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Dramatic Reading of Award-Winning Play at Hendrix College

CONWAY, Ark. (September 5, 2018) – An award-winning new play will debut in a staged reading in early September at Hendrix College in Conway. The reading is part of the annual Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Playwright’s Theatre, during which Hendrix alumni and students will present the play.

The reading of Had Orion Loved by Brian Earles ’18, winner of the 2018 Hendrix-Murphy Student Playwriting Contest, will be presented on Friday, September 7, at 7 p.m. in Cabe Theatre on the Hendrix College campus. The event is free and open to the public, with no tickets or reservations required. An audience discussion and a reception in Mills Lobby will follow the reading. 

The play is about what happens to “Leo and Soandso while on a weekend escape to a bed and breakfast when they find themselves trapped after an unexpected tornado devastates the town.” Sofya Weitz, this year’s playwriting judge, says that “the framing device of the tornado, Soandso’s childhood stories, and his relationship with his mother and Leo worked well in this high-pressure situation.” 

Earles majored in Theatre Arts with a minor in Dance. He enjoys expressing the multiple facets of artistic creativity through choreography, dancing, acting, and writing and asserts that he is a storyteller, first and foremost. 

Hendrix alumni, students, and staff will be involved in all other aspects of the production as well. Mike Mueller ’88 of Little Rock will direct the reading. 

The cast is led by Peter Grant ’21, reading the part of Soandso, and Jackson Sims ’21 reading the part of Leo. The cast will also include Elizabeth Williams Whitsett ’13 as Janette/Reporter 1, Philip Adams ’04 as Kevin/Reporter 2, and Deedra Everett Ashcraft ’86 as Deborah/Gale. 

An annual staged reading series, Playwright’s Theatre evolved in 1999 from the annual Alumni and Student Playwriting Contests first sponsored by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation in 1986. The program was designed to cultivate the skills of fledgling playwrights who are current or former Hendrix students. A professional playwright judges the competitions, one for students and the other for alumni. Playwright’s Theatre, founded by Professor Danny Grace and Dr. Rosemary E. Henenberg, Willis H. Holmes Distinguished Professor of Theatre Arts, Emerita, extends the efforts of the contest by enabling winners of the alumni contest to see their plays in staged readings that often involve both alumni and students as cast and production crew.

This reading is co-sponsored by the Hendrix College Department of Theatre Arts and Dance and the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, which are designed to enhance and enrich the study and teaching of literature and language at Hendrix College. For more information about this and future events, contact Henryetta Vanaman, 501-450-4597 or

Following are brief bios of the alumni cast and crew members:

Jackson Sims ’21 began acting during the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival in 2013 and continued throughout his four years of high school at Little Rock Central High. During his freshman year at Hendrix College, Jackson acted in the plays Uncle Vanya, Wet, and This Random World. Jackson plans to act throughout his Hendrix career. 

Deedra Everett ’86 graduated from Hendrix with a degree in Theatre and is now an employee of J.B. Hunt. Deedra notes that life’s path has led her away from the spotlight for many years, but she uses her costuming skills to keep her kids outfitted in the coolest Halloween costumes and is the reigning Ugly Christmas Sweater Champion at J.B. Hunt headquarters. Had Orion Loved will be Deedra’s post-college theatrical debut. 

Philip Adams ’04 was born in Arkansas and has lived in Arkansas for most of his life. Philip majored in Spanish with a minor in Theatre Arts and is now the Project Director for the PROMISE Model Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. Philip has worked both backstage (New York Fashion Week, MTV Films, American Idol, Larry King Live, and 60 Minutes) and on stage in TV and film. 

Peter Grant ’21 is a Conway native and graduated from Conway High School in 2017. His first role was as John Tomas in The Curious Savage in 2004, in which he had no lines. Nevertheless, Peter has continued to act in various productions, including Wet at Hendrix College in 2018.

Mike Mueller ’88 was born and raised in Chicago. Now located in Little Rock, Mike is a Strategist and Business Developer for the Clix Group. Mike spent 10 years as a high school theatre teacher and has had many theatrical roles spanning some 30 years. Mike has participated in eight Playwright’s Theatre productions at Hendrix College, including the inaugural one. 

Elizabeth Williams Whitsett ’13 graduated from Hendrix with a degree in Theatre Arts. Elizabeth is now the Youth STEM Specialist at Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center. For several years, Elizabeth has been on the board of directors for the Community Arts Association of Conway, also known as the Lantern Theatre. Elizabeth has participated in many roles, on and off stage, at the Lantern Theatre. In her most recent challenge to herself, Elizabeth has become a member of the fresh meat group with Rock Town Roller Derby in Little Rock, Ark.