When Becky McLaughlin’s short play “Stay for Dinner” became one of the six finalists selected by New York publisher Samuel French for publication and representation it was in part because of a friendship she made in eighth grade at Wetsel Middle School. The actors and director of McLaughlin’s play at the contest finals were part of her childhood friend, Caitlin Stafford’s, Spirit Gum Theatre Company.
McLaughlin and Stafford met in eighth grade and have continued their friendship into adulthood; through college and marriage and several moves. Both teens were involved in drama in middle school when Caitlin persuaded Becky to join the forensics team. The Madison County High School Forensics Team was a powerhouse in the state at that time and both girls got ample opportunities to develop communication and presentation skills before their 2003 graduation.
“I had always dabbled in drama, but Caitlin convinced me to join the forensics team,” said McLaughlin. “It really is a testament to our teachers and coaches because both Caitlin and I came out of high school with such a passion for performing that really shaped our career paths. We both went to VCU to study performance although I transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I took playwriting classes at UNC and discovered I really enjoyed it. I think on some level I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer.”
When Stafford graduated, she came to stay in North Carolina with her friend and eventually ended up settling there. Stafford became involved with the local acting groups acting, directing and stage managing before eventually forming her own, the Spirit Gum Theatre Company. The Spirit Gum Theatre in Winston-Salem, NC is a local non-profit dedicated to producing high quality theatre and inspiring local actors and artists.
After college, McLaughlin’s career was diverted by the birth of her three children and the work involved with raising and home schooling her family. Once her children got older, McLaughlin returned to the stage in a 2015 Spirit Gum play. McLaughlin became more involved in Spirit Gum both on and off stage and offered to help with a Halloween fundraiser.
“I pitched the idea of doing short, scary plays for a 2018 fundraiser,” said McLaughlin. “The short plays were really well received. Caitlin sent me a link to the Samuel French contest so I submitted ‘Stay for Dinner’ for the summer 2019 contest.”
McLaughlin’s 10-minute play is a romantic comedy set in a Halloween haunted house where two of the employees are taking steps to start a relationship.
The annual contest draws hundreds of submissions and in August 2019, the 30 top finalists out of more than 900 submissions were invited to perform their submissions for the Samuel French staff. Writers had to prepare the production including director, cast, costumes and stage props for a live performance. McLaughlin relied on members of the Spirit Gum team to direct and act in her play which was eventually selected as one of the final six for publication and production.
McLaughlin’s success has encouraged what has long been a hobby. While “Stay for Dinner” is being published and promoted by Samuel French, McLaughlin plans to finish work on a full-length play and continues to write short work for her friend’s theatre.
“Honestly, I have always wanted to be a writer,” said McLaughlin. “I’ve been doing it as a hobby for a long time. Now that my kids are older, I have more time to devote to this. Now that this has happened it has given me the confidence to keep going.”