Kara Shelton has been writing poetry since she was a child and has always been an avid reader. It was not until she was in her early twenties and began to act professionally, that she discovered her loved for theatre and realized playwriting was the way in which she was meant to tell her stories. Last year, she received the esteemed, "Individual Artist Fellowship Grant," for one of the plays she wrote entitled, "The Prodigal." Read more about her below...
What inspired you to start writing and how long have you been doing so?
I've been writing poetry since I was a child. I've always been an avid reader and I was always fascinated by storytellers and their ability to transport the reader to another place in time. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties and began acting professionally that I realized my true love for theatre and discovered that playwriting was the way I was truly meant to tell stories.
Tell us about the grant that you received last year. What was the process like applying for it and how has it helped to hone your craft?
Last year I was honored to receive an Individual Artist Fellowship Grant from the NJ Council on the Arts in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. The process was actually very simple. I sent them a sample of my stage play "The Prodigal," along with some information about myself and the play. It took almost 1 year to hear back from them, but when I did, I was overjoyed. When I received the grant money, I sought the wise counsel of a mentor - Dr. Joshua Coren, who advised me to use the money to learn and grow. This was the best advice I could have ever received. I took as many classes and workshops as my schedule would allow. I truly believe I'm a better writer because of that grant (and that great advice from Dr. Coren).
Below are two links to read more about the Individual Art Fellowship Grant that Kara received as well as an article about her featured in the Burlington County Times:
Some time ago, you worked on a play entitled, "The Prodigal." For those that did not get to see it, explain what the play was about and what inspired you to write it.
"The Prodigal" is a story of race, class, and what it means to be "brothers." It's the story of two African-American brothers who grew up in the inner city. One brother left as soon as he was old enough to and disassociated himself with anything he considered "hood" or "urban." His brother remained in the city and embraced his surroundings. The death of their father brings the two brothers together after many years, where they must confront and challenge each other's views and outlooks. The goal with the play was to create no clear right or wrong point of view. Each brother has a distinct point of view, but if I did my job well, the audience can understand how each brother feels, even if they don't agree.
Have you ever had a time that you dealt with "writer's block?" What did you do to overcome it?
I deal with "writer's block," all the time and it can be extremely frustrating. I have a mind that is constantly going 100 miles an hours so when it comes to a screeching halt, it can send me into a panic if I let it. When I get a block, I simply walk away for a bit, maybe an hour or so. I don't occupy myself with something else. I just let my mind settle. Then, I come back and read over what I wrote previously and let the thoughts flow from there. I don't force it. Sometimes you just need to take a breath and reboot.
You have been working on two additional scripts! Please share any details that you can about them and when can we expect to see them on stage?
I am VERY excited about the 2 new scripts that I finished writing this year. One piece, entitled "The Family Pride," will most likely come out in late 2016 or early 2017 and deals with a homosexual teenager struggling to accept himself so that he can come out to his devoutly Christian parents. His road to acceptance is...let's just say, it's quite unusual. My hope for Spring of 2016 is to produce my second play, "The Red Lamp." It's a story of domestic violence, healing, and acceptance. It's the most personal piece I've ever written. As someone who has experienced domestic violence, I realize how important stories like these are to women and men in the midst. Though this isn't my particular story, I hope that this story can help someone heal in some way.
In addition to writing, you are also an actress. Tell us about some of the projects that you have worked on. What do you do to continue to brush up on your acting skills.
Two of my favorite projects would have to be playing the role of "Georgia" in "The Exonerated," which I performed at The Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn, NJ and at the Adrienne Theatre in Philadelphia, and also acting off Broadway in "Solitary Confinement." My most recent acting project is a short film project entitled "For My Daughter," which was released in late January 2016.
Among the many things that you juggle... acting, writing, and your full time job, you are also the director of the Acts of Faith Drama Ministry at your church. Tell us a little more about your role there and one of your favorite skits that you have written or performed.
Some of the greatest lessons in life I've learned at Bethany Baptist Church, and being the director of the Acts of Faith Drama Ministry is one of the most enriching experiences I've ever had. Primarily, I'm responsible for casting, directing, producing, and writing many of the presentations that go before the congregation. Being in the ministry for over a decade has created a long list of favorite skits, but I must say that there was a memorable piece that I co-wrote and performed with June Patterson and Darold Lingo last year that spoke about stepping into your destiny. Watching it brought me to tears, even though I co-wrote it and acted in it. There was something magical about that piece. There is also a piece that I have done several times with my cousin, Corey Shelton, entitled "Why Didn't You Tell Me?" That one is truly one of my favorites because it had such an enormous impact on people. It's actually used in other churches to minister to their congregations!
What can we expect coming from you in 2016 and beyond?
I have so many thoughts and ideas in me, so I'm going to keep writing. I'm going to write about topics that make you think, but more importantly, make you talk. With so many things going on in this world, there is no subject that is off limits. In 2016 and beyond, I'm going to write about things that excite audiences and challenge audiences. Let's just hope that they're up for the challenge. ;)
Thank you, Kara! We most certainly are up for the challenge! Keep up with Kara via Facebook: Kara Shelton and on Instagram: @kara_mia9