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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Seeing Stars

Carrie Preston, a native of Macon, Georgia, graduated from the University of Evansville in 1989, the year I graduated from Castle High School. By the time I was 16, I preferred the company of the University of Evansville Theatre Department crowd, slightly older than myself, and worldlier than the kids in provincial Newburgh, Indiana. Preston and I remained in touch during her time at the Juilliard School in New York City, and when we both lived in Los Angeles in the 90s. I worked in galleries and she worked in television. She has appeared on TV series such as “True Blood,” “The Good Wife,” “Happyish,” and more. These days, our annual visits are when she returns for the New Harmony Project each year in late spring.

This year’s conference was held from May 20-31. The nonprofit organization provides a writer’s retreat each year in New Harmony, Indiana, to emerging and established writers to develop scripts for stage, television, and film.

Preston participates in the conference as an actor and director, and she sits on the organization’s board, which is based in Indianapolis. She and her husband Michael Emerson (“Lost,” “Person of Interest”) are donors. The board and staff work year-round to raise money and coordinate arrangements for the conference. A committee in Evansville plans the Annual Final Dinner and reading for the public on the final night, a fundraising event, as well as an opportunity for local residents to get a glimpse of the writer’s process, and engage with company members such as Emerson and Preston.

Preston and I spent some time discussing her ongoing interest in the New Harmony Project, which brings her back each year, over salted-caramel ice cream at Bliss Artisan, 518 S. Main St. in New Harmony.

Why is the New Harmony Project unique?
There are lots of script development programs, but our mission is specifically about finding scripts that celebrate and elevate the human experience. We’re looking for glass half-full plays, not works that are negative or violent. That’s not to say there aren’t sad, dramatic, or dark scenes, but we see the characters overcome it.

Why does New Harmony remain the location for this project?
New Harmony is the site of two former utopian societies, and the spirit of that has lasted and you can feel it here. People come here and get away from the pressures of living in the big cities where you get distracted and you can’t focus. What these writers are given is time and space to make mistakes, to learn about their scripts, and have a team of professional actors, directors, stage managers, and dramaturgs come together with the common goal, which is to help this writer find the best version of this script that they can in the two weeks that we give them. And most of the time they do.

How did your experience at the University of Evansville shape you?
Going to the University of Evansville was a turning point in my life. It was there I really learned how to act. From there I went to the NHP as an intern and that was my first time, right after I graduated from UE. I got to work with amazing professionals — writers I learned about in school. I got to interact with them and learn from them. They cared about what I had to say. I felt that was such a rewarding thing, so years later, I started coming as a professional and then they asked me to be on the board. I’m honored to be a part of it.

For more information about the New Harmony Project, call 317-464-1103 or visit newharmonyproject.org.

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