because it's a work about folks moving on when basically everything is lost," Mikel said. "This father and son journeying together across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape - I was really influenced by that story and setting.

"It was timely for me because I thought, 'What would happen during a nuclear holocaust?' and imagined a life beyond that," he said. "Also, I combined that with my own issues in that regard and thought, 'What would be left to go on for?'

The play also came about because my buddy, who has a theater company out of Chicago, wrote a story that was kind of a post-apocalyptic piece as well. I really wanted to write my own. So, I wrote 'Shelter.' "

Once the idea for the play was in place, Mikel began working with a friend, a directing intern, writing the first draft over the course of a week. He's on the 15th draft now.

"That process has happened over the past nine or 10 months," he said. "I wrote it this past year, started it probably at the end of winter. I've continued writing drafts and refining it."

The work that Mikel has created is one that is sure to elicit a myriad of responses and emotions from the audience.

"I'd say bottom line is that although it ends pretty dark and I think it will be really easy for people to walk away from it thinking, 'Wow, that's depressing and awful,' all is not gray and dreary - a silver lining does exist," he said. "In many ways, 'Shelter' is, in essence, a journey to rediscover life through lack of life. We may hit a dark night of the soul and endure a whole lot but there's still kind of reasons to believe that life is important."

Dr. Angela Sweigart-Gallagher, assistant professor of theater at Lock Haven University, is an associate of Mikel and director of the play. She found out about "Shelter" this summer and initiated the idea of performing it at the university.

"Angie is the education director at Endstation Theatre Co. in Virginia, where I am playwright president," he said. "We had a reading of the piece while I was there. We have a festival Ad Hoc reading series. I workshopped a piece I wrote called 'Shelter.' After the reading, she got in touch with me about producing the piece up at Lock Haven University where she's on faculty. I sent them a draft. They liked it and asked to perform it and soon it was under production.

"The best part of the deal is that the LHU student association and Players Club (their theater troupe) found the funds to have me up for the beginning of the process and return for the production," he said. "I went up for the beginning of rehearsals and was able to work with Angie and the actors. During my stay, I had some invaluable time to make changes on the script alongside the team and left having penned three new drafts of the play, worked out some huge logistical issues and got it to a spot where I think I can't do much more with it until I see it produced."

Although the Conyers, Ga., native graduated with honors from Florida State University's Theater and Creative Writing programs, that was not the original direction Mikel took when he entered college.

"I went to school for computers and then while I was there, I picked up creative writing as a second major," he said. "So it only made sense that when a playwriting class opened up at Florida State, I'd enroll in it. They had a chair position that was vacant and so they ended up bringing in Mark Medoff, who was playwright for 'Children of a Lesser God,' 'When You Comin' Back Red Ryder' and a number of others. He really inspired me to continue writing for theater and helped me grow in that capacity."

Mikel has his own design studio, Sharkguts Design, and does art design to make a living and also has a burgeoning career as an actor in Atlanta as well.

"I'm lucky to make enough through my art design that I don't need a day job," he said. "That flexible schedule allows me to do things like attend acting auditions or play rehearsals in Lock Haven. I started out doing design when I was playing drums in a rock band called Look Mexico. I began with T-shirt design for them and eventually had a monopoly on that. I also started doing T-shirts for my friends and eventually it took off from there."

Tickets for "Shelter" are $3 for students and $5 for adults.

For more information, visit the Lock Haven University Players page on Facebook.



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