WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- As they graduate each spring, a number of Whitman College seniors leave large shoes to fill in the realm of various academic pursuits.
Such is the case with Jerome Schwartz, a theatre and English major from Bellingham, Wash. Now that Schwartz is graduating, fans of campus theatre are left to wonder who will win the annual One-Act Play Contest.
Schwartz won the play-writing competition earlier this spring for the third time in his four years at Whitman. He failed to win the contest only as a junior, when he sent an entry from afar, while spending his spring semester studying in Spain. Still, no other student has won the One-Act Play Contest more than once in its 14-year history.
This year's competition attracted a record 23 entries, three of which were selected for production by a panel of several judges. Comprised mostly of Whitman faculty and staff members, the panel operated as it does each year, reading the plays and picking the finalists without knowing the names of the playwrights.
Over a period of four days, the trio of one-act plays was performed six times, with audience members voting for their favorite. About 500 paper ballots were cast, giving Schwartz his third victory for a play he titled "Quantum Love Story." Elizabeth Munn, a senior theatre and geology major from San Francisco, Calif., won second prize for "Dreamer, Dreamer." Ned Thorne, a sophomore English major from Bainbridge Island, Wash., was the third-place winner for "Les Cigales."
The One-Act Play Contest is the brain child of long-time Whitman physics professor Craig Gunsul, a theatre devotee who continues to facilitate the contest and pay for cash prizes.
Schwartz, who collected a $150 cash prize for each of his winning plays, considers "Quantum Love Story" the best of the three. The play tells the story of two social misfits who meet in a Las Vegas chapel and decide to get married, right then and there. The same day, a lonely high school science student finally uses his brain to get the girl. A million unlikely occurrences all center around a single hotel room seemingly ruled by the laws of love and death, the impossibilities of quantum physics.
"I definitely prefer 'Quantum Love Story,'" Schwartz says. "The characters have a more interesting life to them. And since it was a comedy, I could watch it over and over again and enjoy it, something that's hard to do with dramas."
As a freshman, Schwartz claimed his first victory with "Character," a story about a discouraged New York actor who finally gets his big break, only to find himself quickly destroying his own life in pursuit of the perfect performance.
As a sophomore, Schwartz won with "Talking into Air," an exploration of various characters in the late 1950s who had difficulty communicating with others. The tale centered around a meek housewife who makes a connection with a catatonic mental patient, convincing herself that he is trying to communicate with her, and that she's the only person who can get through to him."
Schwartz remembers wanting to be a writer at an early age, when he was in the third or fourth grade. It was years later, however, as he developed a passion for film-making while a student at Bellingham's Sehome High School, that he "re-discovered" his fondness for writing. "I wrote scripts just because it was necessary if I wanted to make a film," he says. "Ultimately, I realized it was the writing I really enjoyed."
His love of writing may have come from his mother, Colleen Schwartz, who has written poetry for years. She works as office manager for her husband, Harvey, a doctor of chiropractic in the Bellingham area.
Even though Schwartz is the first member of his family to pursue writing as a possible career, he isn't the last one. Younger brother Devan, who is finishing his first year at Whitman, wrote and directed two one-act plays while at Sehome High School, and he entered Whitman last fall with a Theatre Presidential Scholarship for playwriting.
While at Whitman, Schwartz has continued to explore his interest in film making. As a freshman, he won a campus film festival with a film he called "The Button," a story about three men trapped in a circle of light with a button that says Do Not Push. As a sophomore, working with classmate Cullen Hoback, Schwartz won the Pickford Film Festival, sponsored by the Whatcom Film Association. Their winning entry, a 90-minute film titled "Chasing Days," is about an anti-social teen who is convinced by a friend that he only has three days left to live.
"Chasing Days" wasn't the last time Schwartz and Hoback, now a senior theatre-English major from Valencia, Calif., collaborated on a project. Once "Quantum Love Story" was chosen as a finalist for this year's One-Act Play Contest, Hoback served as director of the play.
In addition to writing plays and making films, Schwartz has found time to act in a number of full-scale play productions at Whitman's Harper Joy Theatre. In the past two years, for example, he appeared in "Big Love" and "Shakespeare's R & J." His first two years were marked by roles in "Last Night of Ballyhoo," "Bridewell" and "True West."
As a junior, Schwartz received Whitman's Brandon Bruce Lee Award, a $6,250 scholarship that is given each spring by the theatre faculty to an "outstanding student with a strong interest in drama." The memorial scholarship fund was established in 1995 by Linda Lee Cadwell, mother of Brandon Bruce Lee, and her husband, Bruce Cadwell, a 1962 Whitman graduate. Brandon Bruce Lee was 28 years old when he died in 1993 as filming of "The Crow" was nearing completion. His father, Bruce Lee, died at age 32 in 1973, three weeks before his movie "Enter the Dragon" was released in the U.S.
Schwartz has also stayed busy with other Whitman activities. He was a member of the varsity cross country team for three seasons, and he three times served as the leader of outdoor trips for incoming first-year students. Called the "Freshman Scrambles," the trips allow new students to get acquainted with classmates in the days prior to their first year at Whitman. Schwartz led trips to Washington's Olympic National Forest, Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, and Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.
Schwartz is one of two graduating seniors elected by classmates to serve as Class Speakers during commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 25. Schwartz and Patrick Meath, a theatre major from St. Paul, Minn., will speak on behalf of about 370 graduates. The ceremonies begin at 11 a.m.